Thursday, July 02, 2009

Is He or Isn't He? (Mark 5:21-43)

There was a theologian we read in seminary named Rudolf Bultmann. Among his many ideas was the one that the existence of Jesus posed something he called “the existential question.”

Boil away every other situation, consideration and idea about God, the church, the Bible, miracles and what have you, and you are left with this question, he said: Is Jesus the Savior or not? You can define Savior and salvation in a lot of different ways, of course, but once you’ve done that, do you accept Jesus as that savior or don’t you? And if you do, how does that affect your existence – that’s why it’s an “existential” question.

In these two stories, we can see what conclusions people come to and how it affects their existence.

First is the woman with the “issue of bleeding.” We don’t know what her exact medical condition was, but we know what kind of impact it had on her life. Jewish culture and religious law held human blood to be “unclean,” as a way of helping draw the lines against human sacrifice. Warriors in battle, women who were menstruating or had given birth and people who had bleeding conditions like this woman were unclean until they were washed clean of the blood and underwent several cleansing ceremonies.

Since this woman never stopped bleeding, she could never be cleansed and she was an outcast in her society, because anyone who touched her would also be unclean.

She hears about Jesus the healer and resolves to find him, believing he could heal her. But there’s a problem. She is unclean. He isn’t. And he’s a teacher, a rabbi, someone who observes the law faithfully. Most of those folks are even touchier about touching someone who’s unclean than the average. If she touches him, his followers might take it harshly and she could be beaten.

So she compromises – she’ll just brush the hem of his robe, which nobody should notice and shouldn’t cause any problems. She has decided Jesus can heal her. If he can heal her, he can do it whether he touches her and says magic words and waves his hands in the air or does nothing at all. He’s a healer, so he can heal her. The robe ought to be enough.

And it is! Immediately, Mark says, when she brushes his cloak. No gradual improvement, no halfway measures. Immediately, she is healed of her condition.

Jesus knows he has been touched and knows he has healed someone. He probably, for that matter, knows exactly who the woman is. He’s Jesus, after all. But rather than pick her out of the crowd she’s now busily trying to fade back into, he asks, “Who touched me?”

“Look at this crowd,” the disciples say. “Who didn’t touch you?”

“No, someone did,” he insists. The woman comes forward and explains. “Daughter,” he says, destroying her isolation with that one word of connection, “your faith has made you well.”

Jairus, of course, is probably frantic with worry. And then the news he dreads comes, when people come from his house and tell him his daughter has indeed died. “Why bother the teacher any more?” they ask. He tells Jesus, probably offering thanks for his desire, but Jesus stops him.

“Have faith,” he says. Indeed. I never get how the people Jesus meets seem OK with the idea that he could heal, but death would be too much for him to handle. For me, once I get my head around the idea that God can work outside what I think are natural limits – and that’s not always easy, by the way – then why would I differentiate between healing and raising the dead?

In any event, Jairus, Jesus and a few disciples continue to the house, where the mourners are already at work. “What are you doing?” Jesus asks. “The girl isn’t dead, just sleeping.”

“Hey, get a load of this guy,” they respond. “He thinks people who are dead are just ‘asleep.’ Wonder if he thinks he rises from the dead every morning.” OK, that last part may not have happened.

Jesus, the disciples and Jairus and his wife enter the girl’s room. Jairus is a synagogue ruler. He has read how Elisha raised the widow’s son at Nain, and probably expects a long time of prayer and waiting, since that’s how it happened then. Nope. That was the undercard, friend, and we’re watching the headliner at work now.

“Little girl, get up,” Jesus says, and she does. He has them feed her to prove she is really alive again and not some kind of ghost.

Jairus takes a little longer to commit himself fully than does the woman. Eventually, though, just as she decides that if he’s a healer, he can heal her, Jairus decides that Jesus can do something for his daughter if he says he can. After that, he doesn’t care about the mourners or the weird thing Jesus says about his daughter sleeping or what the neighbors think.

When confronted with the question about whether or not Jesus is the healer, both the woman and Jairus realize they have to answer yes or no. Once they’ve answered yes, then they have to decide how that will affect their lives.

For them, Jesus the savior was Jesus the healer, and that made all the difference. What kind of difference will it make for us?

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