So many options for the preacher in today’s reading. Two stories of miraculous, interwoven into one another as if to force us to treat them as someone linked, somehow two sides of the same something, as if to say “don’t hear one of these stories without hearing the other”. Although of course, we do still manage to do so – I suspect many Bible story books, for instance, contain the story of Jairus’ daughter but leave the woman with the haemorrhages out.
But why are these stories so bound together? What is it that we learn from the combination of stories which we don’t see in either of them on their own? It seems to me that we would benefit from looking at these two miracles side by side, to see how they are similar, how they differ, and what that might tell us.
To begin then, perhaps, with the great difference; the two characters who come to Jesus seeking help could not be more different from one another.
Jairus, we are told, is one of the leaders in the synagogue. He is a respectable man, conventionally religious, married, with children, (or at least one child). And, of course, he is male. When it comes to assessing privilege within his society, Jairus ticks all of the boxes. No wonder the people who remembered this story, retold it, passed it on until such time as Mark came to write it down, knew his name.
By contrast, of course, with the anonymous woman in the crowd. In terms of social respectability, she had nothing: a woman, to start with, but also unclean (the bleeding of a haemorrhage would make that certain) and therefore excluded from public acts of worship and from most social events. She’s bankrupt as a result of years of medical costs; probably unmarried or divorced; an outsider with no influence or respectability.
But both of them have heard of Jesus, and both of them have come to the conclusion that this man might be solution to their very real problems; that he might represent the salvation they are searching for.
And so both of them come; and both of them have to overcome very real personal barriers in order to do so.
Jairus has to put his respectability on the line. As a respected leader of religion, he is supposed to be the one who knows, the one that other people turn to when they are in need of answers, in need of help, in need of God. He is used to being the teacher, the God-person in the room.
And so he has to humble himself; a leader of the synagogue going to an outsider; a respectable pillar of society falling at the feet of Galilean nobody, an educated man seeking the advice of a carpenter’s son. But he does so – and he does it not as even as an equal – one man of God seeking the help of a peer – but he falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him, repeatedly. Because here, in this moment, Jairus is no longer the powerful, respectable, educated leader of men; here, Jairus is just a father whose little girl is dying – a man who has discovered exactly how much all those other things matter when placed next to a parent’s love for their child.
Jairus overcomes all the social barriers to seeking out Jesus because none of them matter to him any more.
The anonymous woman has a very different set of barriers to overcome. Ceremonially unclean, she is unwelcome wherever there are people, especially in anything resembling a religious setting. Certainly to be in a great crowd was not acceptable. A crowd pressing in, people pushed together, jostling; this was context she had probably avoided for the past twelve years. Most likely she went incognito; for she would know that if she was recognised, she would be shunned, perhaps even met with violence, for daring to bring her uncleanliness amongst the crowd.
So she has to overcome the hostility of those who would not want her there, as well as her own internalised version of that same rejection. It is simply not possible to be excluded from society for twelve years without some part of you coming to believe the exclusion must be justified.
But she does. Because she has already tried every option that society told her was ok; she has gone to the doctors, and they have taken her money and left her no better; indeed, we are told, they have left her worse than she was before.
But she doesn’t go to Jesus. She doesn’t face him; not even on her knees at his feet does she feel she would be welcome. All she dares is to touch his cloak.
Jairus had to humble himself to come to Jesus for help; this woman had to do the opposite. She had to believe she was worth enough to have the right to seek his help. Jairus’ approach was very public; hers secretive. Jairus begged, she didn’t even speak.
Two people seeking Jesus out; two people who stand at opposite ends of the social spectrum, who could not be more different, who overcome very different barriers in order to seek his help.
But the story ends the same for both of them.
Both are given back the gift of life.
Jairus receives back the life of his daughter; and with it all the hopes and dreams that had been shattered; all the possibilities of a future for her, for the family.
And the anonymous woman receives back her health, and with it, her life as part of society: now she can be declared clean, she can be part of life once more; perhaps, depending on her age, she might even dream once more of a family.
But in fact, her story is not yet complete. For there is a detail in the story that I had never noticed until I read it this week. When Jesus asks “who touched me?”, and the disciples can’t believe the question, but she understands and comes finally to face him; but when she does, she comes “in fear and trembling”, and unconsciously imitates Jairus; she falls at his feet.
She has sought Jesus out, she has received the healing she hoped for; but now she has been found out, and she is terrified. She’s not rejoicing, or full of gratitude; when Jesus calls her, she comes in fear and trembling, frightened that she will be punished for daring to approach Jesus, daring to touch him.
Everything in her life in the past twelve years has taught her that she is not worthy; that she is unclean; that she has no right to even hope for help.
Her healing is not yet complete. She has been healed in her body; but Jesus knows that that is not the end of the story.
And so he says just a few more words to her.
“Daughter,” he names her; the same word that Jairus had used of his little girl, the one he loved so much he would do anything in the hope of saving her; Jesus uses the same word to name this woman.
“Daughter, your faith has healed you,” your faith, he says, as if to say, this healing is yours. You have this because whatever life has told you for the past twelve years, you are worthy of it.
“Go in peace,” you need not fear that your presumption will bring consequences upon you, “and be healed”; this healing will not be taken from you.
And now she has truly been healed.
So what does it all mean? How to pull it all together? Well, you know I’m not into the whole “the moral of this story is” sort of thing. Find your own conclusion.
But this one, I offer, at least.
It didn’t matter that the two came from opposite ends of society. It didn’t matter that they overcame different problems. It didn’t matter that one came for herself and the other came on behalf of another. It didn’t matter that they approached Jesus differently, addressed him differently.
All that mattered was that they knew they needed his help; that they dared to overcome all that would stand between them and him, and that they came.