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Sunday 30 June 2024 Trinity 5, Thirteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 8

Knowing what’s good for you

Mark 5:21-43

By Christopher Burkett

Editor of The Preacher


Context: a Eucharist in a country church of mixed ages and generally wide faith experience

Aim: to retell the gospel story so as to make it immediately pertinent

How do you know what’s good for you? ‘A little bit of what you fancy does you good’, according to my Gran. She thought it referred to food, though I think it originated in a musical hall song that suggested something altogether raunchier! ‘A little bit of what you fancy ...’ Echoed perhaps in that slogan they used years ago to sell cream cakes, ‘naughty but nice!’

Jairus thinks he knows what’s good for his little girl. Things are desperate. She’s at the point of death. There is this Holy Man – they say he has the healing touch, perhaps he could do what no one else has managed? Jairus has heard that he is back in Jewish territory. He’ll go and find him.

Lots of others have found him too. The place is swarming. There is no way Jairus can get a private word. There is nothing for it but to push his way through the crowd. It’s his daughter’s last chance and he’ll do anything. ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’

What has it cost this man in dignity, in face, to throw himself there? And you know it has because of the way he addresses Jesus. He is direct in his speech – he asks for just what he wants. There’s no circumlocution as someone lower down the social scale would have had to speak. He makes his request as he would to someone of equal status to himself, but he does it from the floor.

He’s made a judgement about what’s good for him, what’s good for his little girl. And that motivates him to do this extraordinary thing. He’s on the floor, he is bodily pleading with Jesus for action.

The attention is all on Jesus and Jairus, so no one noticed a furtive figure gently pressing her way through the crowd. Her head is down, her shoulders sloping, her face covered. She doesn’t want to be noticed for she knows if she is there will be shouts and taunts, maybe even stones. She’s a bleeding woman, not fit to be out in society. Contaminated, whose impurity leaches out to infect those whom she touches. Socially a pariah. And it’s been like that for years. With the loss of blood has gone the loss of everything else; impoverished, blooded, ostracised, hungry, alienated, terrified.

She thinks she knows what’s good for her. ‘If I could just touch his clothes.’ Just a brushing of his hem with a fingertip, that’s all. Maybe that could help her. Maybe.

That’s all it was, but the lightest of touches. But she knew in that instant that the ooze of warm, trickling blood had stopped. It’s too good to be true – but it is true! And then the awful reality dawns, it is not just the bleeding that has stopped, the crowd has too.

There are hisses of derision. ‘What the hell is she doing here?’ Too many know her circumstances. News of the state of her body runs through the crowd like a fire. All are turned towards her. And in another instant as the mood of the crowd turns nasty, Jesus speaks. For the first time, Jesus speaks, ‘Who touched my clothes?’

As ever the disciples are the ones who don’t seem to know what’s going on, ‘Come off it, boss, you see this lot shoving and you expect to know who touched you? You’re kidding.’ So often they’re such fools.

The crowd knows full well who touched him. And the nameless woman knows the crowd knows. And she knows what the consequence of that knowing is. She deliberately touched him, contaminated him, made her impurity his impurity. Even now people are shuffling back, making space. They don’t want it to spread. She’s gone too far.

No wonder then that she steps forward in fear and trembling. There will be consequences. Her touching him now seems rash, too much, too dangerous, too risky even given her despair. She falls on the dirt in front of him, sobbing out the truth – the whole truth, the whole sorry tale of her impurity, her despair, the blood and the anguish. There are gasps of ‘Shame.’

‘Daughter’ What? ‘Daughter.’ He calls her daughter. He says, you’re mine. You belong to this family – outcast no more – you are my daughter, you belong. Your faith, your action has made you well. You knew what was good for you. Be at peace – be afraid no longer. You daughter are healed.

Another voice is heard – panting it out, he has run hard to get there. ‘Your daughter is dead.’

Does Jairus scream? Does he collapse to the floor again? Or does he just turn away, despondent? Mark doesn’t tell us. What we do know is that his worse fears seem to have been confirmed. The chance of healing thwarted by the woman’s intervention. Things of taboo and purity, and right behaviour have been thrown aside. Jairus had thought he knew what was best for his daughter, but it has come to nothing. Yet more is asked of him. Jesus moves off again towards Jairus’ house.

‘Do not fear, only believe.’ Though others will laugh to scorn. Though the synagogue rules have been torn apart. Though your place in community is threatened. Though death rules in a house of wailing. Though the jewel of a father’s heart lies dead. ‘Do not fear, only believe.’

‘Talitha cum.’ Little girl, little daughter, get up. As another has been declared a daughter, adopted, and restored, though all around would have denied her; so, this little one is restored as a daughter with all the promise a young life brings. And lest you should miss the point Mark tells us she was twelve years old – she is of an age when she will start bleeding. Her possibility of bleeding, of making life, has come through the adoption of one who has bled too much.

How do you know what’s good for you? Jairus thought he knew. But it was so much more. The inclusion of the excluded, the creation of bonds of which he couldn’t have conceived, a belonging together that he would never have seen.

How do you know what’s good for you? The woman thought she knew. But it was so much more. The ability to stand up for herself, even in fear and trembling, a new sense of worth, even more than she was expecting, incorporation – a daughter again.

Are you Jairus, are you the woman, are you the crowd, are you the disciples? Are you sometimes one and sometimes the other? Who needs to be included? Who is on the margins unnoticed? What is God saying to you, now? How do you know what’s good for you?

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