5th Sunday after Pentecost, June 27, 2021, Mark 5:21-43
The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas
Mark’s gospel presents a fascinating scene where Jesus’s popularity as a faith healer is so great that wherever he goes enormous crowds follow and press against him hoping that, like a genie, he might grant their wish.
We don’t clearly know the motives of the woman Jesus healed, but despite the constant pressure of the crowd against him, Jesus noticed and felt her touch most of all; a touch so strong that he felt as though power had been drained from him. So, he stopped in his tracks, turned about and said, “Who touched me?”
This question seemed rather strange and funny to his disciples, who reminded him of the clamoring crowd and wondered why he would make such a ridiculous inquiry. Still, as people of faith, we know better not to dismiss the intuitive nature of the divine spirit within us that is able to single out the humble sincerity of one not simply after a piece of our flesh, but rather a portion of God’s healing compassion.
Have you ever felt like a stranger among a crowd in which you have little or nothing in common? And just when you feel the world is a cold and heartless place, you encounter someone who notices and takes interest in you, who shares concerns and goals that may not be identical to yours but, nonetheless, leads you to believe that you’re not as alone as you thought you were. God dwells in that place of encounter.
Many years ago, I served a congregation in Western Massachusetts that chose to welcome people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And being the first congregation to do so in that part of the state attracted the best and worst responses from others.
The worst responses were countless anonymous night-time phone calls threatening God’s fiery judgment or physical harm on me and my family from individual who never lingered long enough to consider another point of view, since they were convinced that all other opinions were pointless and godless. And just when I was convinced of the need to change my phone number, I received a call from a person who not only commented, but decided to stay, and linger, and listen, and consider a different perspective and experience. We ended our conversation not fully agreeing with each other, but clearly seeing better than before.
Jesus did not see the sick woman until after the fact, but clearly a divine presence within him acknowledged the nearness and need of this earnest soul, and turned his heart to recognize her among the crowd. She touched him in ways he hadn’t anticipated.
Faith is the ability to see, acknowledge and touch the presence of God, trusting that in this presence you will find healing, wholeness and holiness. This belief requires an impression of the divine that counters a different perspective in which holiness is understood as that from which sinners should keep a safe distance or suffer the fatal consequences.
This counter perspective is girded by biblical stories where God’s holiness was so powerful and exclusive that those who trespassed its divine parameters were killed by God. Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat of the tree possessing the knowledge of good and evil, for they would die (Genesis 2:17). Moses warned his people that they would die if they followed him up Mount Sinai, since God had allowed him alone to personally receive the commandments (Exodus 19:12). Uzzah, who assisted King David in bringing the Ark of God to Jerusalem, was struck dead when he grabbed the ark to prevent it from falling off its carriage (2nd Samuel 6:7). This belief has influenced many traditions of Christianity in which only baptized persons could receive the bread and cup of communion, while others are deemed unworthy.
Jesus, who we understand as the presence of God among us, walked the dividing line between those lost among the crowds and others, such as Jairus, who were leaders among the crowd; and who, by his touch both then and now, wakened God’s healing presence within us, so that our faith may heal and make us well.
Talitha cum! is Aramaic meaning Little girl, get up! This is the command of Jesus to Jairus’ daughter when he healed her. But the command may also refer to the healing power of Christ, our Good Shepherd, and mean Little lamb, rise! For in so many ways, we are all lost and wounded lambs seeking our way from the pressing clamoring crowds back to the familiar home and healing fold in which we were born. Talitha cum! Little lamb, rise! Your faith will make you well. Amen.