As usual, in preparing for this sermon, I read quite a few articles and commentaries on our Gospel passage. I was…let’s call it surprised, when only about 10% of them focused on the fact that the people receiving Jesus’ healing attentions in this passage are both women. And most of those noted only that Jesus cared about women at a time when men were not expected to, simply extending the storyline of Jesus’ love for the marginalized and least – the lepers, the sinners, even the women. Only one commentator – out of a dozen or so – discussed the women’s bodies. Which says a great deal about the church and very little about this story.
So let’s look at the story.
It begins in a fairly usual way. Jairus is not the only desperate parent to seek out Jesus – not even the only high status desperate parent to seek out Jesus. And Jesus, who attends to the marginal, does not disdain anyone who seeks him. So Jesus goes with Jairus, and the crowd follows.
And then there is an interruption.
A woman, as desperate as Jairus but without a name, pushes through the crowd and, touching only the hem of Jesus’ robe, claims healing for herself.
This particular desperate woman, the story tells us, had suffered from a hemorrhage for 12 years. Now, she was not bleeding for 12 years from her elbow. This woman had suffered for 12 years with some sort of terrible gynecological disorder – physically, socially, and emotionally debilitating. She must have felt physically awful and on top of that she was effectively an outcast due to her contagious ritual impurity.
But her ritual impurity was not about illness – it was the same ritual impurity that all women experienced as a matter of course every month during their menstruation – an impurity tied to so many things – the awesome, dangerous power of fertility and childbirth; the symbolism of blood; the desire to control women and women’s bodies. Her marginalization was, therefore, about more than ritual impurity. It was about a woman’s impurity.
And her suffering was about more than ritual impurity, even about more than straightforward physical suffering. Her suffering was tied to how her disorder impacted her role and identity as a woman, impacting her ability to be a wife and a mother, to be sexually and reproductively active. Such struggles are hard for women today – imagine the scale of the struggle for a woman at a time when those were her only options for participating in the life of her community.
No wonder she was desperate. But she wasn’t only desperate. She was bold – brazen, even. You know, the Gospels are, once you actually start looking, rather full of brazen women. But this woman, in pushing through the crowd, in reaching out to touch Jesus, in demanding phsyical and sexual health, was among the most brazen indeed, even if she did try to do it secretly.
And her healing was granted – her anonymity, not so much. Jesus noticed. It’s what Jesus does. Jesus noticed and called out to whoever had been in such need of him. So the woman comes forward, in fear and trembling.
She knows she has received a miracle – that alone would leave me trembling – but she also has every reason to expect to be punished, to be shamed. That has, after all, been her life and now she has taken liberties that were not hers to take; she has contaminated men; she has interfered with the desires of Jairus and the plan of Jesus. Fear and trembling, indeed.
And Jesus, on his way to see one daughter, calls her “daughter”, too. She is as important to him as Jairus’ little girl is to Jairus. Instead of shaming her, he claims an intimate relationship with her… and he commends her.
Her faith, not his power alone, has made her well. Her faith in him, yes. But also her faith in herself, in her right to physical, social, and sexual health and wholeness as a woman. It is, I think, very important to note that this healing story says nothing at any point about sin and forgiveness – for contrary to far too much teaching – none of it from Jesus – there is nothing shameful in being a woman and having a body. “Daughter,” says Jesus, “your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
And that is plenty of good news for one story. But this story has still more because Jesus has not forgotten about Jairus’ daughter, although Jairus must have been afraid that he had.
It is hard to be patient when we are afraid; when there is no time to lose; when we have no control over something that matters to us more than our own lives. And Jairus, it is reasonable to assume, would not have been accustomed to waiting while people like this brazenly faithful woman were attended to first. But what could he do but wait, impatient and anxious and angry while this awkwardly powerful and holy man, his daughter’s only hope, took his time?
And then word comes from home and his worst fears are realized – it is too late. That woman got his miracle and now his daughter is dead.
But Jesus turns away none who are seeking. There is enough wholeness, enough peace, enough love for everyone. The nameless woman took nothing away from Jairus in claiming healing for herself – there is enough for all.
And so, for the second time in this story, Jesus doesn’t do what is expected. Upon hearing of the girl’s death, he doesn’t apologize, or offer comfort, or even stop. He tells Jairus not to fear but to believe and continues on his way and does precisely what he had set out to do; what Jairus so desperately needed him to do. He restores Jairus’ daughter to life.
And then the gospel writer tells us that the girl is twelve years old. 12. The number of years for which the woman had bled but also, and I think more significantly, the age at which Jewish tradition identifies girls as becoming women.
Jairus’ daughter is not simply a daughter, restored to her loving parents. She is a girl, raised from death in order to become a woman – a woman with a body deserving of respect and care and wholeness just like her brazenly faithful older sister.
Jesus offers this respect and care and wholeness to both of these women – and to Jairus and to each one of us, body and soul. This story tells us more than that women, like all the marginalized, are welcome in the family of God.
This story tells us that God loves our bodies – all of our bodies and everything about our bodies, regardless of our gender or sexual identity, our age or ability or health.
It is an invitation to claim our own wholeness, to reject the many narratives in our tradition and our society that shame us for having the wrong bodies, the wrong desires, and instead to embrace God’s great love for the bodies God created.
And it is a promise that there is enough love, enough wholeness, for all of us to get all that we need.
Whether you are the brazen woman or the dying daughter or the anxious parent or the privileged and respectable man – you – every part of you – is loved by God. Rejoice in that good news. Share that good news. Live into that good news until all the fear is gone and only peace and wholeness remain for you and for me and for each and every one of God’s beloved children.