Reading the Mystery

Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – June 28, 2015

Jesus healing hands

Today’s lessons raised questions at our Wednesday evening Bible study:

  • Why is there pain and death?
  • What do we do to deserve pain and death?
  • How can we end our suffering?
  • Can we be healed?

And each lesson seemed to give us a different message.

The Wisdom of Solomon said

God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For God created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.  For righteousness is immortal. God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.  (Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24)

Wisdom told us that God wants to give us eternal life, but that will depend on our righteousness – that is, living without sin.

The Psalm said

I will exalt you, O LORD, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me.  O LORD my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. While I felt secure, I said, “I shall never be disturbed. You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”  Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear…. (Psalm 30)

The psalmist gives thanks because he has been healed.  But he believes his illness was a sign that God had turned away from him – and only his desperate pleading made God change his mind.

But the Gospel said

Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue, came and, when he saw Jesus, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “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.” And Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed Jesus and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years…. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, `Who touched me?'” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from Jairus’ house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to him, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. And when they came to Jairus’ house, Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about… (Mark 5:21-43)

The Gospel told us that Jesus healed people with God’s loving compassion, regardless of their circumstances, and regardless of their petty sins.

To the woman, Jesus said: “Your faith has made you well; go in peace…”

To the girl’s father Jesus said: “Do not fear, only believe…”

And to the child Jesus said, “Little girl, arise…”

This Gospel challenges our old ideas about suffering and death:

Did the woman suffer for 12 years because God had turned away from her?

Did the child almost die because she sinned, or because her parents sinned?

Then why would Jesus reach out compassion and give healing to them both?

If you want to understand Mark’s Jesus, you must wrestle with the healing stories.

Today we ask how questions:  How did Jesus heal?’ and  ‘How can we pray for healing?’

Imagine the questions that Jesus’ disciples, and the crowds, had about healing! But their questions focused on why:

Why did Jesus heal the woman, who was clearly a sinner and breaking the law as well?  (As long as she continued to bleed, she was required to withdraw from other people.)

Why did Jesus heal the little girl, who was probably suffering God’s punishment for some lack of righteousness?  (The law said her parents should take her to the priest, make confession, and ask for God’s mercy.)

Think of the Gospel as a mystery.

When we read an ordinary mystery, we know we’ll find the answer to our questions when we get to the end.  But unlike reading a mystery (where you don’t know the ending until you get to the last page), and unlike Jesus’ disciples (who didn’t know the end of the story), we can read the end of the story first.  When we see the Gospel through its ending, we begin to understand.

And how is this story going to end? Jesus the healer died on the cross and rose again. So after the resurrection, here are the questions Mark’s first readers asked:

If Jesus died on the cross, did God reject him because of sin?

If Jesus suffered in great pain, did God inflict that pain upon him?

If Jesus died despite the prayers of his disciples, what does that say about our prayers for ourselves and those we love?

And, in light of the Gospel’s ending, here are more questions we have to ask: 

If Jesus endured great suffering, shouldn’t we expect to endure it, too?

What if suffering and death is a part of life on earth, and not always our fault?

Clues to the Gospel mystery

One clue to the Gospel mystery is found in the psalm:

In the midst of his illness, the psalmist turned to God; and the relationship – always open on God’s side –  was restored. (Psalm 30:2) 

Other clues to the mystery are found in Mark’s Gospel:

The isolated woman who came to Jesus for help was turning to God through Jesus – and she was healed. (Mark 5:28)

The desperate father who came to Jesus for help was turning to God through Jesus – and a family was healed. (Mark 5:23)

The Gospel tells us that God’s face is always turned towards us.

Always read the Scriptures through Jesus:

In the Gospel, ‘righteousness’ doesn’t depend on our doing everything right.

The Gospel says our ‘righteousness’ comes from turning our face to God.

And in Jesus we see that God’s face is always turned towards us.

The message of Mark’s whole Gospel is this:

Jesus lives! Despite his suffering and death, His Spirit is alive!

And what does that say to us about God’s healing love for us?

Sometimes an old hymn says it best:

O Love of God, how strong and true, eternal and yet ever new;
uncomprehended and unbought, beyond all knowledge and all thought.

O wide-embracing, wondrous Love, we read thee in the sky above;
we read thee in the earth below, in seas that swell and streams that flow.

We read thee best in him who came to bear for us the cross of shame;
sent by the Father from on high, our life to live, our death to die.

We read thy power to bless and save e’en in the darkness of the grave;
still more in resurrection light we read the fullness of thy might. 

Hymnal #445 (Horatio Bonar, 1808-1889)

Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – June 28, 2015

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