After leaving the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, less 2,000 swine and the man freed from his unclean spirit, Jesus returns back to the western and more familiar side of the lake. It must have been an interesting transition for him to return from a place where he was not known particularly well to the side of the lake where great crowds are waiting for him. And why not, he’s proven himself a healer and if you had some sort of affliction it would clearly be worth some effort to experience his healing touch.
On its face our story today seems like Jesus is just out doing that miracle thing that he does. Two people, a woman and a girl, are healed of what ails them and that’s fair enough. Certainly miraculous enough. But as we dig a little deeper we see the literary mastery of Mark the storyteller. He has taken a couple of miraculous healings and paired them together to make a larger point. Getting into all the parallels in these two stories would be worthy of an hourlong sermon. I won’t inflict that on you but let me point out a couple of things.
Firstly and most obviously, as I noted before, we have two females as the central characters. This is important because women frequently didn’t have a lot of status in the society that surrounded Jesus. There were many women in Jesus’ arena that were ministry leaders but they were exceptions. In the society of Jesus’ day women were second class citizens. The fact that Mark used two women as central characters in today’s reading highlights the importance of the message he is trying to convey.
Plus, the number 12 shows up in the story for both the woman and the girl. The woman has been suffering a hemorrhage for 12 years and the girl is 12 years old. Though note how Mark sets that up. He begins the story with the girl being near death but we don’t find out she’s 12 until the end of the story. There’s nothing magical or significant about the number 12 itself but the fact that 12 years applies to both ties their stories together.
The last tie in I want to mention for these two stories is that both seem hopeless. You and I know they’re not going to be hopeless in the end but at the outset of Mark’s telling, the woman has very little future because she has spent all she has on treatments that accomplished nothing. The young girl? Well, she’s about to die and that seems about as hopeless as it gets for the characters in our story.
A woman and a girl inextricably intertwined in hopeless circumstances. Things are not looking good and we are left with a sense of fear and foreboding about what the future holds for these two.
We hear a lot of these kinds of stories these days, it seems like. Newsfeeds are filled with stories that aren’t always accurate. I don’t mean a source that is posting things you disagree with. That’s not fake news. I’m talking about sources that post ACTUAL fake news. The stories that are designed to leave us with a sense of fear and foreboding about our future. A sense of fear and foreboding that isn’t necessary or helpful.
Here’s an example of what I mean about unnecessary fear. Last week was the anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. In 1986 the Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing the seven astronauts aboard. A news article about the event was posted on social media, like every other event. Someone commented publicly, “This was so scary! When things like that happen you wonder if the country will survive. I remember that crash as if it was yesterday.” Now this was absolutely a tragedy and I remember it clearly, as I do the space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. But I don’t think either disaster rises to the level of fear about the country surviving.
But our anxieties are being manipulated beyond what is reasonable. Lots of reasons for that, I supposed but Jesus reminds us in v35 of today’s reading, 35 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?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
That’d be pretty hard to hear if you were in the middle of that situation. When you’re in any situation that generates that fear deep down inside the last thing you want is someone telling you not to be afraid. Even so, there something to be said about faith in the face of fear. Being afraid is completely understandable but giving up to our fears is where the danger lies. When we let out fears, particularly fears that have no real basis for generating an emotion, when we let our unreasonable fears take over our ability to function then we’re in trouble.
Jesus has a better way. That’s not to say that we ignore the realities that surround us. There are many situations that require us to pay attention and some to take action. It is the unreality that tries to take our hope away.
Think of those situations that try to take your hope away. I can name several, but I try not to give people ideas of things to be hopeless about because they hadn’t thought of it yet. Fill in the blank with something that currently is or might possibly threaten to take your hope away. Now insert Christ into the equation. Because it is Christ that brings us hope in every situation. Hope of healing, hope of redemption, hope of forgiveness, hope of eternal life.