A Sermon for Sunday, 27th June 2021
“Do not fear, only believe.” Mark 5:36
I always loved action films. In my childhood years there were the cowboy films: the hero and his trusty lieutenant would be trapped in a ring of waggons or in a log cabin, defending a group of women and children against the attackers. There would usually be some feisty woman who would ignore his instructions to stay hidden and would prove to be a shot as good as Annie Oakley as she picked off the surrounding villains with her late father’s rifle. The ammunition would be running low and the hero would have a flesh wound in his arm, dressed by the feisty woman who has torn strips of cloth from her petticoat, and all would seem lost when there would be the sound of a bugle in the distance and the cavalry would come riding in.
Getting older, war heroes took the place of the cowboys. Fiction was easier than fact; you could not have a relief force arriving in the nick of time when the history book told you that no such thing happened. There were extraordinary stories of unexpected help arriving, though. The tale of hundreds of thousands of men taken off the beaches at Dunkirk by the fleet of hundreds of boats would melt the heart of even the greatest sceptic.
Stories of last minute interventions by heroes were not common in adult life. Perhaps it was the longing for heroes that made the Lord of the Rings films appealing; the wizard Gandalf riding the great white horse Shadowfax at the head of a huge cavalry charge to destroy a besieging army: the heroic band standing at the gates of the Dark Lord’s capital, saved at the very last moment from being killed by the enemy army.
Down through the ages, people have looked for heroes, someone to ride in to help them when all other hope has gone. Even in Bible times, there was the hope that the cavalry would come riding in from somewhere.
Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue, is a man who his holding out for a hero; for only an heroic intervention, something dramatic and spectacular, would be enough. Jairus knows who can save his daughter, even at a very late moment, he knows who can walk in and turn things around. He goes to Jesus and makes the situation clear, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
As with the heroes in a movie, Jesus does not ignore a cry for help. “So he went with him.” says Saint Mark. It has about it a sense of determination. There is no shortage of people demanding his attention, “And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him,” but Jesus walks purposefully through the throng.
Only when a woman who has been ill for twelve years touches his cloak, and Jesus becomes, “immediately aware that power had gone forth from him,” does he pause. His disciples think he is being unreasonable, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”
Isn’t it the mark of a true hero that they have time for the weakest and those thought insignificant? Doesn’t it take someone with a true sense of the heroic to be concerned with every individual in the midst of the demands of the great and the powerful?
Jesus pauses because this woman matters to him.
The woman has the courage to step forward. She does so in fear and trembling because she realizes the power with which she has met, but she steps forward because doing so allows a vital part of her healing; a ridding of herself of the pain the past. She “fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.”
Isn’t it part of stories of heroism that those saved have a tale to tell of suffering and oppression? The hero delivers them not just from the present moment, but from the great burden of their memories.
The woman has doubly suffered: from her illness and from the charlatan doctors who have taken from her all of her money while knowing they had no cure to offer. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,” says Jesus. There is an acknowledgement that being well is about more than being healed of illness, it is about peace of mind as well as health of body. The woman goes away, made strong psychologically as well as physically.
In the movies, the arrival of the hero is thought too late to save things. Jesus’ arrival at the house of Jairus is thought to be too late, “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?’”
Like a hero hearing bad news and watching the declining morale of those around him, Jesus hears the news, and responds, “But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.”
A script telling a tale of heroism would not be complete without being being sceptical, without people saying it could not be done. The greater the scepticism, the greater the confidence and the bravery required of the hero. “When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him.”
There are moments in the Gospel story when those around Jesus believe he can change the situation, but here Jesus is surrounded not by faith, but by disbelief. The storybook hero has no need of doubters and begrudgers and Jesus has no need of those who are sneering and dismissive in their approach. “Then he put them all outside,” Saint Mark say, “and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.”
“Those who were with him?” We are not told who they were; friends, disciples, people whom he trusted; people who had faith in him; trusty lieutenants.
“He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about.” It is a story ending worthy of the greatest movie hero; triumphing against the odds, confounding the opponents, defeating the power of darkness.
The age of heroism is past, we may feel. But in the poorest and the most hopeless of places, those who have faith in Jesus still perform heroic deeds. Do extraordinary things still happen? Stand among Christians in Africa and they do.
“They were overcome with amazement,” says Saint Mark. Do we have the faith to be amazed by Jesus?
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