Are you good at asking for help? Most of us are raised to be strong and independent and it can be very hard to admit that we need help. I’ve had to ask for help a LOT over these last couple of years, especially when I’ve been in a wheelchair. One thing I learned is that people are almost always very pleased to be of help. They go home thinking; “Aren’t I a great person? I helped that old lady in the wheel chair.”
So I’ve gotten good at asking people to hold the door for me or help me carry my groceries to the car. But somehow I often forget to ask God for help. It just skips my mind.
In today’s gospel, we have two people who aren’t shy about asking Jesus to help them. In the midst of a crowd, Jesus is approached by an important, wealthy man named Jairus. Handily, “Jairus” is Greek for “he who will be enlightened.” No kidding. Jairus is in a panic because his little daughter is dying. He begs Jesus to follow him home and heal her. He doesn’t know much about this Jesus but he is willing to try anything to save his daughter. Jesus says, “OK”, and starts toward the dying child.
Phew, Jairus must be relieved and filled with hope. So imagine how he must feel when Jesus suddenly stops again. Jesus has felt something change within himself. Although he is being jostled by the crowd, he asks, “who touched me?” His disciples think he is funny. “Everybody is touching you, Jesus!” He ignores them and turns around and around until he sees a poor woman crouching in the dusty road with a stunned look on her face. Yep, she must be the one. She comes trembling up to him and starts telling him a long story, the whole story of her illness. For twelve years she has been bleeding. For twelve years she has seen doctor after doctor until she has no more money. For twelve years she has been a social outcast, unclean because of her bleeding. She talks and talks.
How do you think Jairus is doing? He is important, he is powerful and for God’s sake, his daughter is dying! Why on earth is Jesus stopping to listen to this poor woman?
The overwhelmed woman tells Jesus that all she did was reach out and touch his robe and she was healed; the endless bleeding stopped. Listen to what he says to this unclean outcast: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be free from suffering.” How must it have felt for her to hear Jesus so tenderly calling her ‘daughter’?
While they talked, the worst news has come: Jesus has dallied too long. Jairus’ young daughter has died. Jesus doesn’t seem bothered by this news. He just says matter of factly; “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” I try to put myself in Jairus’ shoes at this point but I can’t. I can’t imagine all of the emotions he must be feeling. His beloved daughter has died and Jesus calmly tells him to ‘just believe.’ Believe in what? This is no longer a matter of healing her.
They proceed to his house where the wailing mourners turn on Jesus. He just shoos them away and has James, John and Peter follow him into the girl’s room with her parents. There she lies, still and white; waxen. Jairus collapses at the sight and falls to the floor, looking up at Jesus with such heartfelt hope, reaching toward him with both arms outstretched.
Jesus goes to the girl and takes her hand. As he touches her cold flesh, he says in his native language, in Aramaic: Talitha Kum - “little girl, rise.” And just like that, the girl stirs, sits up, shakes her head and rises. Ever practical, Jesus tells her to go get something to eat. He seems so calm and matter of fact. Everyone else in the room is in shock. Jesus tells them to keep this to themselves.
Phew - isn’t this a great story? Sometimes the story of Jairus is told alone, leaving out the middle part with the story of the bleeding woman. It is a powerful story on its own but I think the real power comes from the two stories being told together like this. In this way we see the tension between the two very different supplicants. The poor, outcast, woman pleads for herself while the rich, socially important man pleads for his daughter. Look how Jesus treats them both - He takes time for both of them, neither is more important in his eyes. He answers their prayers equally for one reason: they asked for his help and they believed. They believed.
Two things happen with each of these healings: people believed and reached out to Jesus, AND THEN, Jesus healed. It is a two way street. The bleeding woman was healed by just touching his robe. The story makes clear that Jesus was in a crowd, being touched by many people. Were they all falling away in awe saying, “Hey, my vision is clear!,” “Wow, my leg stopped hurting!”? That wasn’t happening. They were touching him but they weren’t believing. Two way street. We have to reach for Jesus with our hands, our hearts, our minds.
Think of all the paintings of Jesus you’ve seen where he stands with his arms outstretched toward us. Now imagine yourself standing with your arms open and outstretched. You see, in that mode, you are not only open to Jesus and his love but you are open to the world, to your neighbors, spreading your love. Let’s practice. Just there in your seats, open your hands, palms up, reach out a little. See how that feels? Maybe when you are home, go for it. Open your arms, reach out and up and ask for help. We all need help, every single one of us.
My son Jeff asked me if I could preach a world record sermon today. That is, a sermon that only takes 30 seconds. Well, I can’t, but Jesus did. Jesus preached a perfect, complete sermon in seconds when he said: “Don’t be afraid, only believe.”