Sixth Sunday of Easter
Text: Mark 5:21-43
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
27 June 2021
When we read the Bible, we tend to overlook its literary qualities. The Book of Psalms, for instance. contains some of the most beautiful and most ancient poetry in the world. And there are all sorts of literary devices and techniques in the Bible, such as metaphor, hyperbole, and parable. The Gospels are no exception. Each Gospel writer has a distinctive literary style and uses different techniques as he tells the story of Jesus.
In today’s reading from Mark, we have an example of one of his favorite techniques, the so-called “Markan sandwich.” We have two healing stories, one inserted into the other, like a sandwich. In one, Jesus raises a little girl presumed to be dead; in the other, he heals a woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages. The purpose of interweaving the two stories is to interpret one in light of the other. The similarities and differences between the two stories accentuate the details, and the interruption of one story by the other adds suspense. Both stories involve women. One is a twelve-year-old girl, and the other is an older woman who has had hemorrhages for twelve years. The girl is the daughter of Jairus, a religious leader, hence from an elite socioeconomic and cultural background. The woman, on the other hand, is poor; she has spent all her money looking for an elusive cure. Both involve healing, but in the case of one, the father makes the request on behalf of his daughter, whereas in the other, the woman secretly touches Jesus’ cloak.
In both stories, Jesus is misunderstood and ridiculed. In the story of the woman with the hemorrhages, Jesus is in the middle of a crowd when he senses that power has gone out of him. He asks, “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples think that Jesus is acting odd, and they tell him so: “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mark 5:30-31). In the story of Jairus’s daughter, Jesus enters their house to find a group of people mourning her death. When he tells them that she “is not dead but sleeping,” they laugh at him (Mark 5:39-40). They think that Jesus is either stupid or crazy. In any case, the healer has arrived too late to do anything.
This incident of Jesus being laughed at recalls for me another story in the Bible. In the Old Testament, we have the story of Abraham being visited by three divine messengers. When Sarah overhears one of them telling her husband that she will soon bear a son, she laughs. She thinks the idea of a woman her age having a child is preposterous. The messenger then rebukes her for doubting God’s power. He asks, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:9-15).
As we look at our own walk of faith, we may not have laughed at God in the way that Sarah or the crowd at Jairus’s house did. But we can probably recall those moments when we doubted whether God could do anything for us. Or we may not even have given a thought to God because we were so wrapped up in the situation. Perhaps it was an illness or financial problems or strained relationships – those moments when we felt helpless and without hope. Like Sarah or the people at Jairus’s house, we felt there was nothing we or God could do.
But as we know from these stories, contrary to expectation, God does come through. Jesus heals the girl. Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Such divine surprises are repeated throughout Scripture. Story after story in the Gospels demonstrate Jesus defying conventional expectations as he manifests God’s power and love. He brings healing to what seem to be hopeless situations, and he even has authority over the forces of nature, as he calms the stormy waves. And in his ultimate act of overturning human expectations, he conquers death and rises from the grave.
As people of faith, we are open to the realm of mystery and miracles. We believe in a world that we cannot see with our eyes. We believe in a power greater than our own. And we believe that our God loves and cares for us, and that God grants us help in the toils and labors of this life. But this conviction does not necessarily mean that we will always have quick fixes to our problems. God will not always answer our prayers with miraculous healing or success in our endeavors. God may have other plans. Indeed, in one strand of our Christian piety, we have the examples of the saints down through the ages who have embraced suffering in imitation of Our Lord Jesus. When we read the biographies of the saints, it is surprising how many have been afflicted with debilitating illness. But rather than praying for a cure, they live with it as a privilege.
Whether we seek the path of holy suffering or the path of healing, we all share in the same promise. God is with us. God will grant us strength, comfort, and hope. But we do not always claim this promise. Our eyes are clouded by the worries and cares of this world, and we often fail to turn to God for help.
I would like to conclude with a prayer that we ordinarily use at the end of the Prayers of the People. But it perfectly captures the gap that often exists between our vision and God’s vision, and it reminds us that we are never left alone. Whether we are aware or not, God is always with us. God will take care of us. In our daily walk of faith, may we strive to rise above ourselves and see the world with the eyes of faith.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, to whom our needs are known before we ask; Help us to ask only what accords with your will; and those good things which we dare not, or in our blindness cannot ask, grant us for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, “Commentary on Mark 5:21-43,” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-13-2/commentary-on-mark-521-43-4
 The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979), 394-395.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!