David A. Davis
February 25, 2018
Jump to audio
We are spending these Sundays in Lent together in the Gospel of Luke. We are looking at some conversations Jesus had along the Way. This morning’s conversation is actually a conversation within another conversation. In the eighth chapter of Luke, it is a story framed by another story. One healing tucked inside Luke’s telling of another healing. Though the healing story appears in all three synoptic gospels and is surrounded in each gospel by the other healing, it is, nonetheless, a unique literary form, technique. A rather striking literary device: a healing within a healing.
Our text from Luke’s gospel this morning tells of the healing of the woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. The healing that brackets these few verses you are about to hear is the raising of the daughter of Jairus. Jesus had just returned from the other side of the Sea of Galilee where he had healed the Gerasene demoniac and sent the poor heard of the pigs over the cliff into the water. Upon his return there is a crowd waiting for him. A synagogue leader named Jairus comes to Jesus, falls at his feet, and begs for Jesus to come to his house and heal his twelve-year-old daughter.
Along the way, and after Jesus stops for the other healing, news comes that that the girl has died. When Jesus hears it, he tells Jairus and probably anyone listening, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.” They get to the house now filled with grief and Jesus announced that the girl is only sleeping. Through all their tears the family members and friends laugh at Jesus because they knew she had died. Jesus takes her hand, calls for her to get up, and Luke writes, “Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then Jesus directed them to give the girl something to eat.”
Our reading for this morning begins in the second part of the 42nd verse of Luke, chapter eight. It begins just as Jesus was on the way to the home of Jairus.
Jesus noticed her. Jesus noticed when no one else did. She had been sick as long as that little girl had been alive. Twelve years. She had spent everything she had on trying to get well. That’s all detail that the reader is given. That’s it. Sick for twelve years and nothing left to live on. No reference to family, whether she ever had children before the bleeding that wouldn’t stop, whether she was married. No age. And of course, no name. Just another face in the crowd.
Just a few chapters earlier, Luke mentions the crowds, how they were coming from all over, even Jerusalem. “They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” (6:18-20) Crowds. Healing. Power coming out from him. Luke doesn’t say anything there about Jesus noticing any of them, Jesus noticing anyone. Just her. And she’s just one of the crowd.
When Matthew and Mark tell her story they want to make clear it’s about her faith. Both record that the woman said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Not so much in Luke. She was sick. She had nothing. She had nothing because she had already been to every doctor she could find. Jesus wasn’t her first try. She had tried everything. Luke is rather mum on any presumption of faith on her part. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t pray anything. She didn’t tell herself anything in Luke. She just came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes. And Jesus noticed.
Theories abound about any meaning that might come with this unique literary structure of an embedded healing. On the face of it, Jesus stopping to heal the woman and the resulting delay sets up the much more described, more detailed, and therefore seemingly more important raising of Jairus’ daughter. Perhaps it is a kind of stacking of meaning for emphasis. Both instances involve healings of those who are ritually unclean. It’s Jesus crossing a boundary times two. Jesus healing a female times two. Jesus healing someone who was sick for twelve years, healing someone who had been alive for twelve years. Biblical number twelve. Twelve. Two healings intended to signal all healings.
But with her healing stuck inside the telling of the healing of the daughter of the synagogue leader whose name is Jairus, it is sort of like the gospel writers don’t really want the reader to notice her either. Or when you do notice, it is as if she is an interruption, a distraction, an intrusion, a bother, a nuisance. She interrupts Jesus along the way when he certainly just could have kept going. Peter just tried to move him along, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” Let’s just move on. The crowds. All the people. It could have been anybody, anybody who is a nobody. Touching. Pressing. Surrounding. But still, Jesus noticed.
As Luke writes it, Jesus noticed the power had gone out from him. “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” That sounds like such Bible-speak. Such a “gospely,” first-century kind of expression. It makes Jesus sound like some sort of superhero who knew his secret power button had been switched on. Like his x-ray vision had been invoked, his super-duper strength had been called upon, some kind of healing magic balm suddenly leaked from the fringe of his garment.
He knew that power had gone out from him. Mark puts it this way: “Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in then crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ ” But Matthew, for Matthew, Jesus just turns and sees her. Matthew refers all through his gospel to Jesus’ deeds of power. But when it came to her touch, all he did was turn and see her. Nothing like, “I noticed the power had gone out from me.”
It is fascinating in Luke to read that before Jesus notices her, he notices himself. He became aware, self-aware of some kind of emanation, something coming from him. So that, before it was about her, for Luke, it was about him. To put it more plainly, he didn’t notice her, he noticed himself.
You see the irony? That this Jesus of the gospels, this Jesus who taught so much about caring for the other, and putting others first, and being a servant of all, this Jesus who was ultimately to deny himself and give his life for others, this Jesus, who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Philippians 2) — that this Jesus would notice himself and not her, notice himself first before her?
No, that makes no sense. No theological sense. No “this is the Christ of the gospels” sense. How about Matthew? Matthew with the unadorned language and little worry about the power. Jesus turned and saw her. That was it.
It’s more than being theologically, Christologically inconsistent, that Jesus would notice something about himself first, notice himself first before noticing her. It’s how you know that the gospel writers and the scribes that came after were men. Because they wanted to make sure their reader noticed him, not her. And they wanted to so minimize her agency in the encounter and so maximize his.
They want to skip over her and get to him. They portray him as being stopped by a nameless woman in need who has nothing and is little more than a face in the crowd, him being interrupted by someone who dares to reach out in a culture that has already made her disappear, and yet thinking of himself first, his own power first. Well, that’s sort of a guy thing. Thinking of yourself first, your own power first, apparently that’s a guy thing that never stops.
The Jesus of the gospels that we have come to know was indeed tempted in every way as we are, but was without sin. So yes, I go with Matthew on this one. Matthew’s minimal, non-editorialized description. Jesus turned and saw her. He noticed her. Jesus noticed her when no one else did. There was something about her. About her.
When Jesus noticed her, she came out trembling, and fell before him. According to Luke she “declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.” She didn’t just say it, she declared it. She announced it. She proclaimed it. This wasn’t just the woman now telling her story. This was more like a testimony. Her testimony. She declared in the presence of all the people.
I, for one, have always thought of and preached about the women at the tomb as being the first proclaimers of the message about Jesus. How they went and told the disciples that “Christ has Risen!” We long ago figured out what such a broad swath of Christian tradition today has yet to figure out that the first preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ were women.
But before there was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, before those three that first Easter morning, there was her. She wasn’t just telling her story, she was preaching. She declared. In the presence of all people. She declared all that Christ had done. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace,” Jesus said.
And to think how easy she was to miss. How unbelievably easy she was to ignore. How pretty much everything in her world and in the world of the Bible was set so as not to pay attention. How everyone else was not going to, was never going to, would never have noticed her. But not him. He noticed. Jesus noticed. Jesus noticed her. Because she wanted to be well. Because of her suffering. Because she had nothing. Because she had no one. Because she was invisible. Because no one would listen. Because she was so vulnerable. Because she was sick. Because she was in need. Because she needed help. Because she was bold. Because of her courage. Because of her persistence. Because she was there. Because of her reach. Because of her touch. Because of her.
The invisible. The suffering. The sick. The ones who have so little or even less. Those who have no one. The ignored. Those no one wants to listen to. Those everyone wishes were not around. Those who others wish would just stay quiet. Those who just feel like an interruption, an intrusion, a problem that won’t go away. Those left behind by this system or that. Those whom everyone just passes by. Those nameless who don’t even qualify as a face in crowd. You have to notice. Because he noticed. When you walk along this way with Jesus, you have to notice and then work for, pray for, speak for, advocate for, long for a kingdom where all are served and made whole.
That was going be the end of the sermon, right there. That you have to notice because he noticed. But actually, here’s a better ending. If you were listening closely, you will agree with me, I think. To a better last thought.
When you walk along this way with Jesus, you have to notice and then work for, pray for, speak for, advocate for, long for a kingdom where all are served and made whole.
You have to notice because of her.
© 2018 Nassau Presbyterian Church
Contact the church to obtain reprint permission.