27th JUN 2021
Saint Margaret’s Church
“Jesus had crossed again in the boat…”
There are a lot of comings and goings -- and a lot of commotion -- in today’s account from the Gospel of Mark. Just last week, as you may remember, Jesus made a somewhat perilous crossing of the Sea – it is not named in these specific passages but would have undoubtedly been the Sea of Galilee as it is usually called -- along with his disciples. During their journey, as you will remember, Jesus calms the wind and the waves of a sudden squall, much to the amazement of the disciples.
We find Jesus today -- having completed that round-trip sea journey -- back at the point where he had presumably started. We are given no particular details of this return crossing. It may have been smooth-sailing…or maybe not. As to what Jesus had done while on “the other side,” while he was away, I will have to refer you to the first half of chapter five of the Gospel of Mark to find out. Or perhaps you already know the story. In any case, we shall have to save it for another occasion.
No sooner does Jesus disembark from the boat than “a great crowd” gathers around him at the shore, such is his growing reputation for holiness and healing. A leader of the synagogue approaches, imploring Jesus to come quickly and heal his daughter who is “at the point of death.” And without further ado, Jesus sets out to do just that, no questions asked. He does not get far, however.
For along the way, an unknown and unnamed woman with a chronic illness -- some sort of hemorrhaging -- reaches for Jesus’ cloak and touches him, hoping to be cured and made once again whole by this simple touch. “Who touched my clothes,” Jesus abruptly asks to the exasperation of the disciples who are quick to point out to him the great crowd hemming him in on all sides. No social distancing at the Sea of Galilee, apparently.
In reality, most anyone could have touched him. I suppose it could have been you or me. Yet this woman, knowing that it was indeed she who had been touched by our Lord’s healing power, comes forward to Jesus in fear and trembling, expecting perhaps a rebuke for her boldness and temerity. But our Lord instead affirms her faith and offers her the gift of healing and peace. She presumably departs and is never heard from again. But back to the main story. Jesus continues on his way to Jairus’ house, ultimately bringing again to life the man’s daughter who – presumably because of the unanticipated interruption of Jesus’ journey – had sadly in the meantime died, all to the astonishment and amazement of onlookers.
It is all quite a jumble, when you stop to think about it. Two healings, one fitted neatly inside another, not unlike those decorative Easter eggs which fit perfectly inside one another. Both stories are told in quick succession. A young child dies at twelve years of age as our Lord stops and offers hope and healing to an older woman who has been suffering terribly for precisely the same amount of time, twelve years. One person’s journey – one person’s life -- put on hold or ended in order to address the needs of another. Yet neither of them is known to the other. In Jesus their lives intersect and become somehow closely intertwined.
The literary, or theological, term for such a narrative technique -- one story narrated inside the telling of another -- is intercalation. Shakespeare frequently used a similar technique, placing one play within another. The technique is not used often in the Gospels; but when it is, the effect is one of great immediacy and spontaneity – such as we find here – sometimes bordering nearly on chaos and anarchy.
One narrative is left hanging while another story plays itself out. Nothing is straightforward or sequential -- much less logical in such narratives. In other words they remind us of life itself. The life of each of us is in some sense a living manifestation of intercalation. A play within a play within a play. It is perhaps not too strong to say that life itself is but a series of interruptions to which we later add a sense of meaning, logic, and sequence. Or as famed nineteenth-century historian Arnold Toynbee is said to have quipped, life is just one darned thing after another. Well, he actually used a bit stronger adjective.
Any parent whose plans for the evening have been interrupted by the illness of a child will understand this. As did Jairus. Anyone who has dropped everything to come to the aid of a friend will also know what this means. In reality, the lives of others and their needs and demands – not unlike those of the woman with the hemorrhage in the Gospel story – affect us in ways of which we are often only dimly aware, if we are aware at all. We are all part of God’s grand intercalation; his play within a play. Our Lord’s ministry, as we see here, does not unfold in the neat and structured way we sometimes impute to it. He, like us, is forever surrounded by commotion. He is forever coming and going; arriving and departing. Yet reflecting on his paths and detours always bring us back with a start to an awareness of what is truly important in life.
Who touched me? Not a bad question for any of us to ask. Who has been there in life for me…? Perhaps at moments least expected. Who has the Lord sent our way…? And, perhaps equally important: Whom have we touched? When have we been there for others…? Have we responded to their needs, as did so often our Lord …? It is after all in the midst of this jumble called life that healing comes –whether after twelve years of torment, after twelve years of life itself, or arguably within the twelve or so seconds it took for our Lord to intone to Jairus’ daughter, “Get up.” Now too is the time for each of us to bring Christ’s healing to those around us. But indeed like Jairus’ daughter we must first get up.
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs