Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson
I wonder if you ever have those days, or weeks, or months where you want to shout out, ‘Stop the world, I want to get off!’?
I seem to remember those glimpses into the future, twenty or thirty years ago, which suggested that we would be working less and spending more time in leisure activities, as well as something referred to as the paperless office. Neither prediction seems to have materialised. 21st century life can seem a bit on the full side at times and unrelenting at others. 24 hour news, emails, texts, and mobile phones all contribute to the sense of busyness and a lack of space, especially for those who would describe ourselves as reflectors.
If you sometimes feel like any of this, then today’s gospel reading will have a familiar ring about it. St Mark’s gospel is characterised by its pace. One episode cuts into the next and there is speed and a sense of urgency throughout. In the verses before today’s gospel reading Jesus stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee and as he reaches the other side of the lake he’s surrounded by a great crowd. There is too much to do and little time to reflect or be still. It might sound like a run of the mill day to us but for the people of first century Palestine it was frenetic beyond measure. Picture Jesus in the midst of this crowd, being pressed in on all sides. Suddenly, Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders falls down at his feet and begs Jesus to come to his home and help his daughter who is at the point of death. Jesus responds not with words but simply by following Jairus to his home. He’s not too busy or distracted by the crowd and he pays close attention to the needs of those around him, listening attentively to this heartfelt plea. It seems like a million miles away from our own response.
As the group of Jesus and his disciples moves in the direction of the sick girl, the crowd surges around him and unbeknown to Jesus a sick woman comes from behind and touches his cloak, desperate to be healed of her long- standing infirmity. Although Jesus has set his mind on visiting Jairus’ daughter, he still makes time to turn around and to engage with the sick woman who received healing. Engaging in conversation with this woman sounds quite normal to us and yet in Jesus’ day his actions were outrageous, as were hers. Jesus gives his attention to two women, both of whom were ritually unclean. In each case his touch heals the now dead child and the woman with hemorrhages.
Jesus actions are a real challenge to those of us who experience the crazy merry-go-round modern world where we often feel that we are about to meet ourselves coming back. Jesus looks into our own lives and asks us the question, Who and what claims your time and my time? How do we prioritise who and what is truly important and needful of our attention at a particular moment? Perhaps it shouldn’t be always the things and people that shout the loudest to catch our gaze. Jesus crossed barriers and turned the world upside down by responding to the unclean and the outcast, those without a voice, the powerless. How can we allow Jesus to speak into the busyness of this coming week, to reflect on how he would deal with those people and things competing for our attention?
Reading about these healing-within-a-healing episodes perhaps raises big questions in our minds, given some of our experiences of requests for healing. Day by day and week by week we offer prayer for those who are sick. Sometimes it can seem like a very long list, but in the context of Jesus’ actions in the gospel I make no apologies for it. He responded to those in need, giving them a voice. We would do well to do the same. But how do we cope when our prayers seemingly go unanswered? Walk onto many hospital and hospices wards up and down the country and we could be forgiven for thinking that our pleas for healing are ignored. What needs to be said loud and clear is that this is not because they or we have insufficient faith. I cannot believe in a God who operates in such a capricious way. That needs to be heard particularly in the context of Jesus’ words to the woman, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well.’ For the sick woman to touch both a man and a religious leader was utterly beyond the pale. She was worthy of the highest condemnation. And yet, by pushing the boundaries she found healing and peace. We too need to push the boundaries of our understanding of what it means to be healed and made whole. For healing may come, not in the form of physical healing, but a healing which brings peace and acceptance of our situation and prognosis. Like the two disciples walking to Emmaus on the evening of the first Easter, so Jesus walks alongside us in our brokenness, our pain and our longing for wholeness, opening our hearts and our eyes to his presence in the midst of our circumstances. Jesus valued relationships above all else - his relationship with God and his relationship with those around him, breaking down the barriers of convention and mistrust. He calls on us his followers to do the same.
A few weeks ago Guy Stagg came to the Cathedral to speak about his book, The Crossway. It was Radio 4’s Book of the Week at the same time and well worth listening to on catchup. The book tells the very human and humbling story of his journey living with mental ill health and how he used the pilgrimage in his desire for healing. He walked from Canterbury to Rome, relying on the generosity and hospitality of strangers and in spite of many ups and downs he found peace, not in the destination but through the journey. In his complete reliance on the kindness of others he discovered a new and intense gratitude for life. When he arrived in Rome he continued his journey, pressing on to Jerusalem and covering over 5,500 km. On his journey Guy discerned healing and peace through the ritual of pilgrimage, realising that relationships are paramount and beginning to sift the important from the pressing. Guy’s story is well worth reading, so why not pop it in your holiday bag?
Jairus and the sick woman approached Jesus asking for healing. They came to him with open hearts, knowing their need of God’s healing grace and peace in their lives, knowing that God alone could make them whole. Might we have the same openness and longing to invite Jesus into our world, our own situation, our busyness and to hear Jesus say to us, ‘Go in peace and be healed’?