Immediately: A Woman Healed, a Girl Resurrected
(Damsel, I say unto thee, arise!)
Have you ever been trying to accomplish something, some task, and found that you were nearly constantly interrupted? Sometimes we want to be interrupted – I can’t tell you how many other things I can find to do while I’m supposed to be writing my sermon! But sometimes, just when we’re getting productive, just when we feel like we might actually start checking things off our to-do list, just when we feel like we’re “in the zone,” that’s when a stream of people knock on the door, or call on the phone, or just need a few minutes of your time. Interruptions!
I think of learning, as a child, that interrupting is rude. This is an important lesson for children to learn, because children usually think of all of their concerns as demanding immediate attention. I want this and I want it now! My mother used to joke that my three brothers and I might not need anything from her for hours, but if she would take a phone call, talking to someone else, suddenly all four of us needed her time; all of us were interrupting her, seeking her attention. Think of the responses you might hear a parent give to an interrupting child: “Not right now.” “In a little bit.” “Just a minute.”
Or think of the person who, when you see them, your mind races to find some way, some excuse, some ruse you can come up with to avoid interacting with them – because you know that you have only five minutes before you have to be somewhere and you know that conversations with this person never last for less than an hour. You know what I’m talking about! Where an interruption will turn into not just a pause in your day but a screeching halt?
Today’s gospel lesson from Mark finds Jesus being interrupted while he’s on his way to resolve another interruption. Jesus has traveled across the Sea of Galilee, and finds crowds waiting for him on his arrival. The crowds included a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, and perhaps one of a group that did not usually welcome Jesus and his way of teaching in the synagogues with open arms. But, Jairus, it seems, has no such qualms about Jesus, at least not in this case. His daughter is sick, and he knows, believes fully, that Jesus’ touch will heal her. Jesus doesn’t hesitate, but follows Jairus to his home.
On the way there, the crowds continue to follow him. One among the crowds is a woman suffering for some twelve years from hemorrhages. We read that she has seen physicians and poured money into her care without result. She tries to get to Jesus in the crowd, just to touch his clothes, confident she will be made well. She reaches him, and is healed immediately. Jesus knows he’s been touched – he can feel it. He looks to see who touched him. The disciples discourage him, wanting to get on with it, get going. But he stops, and takes the time to seek her out. When she comes forward, scared, and tells him what she did, Jesus says to her, with gentleness, “daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Then, while he’s still speaking, as if in rebuke for his taking time with the woman, people come from the Jairus’ house to say that the girl has already died, and not to bother with Jesus coming. Jesus simply responds, “Do not fear, only believe.” He proceeds as planned to the house, and entering, seeing the mourners, asks, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” Of course, they laugh at him. Surely, even without advanced technology, people could tell the difference between sleeping and death. Jesus sends them outside, and takes the child’s hand, and says, “little girl, get up.” And immediately she gets up. And they were all properly amazed.
We see Jesus as a healer again and again in the scriptures, and this passage gives us a healing and a resurrection. We are reminded of Jesus’ powerful ability to bring healing to our lives when we let him. But this text has a unique structure – a story within a story – a healing within a healing – and I think we can learn from the structure of the story itself – from the fact that Jesus heals one woman while on his way to see another. This is a story of Jesus being interrupted, and what he does when that happens.
There’s a wise woman in this congregation who has told me that one of the things that frustrates her most is when people say they don’t have time to do something. If we want to do something badly enough, she insists, we’ll find the time. If we were being honest, we’d just say, “That’s not a priority in my life right now,” when we receive a request and our answer is going to be “no.” But, I suspect many of us – and I know I do this – opt to say: “I don’t have time.” I think we like the way that sounds better. It sounds better than saying, “this thing that you are asking me to do isn’t as important to me right now as other things I’ve chosen to do with my time.” When is the last time you told someone you didn’t have time? What were they asking you to do? Would it have been more accurate to say that something wasn’t a priority for you right then? I think about her words often, and try to remind myself of what I really mean when I think I don’t have time.
I’m amazed, in ministry, at how often it is the gift of time that people find most valuable. I’ve shared with some of you that I spent time interning as a chaplain at Crouse while I was in seminary, working primarily in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the NICU. It took me a while to learn that parents of struggling newborns already knew I couldn’t fix their problems for them, even though I wanted to desperately. What I could do though, was give them my time – sit with them, without filling the time with clichés about their suffering. We fancy it up in the church by calling it the “ministry of presence.” Being there with someone. When one of us – pastors and lay people alike – spends time visiting a shut-in or hospitalized member of our church family – that time spent is so valued by the person being visited. Honestly, sometimes I find it embarrassing how thankful someone can be that I’ve spent thirty minutes or forty-five minutes of time with them. It makes me wonder what we typically communicate to one another if people feel like we’ve done something extraordinary when we give them a small piece of our time.
One of the only things Jesus ever seems to ask of anyone for his own benefit is in the gospels when, just before he is betrayed and arrested, Jesus is spending time in the garden praying. Repeatedly, he asks for the disciples to stay awake, to remain with him. They can’t do it. They’re too tired or overwhelmed, emotionally spent. What Jesus wants is not that they solve his problems – they can’t. But that while he’s grieving what he must go through, he would be surrounded by people who love him. He wants their presence. Their time. Their company.
In fact, how we are present or not present with one another, how we do or don’t see each other is the measure by which we are judged, Jesus says. Recall the parable of the sheep and goats. Notice, when Jesus talks about what separates the sheep from the goats, the king doesn’t say: You sent me food and drink, you sent me clothing. No, the exchange between the king and the people revolves around when they saw the king or failed to see the king in their interactions spending time with other people. It is the time spent visiting, the time spent caring for the sick, the time spent welcoming the stranger – face to face time – that Jesus notes as significant. In order to see Jesus in people you actually have to spend some time with them!
Why is it that giving someone our time is so important? Why might someone be so thankful for forty-five minutes of our time? I suspect, it is as that wise woman has said: Our time says that something is a priority. And making something a priority says that that thing, whatever it is, person or event or activity – that thing is worth our time. That thing is valuable. And that is the key. That is what Jesus is about in his ministry – letting people know – particularly the ones who have been told otherwise over and over again through the actions of others – often through the actions of those claiming to be closest to God – letting people know that they are worth time. They are valuable.
The question I want us to ask ourselves is this: What does the way we spend our time say about who we find valuable? Who do we consider “worthy?” Now, I’m suspecting for most of us, that our families and dear friends are near the top of our list. They’re certainly on the top of my list. But the scriptures remind us that we actually can’t pat ourselves on the back for that – even those who are evil, Jesus says, can take care of “their own.” Who else is worth your time? Who else have you made a priority? And perhaps, some harder questions: Are only certain people – certain kinds of people – worth your time? Who hasn’t made the cut? Jesus spends huge chunks of his time with the most vulnerable. He doesn’t have money to send them. He’s not adored by the poor, the sinners, the outcasts because he’s giving them things. No, he gives them himself. He gives them value and worth because he knows them and spends time with them.
Jesus’ ministry is full of interruptions. Everything we read about seems to happen when he’s on the way somewhere. He’s on his way somewhere else when he sees Zacchaeus in a tree and makes plans to eat dinner with him. He’s eating dinner with people when a woman anoints his feet with oil. He’s hanging out at a wedding when he’s called on by his mother to change water into wine. He’s in the middle of teaching when a man is lowered through the roof to be healed. He’s on his way to heal a sick girl, when he’s interrupted by a woman who needs healing and disciples who don’t consider the woman worth Jesus’ time. But Jesus always seems to have time. The woman is healed immediately. And a girl to be healed becomes a girl to be resurrected – but Jesus can do that too, and she gets up immediately. Because each person – two people, in this case, who were ritually unclean in one way or another – each person is worth it to Jesus. Valuable.
You can rest assured that Jesus would stop in his tracks for you. Be interrupted for you. You’re worth God’s time, right now. Immediately. Who is worth yours? Who will make you stop in your tracks?