In today’s gospel reading, we have an example of the Markan sandwich— or more precisely, Mark’s use of interpolation. This means that— as he does 12 times all together in his gospel— Mark starts one story, embeds a second and then finishes the first. Today’s stories appear to have little connection to each other, so we have to dig a bit to find why Mark decided to put them together and what he may have meant to convey to us.
The story that starts and ends our reading (the bread part of the sandwich Mark is making) is about Jairus. He is not a Rabbi, but a lay leader in the Synagogue. This was a position of honor and so he was likely a man of means. His falling at Jesus’ feet and begging him to lay hands on his 12-year-old daughter reveals his utter desperation.
We can only imagine how Jairus must have felt having to wait en route to his home when a woman momentarily delayed Jesus. And right after Jesus finished helping that woman, Jairus faced his worst nightmare— he was told his daughter was dead. Jesus’ only response was, “Do not fear, only believe.” Indeed, upon reaching Jairus house, Jesus took his dead daughter’s hand, told her to get up, and she was alive and well enough to eat.
The second story in the middle of the Markan sandwich is about the woman who interrupted Jesus and Jairus as they walked in a crowd. She knew if she touched Jesus’ cloak, she would be healed of her 12-year hemorrhage. There are other such occurrences in the Gospels of people touching Jesus’ clothes and being made well. A garment stood for the wearer’s authority, and this woman knew she would experience the power and authority of Jesus through it. Indeed, when Jesus felt power had left him, he asked who had touched him. The woman, fearing she was in trouble, came forward and explained her situation. In response Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well, go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
So why did Mark put these stories together? Perhaps because there are several similarities. Mark highlights two females, one at the point of death and one who may as well be dead having an illness that had made her chronically and seriously ill, destitute and outcast. In addition, the girl is 12, the woman has been ill for 12 years. Mark uses the number 12 purposefully. Ordinarily, when we hear 12 in Jesus’ day, we think of the 12 tribes of Israel. This time, perhaps, Mark is highlighting another meaning of 12, which signifies the “completion of God’s purpose.”
There is another similarity worth looking at, not between the woman and the girl, but between the woman and Jairus. They were both driven by desperation and faith enough to trust Jesus could help. He was their last hope and they were going to get to him come hell or high water.
There it is. The Markan sandwich is telling us about contacting Jesus in faith and the healing that can result.
OK, many of you have heard that I work as a cashier at Giant during the week— and I do. You may ask, what in the heck is a priest doing working as a cashier? Well, I’ve wondered that myself. It isn’t because my husband and I didn’t plan for our retirement. I am there because God sent me there. It is my second sanctuary. I am surrounded by God’s beloved— moms and dads with babies and children; the profoundly poor, blue collar workers, the working poor, professionals, students, teens, older people, the mentally ill, sick, troubled, frail, homeless, handicapped, and grieving. Where else would Jesus be?
The point of all this is that my work is prayer and one of the ways I contact Jesus and am healed. It is also one of the ways Jesus contacts and heals others through me. It is the Markan sandwich some 2,000 years later, although Jesus himself is not physically here.
We, the faith-full, are marked as God’s own and so called to manifest God’s own love and compassion and healing in the world. How else is it going to get there? When the Spirit works through us for completing God’s purposes, the Kingdom comes and that changes the world, one interaction at a time.
All kinds of people come through my check out. Most pass the time of day with playful banter or opinions on the weather. Some say nothing. Some are angry and impatient and speak harshly. Some, no doubt seeing my age, commiserate about how hard it is to grow old. And some share their pain.
A woman told me that her husband had stage 4 cancer and could no longer eat. In the minute that followed, as I am scanning groceries and bagging, Jesus held her in my comforting words. An older gentleman said his wife died and he is completely lost. A young man told me he has severe heart disease and is slowly dying. An older woman told me her dog had died and was crying because she missed buying his food. Another woman told me her son died the day before. A middle-aged man told me they found a spot on his lung and liver and he was afraid. Yet another woman told me she was dying and was ready to go. In all cases, Jesus comforted them through me. I am his instrument.
I know that because there was a woman who twice came through my line and actually said, “I want to have a countenance like yours.” I thanked her but found it odd. Countenance? Who says countenance? Anyway, I figured she was just glad that I was not a grumpy teenager throwing canned goods on her bread. She came through my line a third time and this time she actually said, “I know what it is. Jesus is in you.” I knew that. But I didn’t think someone else would. Most assuredly, I am not a dwelling place for Jesus, but when I am prayed up and open, he can be there for others.
This has nothing to do with me except a morning prayer that the Spirit will find a way around the dark, broken, sinful and hardened parts of my heart and soul to reach out to others. Nothing unique to me. We are all called to manifest our Lord to those who are desperate to touch his cloak or bring him into their desperation. So— let us continue our prayers and trust that God will respond with healing for you and all whom you encounter. Do not fear, only believe. Amen.