Over the last month or more, the common lectionary has focused on Mark, 3, 4 and 5. In those chapters and verses we’ve heard of Jesus’ parables, miracles, conflicts – with family and Pharisees alike – and his run-ins with spirits, winds and storms.
Today, we read about Jesus going back by boat to the familiar territory of the Jewish side of Lake Tiberius (also known as the Sea of Galilee.
But that doesn’t mean rest from the ‘mission’, for Jesus.
Here too, we come across two ‘miracle’ stories – and very interesting they are for they are instructive for us in understanding the dynamics between faith, power, success, fruitfulness and vulnerability.
Often in our secular world, the world of politics, prestige, right and might, success is uppermost and comes as a result of respectability, power, control and strength.
But perhaps, Jesus (and the Gospel writer/s) are teaching and showing us that fruitfulness rather than successfulness comes through our faithfulness and vulnerability.
Let’s consider the four main characters of this lengthy lectionary reading.
The first is Jairus, a man we are told, who was a ‘ruler’ or ‘president’ of the local synagogue (most Bibles render it this way rather than leader) – perhaps to emphasize his standing in the Jewish establishment as well as in the local community.
We are told he falls at Jesus’ feet and his ‘pleads earnestly’ with Jesus, this itinerant preacher, to heal his daughter. He comes to Jesus rather than sending an emissary. He himself takes Jesus to his house.
Jesus takes charge of who can come in and out of the child’s room.
It is Jesus who shows authority here, rather than Jairus. Jairus has become vulnerable and open to Jesus’ plan – which could cost him dearly – but he chooses a different way and the fruit of that is about to become obvious.
Jairus’ 12 year old daughter, our second character, is totally vulnerable because of her illness. She is on the cusp of womanhood, but is not there as Jesus’ word, ‘Talitha’ which means ‘little girl’ reminds us. When Jesus says ‘give her something to eat’ we see her vulnerability, lack of power and strength.
Then we see the third character in this ‘parable’ type reading. She has a bleeding disease – which renders her potentially unclean under Jewish law, and for no less than 12 years (which would make her like a leper, a pariah, a person who was shunned and exiled). The fact that she was a woman also meant that she could not directly approach a man like Jesus.
Yet she comes up behind him and touches his cloak (sometimes rendered as the edge of the hem (which would suggest she crawled up to him) and when he realises what has happened, she falls at his feet.
Faith and vulnerability again leads to healing and fruitfulness.
So, who is the fourth character in the narrative – it is Jesus himself.
Once again he is with the people, not above them, he addresses each person directly and he deals with their issues immediately.
His own vulnerability is best rendered here, when he realises that the power has gone out of him. Power, not in him, but power out of him, given to others by him.
Many years ago, the priest and theologian Fr. Henri Nouwen said, ‘Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruit, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability; community is the fruit born through brokenness; and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds.’
Recently I was watching a small red bellied black snake at the back of our external hot water tank, shedding its skin. It was aware of my presence, but it was not overly concerned by me. It was putting all of its energy into scraping its sides between the tank and the brickwork, to shed the old and take on the new. It was prone to me with a shovel (which I didn’t use).
However, when it had shed its skin and Thea found him near the front door – it was a different story.
Similarly, as the deciduous trees shed their leaves around our neighbourhood at the moment, I know of their emptiness and hunger as the energies go back onto the limbs and the trunks. But soon this will be replaced by a new covering, and new fruit and seeds.
Have I really just talked about trees, fruit and snakes?! Oh well, that’s a sermon for another time.
The gospel of John has much to say about faithfulness and vulnerability that leads to fruitfulness. One of my favourites is found in John 15:4-5 ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself, it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit, unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. If a person remains in me, and I in him, she will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing.”
Fruitfulness is about producing, it’s what we do for God, the success of it is not to be measured by us, but ultimately it is up to God.
As the old saying goes:
‘God does not call us to be successful, God calls us to be faithful’.
And even in that faith, it is our brokenness that God is after, not in our power and wholeness.
I’ll leave you with this to meditate and act upon.
What is it that attracts you more to faith – success or fruitfulness? When has your vulnerability and powerlessness, rather than strength and wholeness, led you to grab onto the hem of Jesus, who proclaims: ‘Go in peace and be healed of your disease.’