Pentecost 5B; Proper 8
One of my college professors, James Edwards, first introduced me to the concept of a “Markan sandwich” and it captured my imagination.
The Gospel of Mark likes to employ intercalations, in which the author begins a story, interrupts that story, then finishes the first story, informed by the interruption. My favorite Markan sandwich is this week’s Gospel reading, Mark 5:21-43. Jesus is approached by a ruler of the synagogue, Jairus, who pleads with Jesus to lay hands on his sick daughter. Jairus is confident that Jesus can heal her. A crowd walks with Jesus as he hastens to Jairus’ house — they want to see the miracle too.
In the midst of the crowd, there is a woman who has been sick for the past 12 years. Twelve years — the age of Jairus’ daughter. Like Jairus, the woman is desperate for a miracle but thinks she can go unnoticed if she simply touches the edge of Jesus’ robe. This woman disrupts Jesus’ task at hand. As soon as she touches Jesus’ clothes, she feels herself healed. Jesus feels it too. Despite the urgency of the errand to Jairus’ house, Jesus stops and waits for the woman to reveal herself. Not only that, Jesus blesses her with shalom — a blessing of peace that contains all the wholeness for which the woman has longed, not only freedom from her bleeding but acceptance into her community.
I can only imagine Jairus’ impatience as this unnamed woman interrupts Jesus’ important work on his behalf. Jairus’ worst fears are realized when people come and announce that his daughter has died. The healing of the hemorrhaging woman has cost him his daughter’s life.
It is here where I find it useful to contrast Jairus and the woman. Jairus has a name and an influential role in the community. He is no doubt a person of financial means. The woman is never given a name and she has spent all her money on medical treatments that did no good. Jairus approaches Jesus from the front, confident in his power and privilege. The woman approaches Jesus from behind, trying to avoid being seen. And yet, Jesus holds up the woman as the model of faith that Jairus must emulate. Not even death can stop Jesus from performing the miracle of healing. Does Jairus believe this? Can he stand firm in his trust in Jesus’ power, despite the worst happening?
It also strikes me that while the woman prefers to remain hidden, her miracle is very public; but Jairus, a public figure, experiences a private miracle. Only Peter, James and John and the girl’s parents are allowed in the room when Jesus raises her from the dead. Jairus’ importance in the community does not mean much as he stands in the room, hoping that Jesus is right and all that is necessary is for him to believe. Maybe Jairus and the woman are not so different after all. Their situations are desperate, they have exhausted all other resources for healing and Jesus nearly defies their expectations by doing that for which they hoped.
In “Feasting on the Gospels: Mark,” commentator Allen Verhey notes that both Jairus and the unnamed woman exhibit “audacious hope.” Audacious hope — not reasonable hope or hope that rests on a pretty good chance that it will be fulfilled. It is hope that has exhausted all other options. It is hope when there is no good reason to hope.
I think about this kind of hope as I read the news these days. Even as we come out of the pandemic in the United States, economic inequality continues to widen, especially as we see inflation raising prices on things as varied as lumber and car rentals. Whether this moment of inflation is temporary or longer lasting remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it impacts us in everyday kinds of ways. A family from the church I serve is moving to another state and cannot find a house to rent; they shared that rental houses are getting upwards of 80 applications at a time. My parents recently bought a house, but it took them months to find it. They waived the inspection and paid well over the asking price, just to get their bid accepted. The housing shortage is pricing people out of the market all over the United States. Homelessness rose in 2020 and it no doubt is rising again in 2021. People are living on the edge, even with the help they’ve received from the government in the past year and a half.
And so prophets like William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis from the Poor People’s Campaign are calling for support of the bipartisan Congressional resolution named “A Third Reconstruction: It’s Time to Fully Address Poverty and Low Wages from the Bottom Up.” The Poor People’s Campaign has been organizing for years around the need for economic reform, and they continue to rise up, despite obstacles. Fighting for economic reform requires more than just good intentions. It calls for audacious hope — the kind of hope that keeps fighting no matter what.
Verhey is quick to point out that the kind of audacious hope expressed by Jairus and the woman is centered on the promises of God. From the beginning, God promised to restore creation. Jesus declared this promise as he announced the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom and demonstrated it in his death and resurrection. The confidence of the unnamed woman in Jesus’ power to heal is centered in God’s promise in Lamentations 3:31-33:
“For the Lord will not
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone.”
God’s love for God’s creation is strong. In Jesus, we have the audacious hope that one day all will be well, as God restores creation to a place of justice and peace. This hope keeps us building for that new creation, setting up signposts that direct us to God’s promised future in Jesus Christ. May we have the audacious hope that keeps us fighting for what is right and good in our society and our lives.
- What in your life is calling for “audacious hope”? What does it look like in your life to trust God with that for which you most hope?
- To whom do you relate more in Mark’s story, Jairus or the unnamed woman? Why?
- Jesus is interrupted in Mark’s story as he is on his way to an urgent errand. How do you respond to interruptions in your life? What can you learn from Jesus about how to respond to interruptions?
- What, in our society and world, is calling for audacious hope? How can you be a signpost working for that hope?
- Explore the Poor People’s Campaign’s call for a 3rd Reconstruction and consider contacting your congresspeople to support this resolution.
- Which of God’s promises keep you centered in hope? Is there a Bible verse that encourages you? Commit this verse to memory.