March 10, 2019: Loneliness

Pastor Steve Mechem

Download this podcast.

Mark 5:21-43 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 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.” So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 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 the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he 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 (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Has anybody seen the documentary, “Period. End of Sentence.”

It recently won an Oscar for best documentary short.

You can find it on Netflix.

It is the story of a group of women in India who decide to fight the stigma around menstruation as they start a business that makes and sells sanitary pads. In rural India, a very small percentage of women use manufactured sanitary pads and this plays a significant role in the diminishment of women in that society.

Young women are forced to stay home from school during their periods. They fall behind in their schoolwork, and many eventually drop out. And in the workforce women lose days because of their menstrual cycles, leading to the errant assumption that they are less reliable.

The introduction of the manufactured sanitary pad in rural India is making a big difference, as women are more confident to integrate into society, even during their periods.

Check out the documentary. It’s pretty cool.

Question. Does it make you uncomfortable that I am talking about women’s menstrual cycles, in church, or at all?

Get used to it, I reckon, because the story we hear in scripture today is the story about a woman who has had a continual period for 12 years.

Jesus has just recently turned from the other side of the lake where he had the encounter with the demon possessed man in the cemetery. As he gets off the boat in Galilee he is immediately met by a man named Jairus, whose daughter, who is 12 years old, is sick and dying.

He begs Jesus to come to touch her and heal her. Jesus consents to walk with the man to his home.

Along the way, a woman quietly approaches Jesus. Now, a large crowd has gathered around Jesus and his followers, which has become the norm as Jesus has achieved rock star status as a teacher and healer. So the woman has to finagle her way through the dense crowd.

This woman has had a continual menstrual flow for 12 years- interestingly, the same number of years as the lifespan of the sick girl Jesus is going to see. The woman has some condition which has controlled her life for a lifetime.

The constant flow of blood means that she is continually weak and tired. The discharge creates continual discomfort and periodic pain.

She has gone to all the doctors, healers, and quacks she can find. They have prescribed painful, horrifying, embarrassing remedies and have taken all of her money.

Now, in United States in 2019, a woman with such a condition might see her doctor, or go to Planned Parenthood, or visit an urgent care place.

A Physician will order some tests.

Depending on what the tests reveal, there might be surgery, or some medication, or some hormone treatments.

And unless the tests reveal something devastating, the treatments will help and the woman’s life just might return to normal.

For a woman in Jesus’ day, there is no such hope. A return to normal seems impossible.

And beyond the physical struggles, there is an emotional toll that is downright unbearable. It is a reality that all menstruating women in Jesus’ day experience, only amplified to the extreme.

For a woman who has regular menstrual cycles, the Levitical law says, “Whenever a woman has a discharge of blood that is her normal bodily discharge, she will be unclean due to her menstruation for seven days. Anyone who touches her will be unclean until evening. Anything on which she lies or sits during her menstruation will be unclean. Anyone who touches anything on which she has sat will be unclean.

Whenever a woman has a bloody discharge for a long time, which is not during her menstrual period, or whenever she has a discharge beyond her menstrual period, the duration of her unclean discharge will be like the period of her menstruation; she will be unclean.

When the woman is cleansed of her discharge, she will count off seven days; after that, she will be clean again. On the eighth day she will take two turtledoves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest.”

When a woman has a period she is deemed ceremonially unclean for the time of her period and the seven days following it.

So, for every woman who is menstruating, up to half the month is spent in the Quasi-seclusion of uncleanness.

But for this woman, this seclusion, this isolation, has lasted for twelve straight years, as long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive.

For 12 years, she has been unclean,
there has been no touching,
Everything she touches becomes unclean,
Everybody she touches becomes unclean,
She Can’t touch her husband or be touched by him,
She can’t touch her children or be touched by them,
She can’t touchher friends,
She can’t reach out in compassion to another human being.

No serving her household,
No cooking for her family,
In fact, she has probably had to move away from her family.

There is no gathering at the city gates with the other women.
There is no Sabbath worship at the synagogue.
There are no trips to the temple in Jerusalem for festivals with family.

After 12 years of uncleanness, the woman is isolated, broken, Ionely.

And ready to act. What is there to lose?

So she slips through the crowd, edging her way toward Jesus. Not caring that every person she touches in the crowd becomes unclean.

As she approaches Jesus from behind, she reaches out and touches his robe.

In that moment, she feels the flow stop. She can feel the healing.

Jesus stops in his tracks and says, “who touched me?”

His disciples step in, “Jesus, There are people all around you touching you. “What do you mean, who touched me?”

“Someone needed to touch me, on purpose, who is it?”

The woman steps forward, physically shaking, fearful of what might happen to her once her uncleanness is revealed to this crowd.

She says, “It was me, Lord and I’m healed.”

Jesus responded with compassion, “yes, you are. Now go in peace!” My sense is that he reaches out and touches her face.

Notice, notice, please notice!

Jesus’ response to the woman is not,

“Yuck, you touched me, unclean troll!”

Nor is it,

“You broke the rules. Shame on you.”

His response is compassion. And the proclamation of healing is made by Jesus so that everyone in the crowd would know that this woman, who’s condition so separated her from everything and everybody she cared about, would no longer be isolated, be broken.

For this woman, the tragedy is not just her condition, but the loneliness that results from the rigid rules that bound her.

Mother Teresa said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.”

In Jesus’ response to this woman, we see compassion and love that not only brings physical healing, but also potentially frees her from the bondage of loneliness.

Jesus doesn’t care about the rules that bind her.

Jesus cares about her.

Now, before the celebration can break out, word comes that Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter is dead.

Jesus comes to Jairus’ house and enters the young woman’s room where she lies in death. Reaching out to her, taking her by the hand, Jesus says quietly, “Come on now. Get up.”

And she does.

She has lived 12 years and now her life is restored.

And, the woman with the 12 year period, she had lost 12 years and now her life is restored.

Now the scripture doesn’t say this, and it doesn’t allude to it in the slightest, but I would like to think that as Jesus goes to Jairus’ home, the woman who has been healed goes along with him, and when Jesus restores this girl’s life, the woman is close by, perhaps one of the first to reach out and comfort her with her touch. After all, there’s nothing to stop her.