Sermon, 6/27/21: What If…

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5 Pentecost

Psalm 130; Samuel.1. 1, 17-27; II Corinthians. 8. 7-15; Mark. 5. 21-43

She said, ‘If I touch even his garments…’ Mark 5:28

As I thought about the lectionary appointed for today, I had another “what if” conversation with myself.  In some circles, so I understand, this “what if?” is called ‘Monday morning quarterbacking.’  My imagination went into overdrive.

What if Saul had lived?  Would he have been eventually successful in killing young David?  You will recall that after young David had slain Goliath, Saul had taken David on as his first lieutenant, and David, with his skill, had not only defeated the Philistines, but also gone on to win more victories than the king himself.  And no king or imperial president, as you and I are reminded daily, likes to be outshone by subordinates. Moreover, Saul had grown suspicious of the amorous relationship between his son, Jonathan, and David.  Had that relationship gone beyond the acceptable platonic?  Saul sought on many occasions to kill David.  What if he had lived and been successful? 

However, you and I have the benefit of history.  We know, in retrospect, that God had chosen David to be the forebear out of which Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, would come.  And so, David had to survive Saul.  What if the Corinthians had truly taken Paul’s admonition to heart?  What if,   instead of quarreling among themselves [as to whether or not] the non-Jewish Christians


first become Jews and then Christians, they had [instead] been visionary from the very beginning, recognizing the universality of Jesus’ message?  What if they had taken Paul’s guidance truly to heart and recognized that, although some may have been wealthy, they had gained their wealth through the labor of those lower down on the social ladder?

But the major “what if?” must surely be preserved for today’s gospel.  Of course, we know the outcome, but what if Jesus had remained in his hometown and become the best carpenter in the world?  He probably could have made a good living as a carpenter.  One thing is sure: his life would have been simpler if he had stayed in the carpenter shop and inherited it from Joseph.  He [might] even have lived longer.

However, Jesus had a mission.  God had a mission for him.  When his parents, Joseph and Mary, took him to the Jerusalem temple for a holy day celebration, he was drawn to the place and the wise scholars who discussed the great theological issues of the day.  In fact, he became so engrossed in their discussions that he forgot his parents and failed to notice their departure.  When his parents returned, looking frantically for him, he was puzzled why they were so upset.  Did they not know that he was exactly where he was destined to be, taking on the heady issues and concerns of his time?

Years later, when he heard his cousin John preaching in the Jordan valley, he felt that sense of mission even more strongly.  He knew that it was time for him to fulfill God’s plan for his life.  So, putting down his carpenter’s tools, he walked away from Nazareth, towards his destiny of revealing God to the world through his ministry of caring and healing, and, ultimately, death on a cross.

What if Jairus, who was a leader of the synagogue and whose daughter was critically ill, had decided that as a leader of the synagogue, he could not and would not risk his position in society?  But his paternal love made him think otherwise.  He and his wife had tried every known healing process to no avail.  Hearing that Jesus, who had become known as a healer, was speaking to a crowd nearby, he laid aside rank, privilege, and reputation.  Indeed, finding Jesus, he knelt before him and pleaded on behalf of his daughter.  This what-if behavior came with great risk not only for Jairus, but the religious establishment.

Word was already being passed around that Jesus was a potential threat to his class because that upstart carpenter’s son was saying and doing things that, if left unchecked, had the potential to start a movement among the common folk that challenged the way the religious leaders, of whom he was one, were accustomed to doing things, where he, Jairus, was an influential leader?

The gospeler Mark is a master at understatement.  Here is this dramatic scene of a distraught father, a man of power and rank, accompanied by his security detail and on-lookers, on his knees in the dust, begging a man, a carpenter and the son of a carpenter, whom he would otherwise not notice because of social rank!  And what does Mark record? “So he went with him.” (Mk 5.24) 

No flourishes, no trumpet fanfares, no drum rolls.  Just a simple, “he went with him.”  What if Jesus had said “no?”  What if Jesus had berated him for prior exercise of privilege?  Just a simple, “he went with him,” no further comment.

What if the unnamed woman had not had the audacity to step outside the socially accepted and enforced norms governing [the] conduct of women?  What if she had thought that only men had the right to approach Jesus?  She had gone from one doctor to another for 12 years to get relief for her condition, which was becoming worse.  She was in the crowd that followed Jesus and Jairus, as they walked toward Jairus’ home.  “If I could just touch his clothes—he does not have even to lay his hands on me—then I will be well.”  She did, and she became well.  And then the world stopped for her because Jesus stopped, looked around and said very clearly, “Who touched my clothes?”

Let us assume for sake of discussion, that the woman did not attempt to rip his robe off, as fans often do to rock stars.  Yet, some connection must have taken place between the two of them, which even the disciples, for once thinking logically, failed to grasp.  Their logical response was, ‘Hey, Jesus, look at the number of people surrounding you and us, and bumping against you.’  But this was a special touch.  It was intentional.

Here was another example of the “small stuff.”  Here is the healing power of God being exercised in a very unobtrusive way.  It was just a touch, but it was enough.  Twelve years of suffering, and all it took was a touch to end the suffering.  That is often how the transformative power of goodwill happens.  A touch in faith and all those things that drain life from us are healed, and we become new.  It happened to and for the woman.  What if the woman had not been courageous?

I imagine that even a small delay such as this must have made Jairus frantic.  What if Jairus had called out this lower-class woman for delaying them?  Would Jesus have turned back and left a little girl to her fate?  And when people came from his home, telling him that the girl had died and not to trouble Jesus any further, he must have been devastated, probably not a little angry with the woman who caused that slight delay.

Raising of Jairus’ daughter

Again, faith is the key. “Do not be afraid,” said Jesus.  “Only believe.”  In their desperation, this mother and father clung to those words in spite of the comments made by their well-meaning friends.  The rest of the story, we know.  The girl is healed, get up, walks, and gets something to eat.  Here is our final example of how God is present in the “small stuff.”  Jesus did not make a big deal out of the affair.  He just walked over, spoke to her, drew her to her feet, and told her parents to give her something to eat.  In fact, so that a big deal would not be made of it, Jesus told them not to say anything about what he had done.

But you and I know from history that healing gets repeated and the story, in its myriad forms and in diverse places and untold times, gets retold.  It gets repeated in the healing arts of medicine.  It gets repeated by those among our congregation and beyond who collect foodstuffs for the less fortunate, who, sensing a person in distress, give a nod and a smile, who, without any fanfare, listen to people who have stories of joy to tell to others, but no one else is around to listen.

The question put to Jesus is this: And who are you really?  And his response: ‘I am the one who both heals and gives life when you think it has been lost.  This is how you will know me.’  And the questions put to followers, to you and to me: What if we, not waiting or planning for that all awe-provoking, mountain-moving miracle, but rather taking seriously Christ’s presence in the small things, were to imitate Christ?  My imagination leads me to believe that we would have a Jairus experience.  Amen