Mark 5:21-43 tells two stories about people who are really, truly, desperate. One describes a powerful leader seeking healing for his daughter. The other describes a poor woman seeking healing for herself.
The scene opens with Jesus on the waterfront. After stepping off the boat, he's swarmed by a great crowd. Somewhere in that crowd is Jairus. Every synagogue was under the authority of a council, and every council was presided over by a ruler. Jairus was one such ruler. Jairus had expectations to meet, people to lead, and a reputation to protect.
But for Jesus, the verdict was still out.
There were the curious, who considered Jesus a novelty.
There were the skeptical, who considered Jesus a fraud.
There were the starstruck, who considered Jesus a celebrity.
There were the faithful, who considered Jesus a teacher, friend and leader.
Then there were those who were plain desperate.
Like the ruler Jairus. His daughter was gravely ill. It would take a miracle to pull her through. So he kicks propriety to the curb, falls on his knees at the feet of Jesus, and shamelessly begs. In fact, the Scripture says he begs repeatedly.
Picture it: A dignified ruler groveling at the feet of a dubious rabbi. "My little daughter is at the point of death," Jairus cries, "Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live."
Jesus promptly responds. But on his way to heal the daughter of the respected ruler, Jesus is interrupted by a marginalized woman. Like Jairus, this woman is also desperate. But the similarities stop there.
The woman has no power or real standing in her community. We don't even know her name. We only know her as "the hemorrhaging woman." Not a very flattering title.
Likely suffering from menstrual bleeding, she's considered ritually unclean. And since she spent her very last dime on doctors, she's now broke, on top of being sick.
The bleeding woman can't simply stroll up to Jesus and ask him to heal her. Nor can she throw herself at his feet and beg. Someone could out her. Then she'd never get to touch the healer.
Unlike Jairus' daughter, this woman has no advocate. And because desperate times call for desperate measures, she has to take matters into her own hands.
Weaving through the crowd, the woman sneaks up on Jesus from behind. Extending her hand, she touches his cloak. Immediately she's healed. She's certain. She can feel it. Without missing a beat, Jesus spins around and asks, "Who touched my clothes?"
Trembling, the woman tells Jesus everything. He responds, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."
Make no mistake, Jesus' response isn't just kind-hearted sentimentality. By calling the woman his "daughter," Jesus assures her, and those listening in, that she does have an advocate, and its him.
She may not be the daughter of a privileged ruler, but she is the daughter of the Son of God. And he's willing to go to bat for her, even if it means putting some privileged folks on hold for a while.
But not forever.
Jairus may be privileged, but he's still desperate. And his daughter's still sick. So as soon as the bleeding woman's healed, Jairus and Jesus continue toward the little girl. On their way, some people run up to Jairus, insisting his daughter's already dead. But Jesus tells him, "Don't be afraid, just believe."
Moments later, the healer hunkers over the girl. She's 12 years old, soon able to bear life. But right now, she's barely alive. Jesus touches her hand and tells her, "Little girl, get up."
Whether a dramatic resuscitation, or full-blown resurrection, we don't know. But some sort of a miracle occurred. Dead or close to it, when Jesus told the girl to get up, she immediately started walking.
First, the bleeding woman. Then the little girl. All in a day's work for Jesus. But perhaps they weren't the only ones healed that day.
Sure, most preachers emphasize the physical healing of the woman and the girl. And rightly so. Those were dramatic demonstrations of divine power. Plus it makes for good storytelling.
But not all healing happens that way. For reasons I can't pretend to understand, sometimes the bleeding doesn't stop. Sometimes the little girl doesn't get up. Sometimes healing doesn't happen at all.
Other times, it does. Just in ways we don't expect. Sometimes miracles happen when we're not looking for them. Sometimes we experience healing, when we don't even know we're sick. I have a hunch that's the kind of healing Jairus experienced.
Jairus' name literally means, "He will awaken." In this passage, Jairus awakens to the truth of who Jesus is -- the Author of Life itself.
Maybe Jairus' healing wasn't as obvious as the others, but it was just as miraculous. The ruler was healed through an act of surrender; a faith-filled yielding to a power greater than himself. It's the kind of healing made possible when we are most desperate, vulnerable and weak. The Apostle Paul put it this way, "In my weakness, Christ's strength is made perfect."
So, where does that leave us?
Obviously, we live in a culture that values strength over weakness. We cling to cultural myths of self-reliance and self-determination. We resist seeking healing, in fear of being found out. We try to disguise our brokenness, and pretend we have it all together.
But here's some really Good News: In God's upside down kingdom we're invited, even instructed, to be honest about our weakness. In God's counter-cultural kingdom its always better to be desperate, than deceptive.
God sees us for who we really are anyhow. Weak and vulnerable, but God's beloved children, just the same.
So go ahead. Sneak up on Jesus from behind or throw yourself at his feet. Desperate times call for desperate measures. And if we're really desperate, maybe we'll experience the healing power of Jesus, too.
It just might be in ways we don't expect.