Inspired by Mark 5:21-43
How many of you remember that Saturday Night Live skit Wayne’s World? They even made a movie out of it. It was about two Rock music fanatics who made a TV show on their public television station and one thing they were known for, whenever they met a Rock musician celebrity, was falling on their knees and bowing over and over saying, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!” That is the image that came to mind while I was preparing for this sermon, as silly as that sounds.
However, this Bible story we have before us today is anything but silly. In it, we have two characters that go to Jesus for help, and both are coming from a place of unworthiness. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s back up a bit. This story occurs right after last week’s story of the poor demonized person whom Jesus healed and restored to the community.
We’re in the same chapter in fact. The only segue is the fact that Jesus is now on the other side of the lake, meaning that he is back in Jewish territory, with his own people. In their minds, this is where Jesus belonged in the first place. He had no business on the other side of the lake, with those Gentiles, much less helping them! So, Jesus comes back, and he can’t even get off the boat before he is mobbed by a swarm of followers. Because you see, they didn’t follow him to the Gentile land that he went to, because they didn’t want to risk being contaminated by them. And that’s no exaggeration, I can point you to the passages in Leviticus that state all the regulations and rituals that they’d have to endure if they got too close to a pig, or an unclean person, or God knows what! We Gentiles are a sketchy lot!
However, despite being back with his own people now, he has two strange but similar encounters with people that felt unworthy of Jesus’ help, let alone just being in his presence. The first is with a synagogue leader. Think church council president. I mean, who’s more worthy of Jesus’ time than a church council president, right! But no, this synagogue leader did not feel worthy. He comes to Jesus pleading on his hands and knees. I think that’s a detail that we too quickly overlook. Have you ever been that desperate? I think most of us know what desperation feels like but to go to another human being and submit yourself before them and beg. That’s a whole different level of desperation and humility that I’m guessing most of us have not experienced.
So, there’s Jairus, begging for Jesus' help, to heal his twelve-year-old daughter. Jesus agrees and goes with him, only to be interrupted on the way by yet another one from his Jewish community, this time a woman who had been suffering from a bleeding disorder for twelve years. Notice the number twelve in both stories. That’s not an accident. Mark was a master storyteller, linking these two stories together, almost subconsciously. But let’s keep moving through the story.
The woman is the very embodiment of the very uncleanliness that his followers wanted to stay away from on the other side of the lake, and for them, uncleanliness meant unholiness. This woman’s condition made her unclean, unholy. And you did not want to be made unclean! There were rituals that needed to be done, a time period had to elapse, offerings had to be made, which meant there was a financial burden as well! You just didn’t risk being made unclean!
Now, a woman’s menstrual period already made her unclean. The Levitical law was that she had to segregate herself from the rest of the community until it was over. In their eyes, blood was just something to stay away from. So, if you read between the lines here, you realize that she has been ostracized for twelve years now. She was taking a risk even being there! But she was desperate. And more than that, she trusted that Jesus would be able to help her, to help her be restored back to the land of the living, back to her people.
Now here’s a bit of a side note, they were so hypersensitive about being made unclean, they believed that even touching the clothes of someone who was unclean would indeed make you unclean. So, this woman may have been thinking, “If we can be made unclean by just touching someone’s clothes, I bet you the reverse of that is true, that I could be made clean by just touching Jesus’ clothes!”
So, that’s what she does, especially because, in her eyes, and in her society’s eyes, she’s not worthy to do anything else. She’s not worthy to ask for an audience from this rabbi. She’s not worthy enough to interrupt him. She’s not worthy enough to risk contaminating him. She’s not worthy. But desperate times call for desperate measures. So, come what may, she reaches out and touches his robe and is healed.
Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” And then he and his followers have this little comical scene as they argue over the idiocy of that question. To which, Jesus just ignores them, because Jesus wants an audience with whomever touched him, with whomever had so much trust in him to do that! And he turns around to see her, on her knees, begging for mercy, and probably to not turn her over to the authorities. Why? Because she doesn’t think she’s worthy.
But we can’t stop there. There’s a little more story to be told. At this point, one of Jairus’s people came to tell him that his daughter had died, that there was no need to bother Jesus now. Further evidence that they just didn’t feel worthy of Jesus’ time and care. But Jesus felt otherwise. He goes to the house anyway, and when he gets there, he does the unthinkable! If they thought touching a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years would make you unclean, imagine what they thought about touching a dead body! You just didn’t do it. There were people who were set aside to do that, who were committed to a life of uncleanliness. But Jesus was not only fully committed to restoring people, but doing it in ways that were considered unlawful, unclean, and unholy.
There is nothing on God’s green earth, that can make you unworthy of God’s love and care for you, not even scripture. There is no circumstance that could make you unworthy. There is no behavior or mistake you could make, that would make you unworthy. There is no one who has the power to determine your worthiness, not even you. If you want to kneel before God, by all means, do it. If you want to bow before God, by all means, do it. Just don’t do it with the words, “We’re not worthy.” But instead, learn to live with the words, “We are worthy.” Thanks be to God. Amen.