Crossing the Boundaries of Faith

Mark 5:21-43
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, `Who touched me?'” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Last week, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. As a storm blew upon them, the frightened disciples worried about Jesus sleeping in the boat. But Jesus woke up, calmed the storm and wondered what the fuss was all about. 

Before returning across the lake to the point in the story we heard today, Jesus went to Gentile territory. There, Jesus exorcised a demon-possessed man living with the pigs. In the short trip, Jesus crossed the boundaries of Gentile and Jew by crossing into Gentile territory and interacting with people and things with whom he should not normally be interacting.

In just that quick trip across the lake, Jesus showed that the boundaries most people observe, don’t scare him. 

And today, when Jesus lands back on the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee, the boundaries have been crossed and the rules broken. There is no going back now. 

Today, it is first Jairus who eschews social norms to throw himself at the feet of Jesus to beg for healing. Jairus, an upstanding leader in the synagogue, begging a wandering preacher for mercy for his sick daughter. 

And then the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years breaks nearly every rule imaginable to get access to Jesus. 

As Jesus responds to these two very different requests for healing, it can feel like one story is jammed into another. Jairus and his dying daughter, and the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. It can even feel disjointed and a bit like an interruption…. In fact, Jesus starts to seem like a traveling medi-clinic. Like a place for the sick to go for healing, a source of power for those in need. But as we heard earlier in Mark, Jesus has not come to be a miracle healer, but to preach the Kingdom of God coming near. 

So these two stories start out on the surface to be about healing, but turn out to be about so much more. 

When Jesus arrives on the shore of Galilee, Jairus, a leader in the synagogue throws himself at Jesus’ feet and begs for help for his sick daughter. Jairus, an important community leader, who would usually have a servant for errands like this, comes to Jesus directly. Jairus, who should have considered Jesus an equal, if not a subordinate, throws himself at Jesus’ feet. Jairus, who should have requested, commanded or ordered Jesus to help, begs. He begs immediately and without shame. In desperation, Jairus breaks the rules of how a man in his position should behave. 

And then there is the bleeding woman. The woman who had been poked and prodded by doctors to no avail. The woman who had been suffering for 12 years in an unclean and impure state. The woman who is not allowed to be in public, or to touch others, especially men. The woman who has no voice and no advocate. The woman who pushes into the crowd and steals a healing without even asking Jesus for it. In her desperation, this woman crosses the boundaries of what polite and proper people should be and do.  

It is easy to gloss over these images of Jairus and the bleeding woman. It is easy to see no problem with persons of prominence and authority throwing themselves at Jesus’ feet. No problem with the weak and powerless reaching for the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. 

And yet, we live in a world full of boundaries. A world where we have needed to think carefully each day about how our actions and decisions will either run up against or cross boundaries.

And when we aren’t measuring risk and public health orders, we have been living with the boundaries of screens. The tools that simultaneously allow us to connect with family, friends and community when we otherwise would not be able to, but that also remind us of the distance we have been keeping from each other these past months. 

Now, as vaccines are rolled out, questions around who can do what, who can go where and what it means to be completely safe have arisen. Will businesses, schools, public services and even churches make distinctions between those who are granted access and those who aren’t? 

Of course, it hasn’t been just the pandemic that has placed boundaries on our lives. For the past year, the boundaries and barriers created by colonial and racists histories have lifted up the many obstacles that people of colour face in our society, and particularly the systematic and institutional barriers that Indigenous people face in Canada, put in place by predominantly White Christian Settlers through the Indian Act, the reservation system and residential schools. 

The boundaries and barriers of the world help us to make sense of things, help us to know how to follow the rules. They often define the way people belong, so that we can know where we belong. They allow us to know who is “in” and who is “out” among us. Who is permitted and who is not. 

And yet we also know that the rules and boundaries don’t always serve everyone equally. We know that sometimes people end up in places where the rules push them down and grind them into the ground. We know that the boundaries can become walls, keeping people out and in the darkness, isolated and alone. 

The rules and the boundaries that we live by, that we hold onto so that we can feel safe and secure… can also hurt and exclude and we know it, because sometimes we are the ones being pushed down and we are the one stuck on the outside. 

But Jesus has this habit of doing things and going places that we cannot. Calming storms and talking to demons.  

Jesus crosses the boundaries and breaks the rules. 

Jesus crosses the boundaries and breaks the rules because Jesus wants to bring God close, the Kingdom of God near. 

As the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years crosses every social boundary imaginable and steals a miracle from Jesus, and as Jesus himself is not quite sure what has happened, he demands to know who has touched him. We would expect that Jesus would have condemned and scolded this woman, but instead he stops to hear her story. And then he joins her. Joins her on the other side of the crossed boundary. As an unclean sinner, she isn’t supposed to be out in public or touching people … no one but family, that is. And so Jesus steps out of the public space and into a familiar one… “Daughter” he calls the woman. Jesus makes her a member of his family, a person whom he can be close to even if she is unclean. “Your faith has made you well.” And then he blesses her. By crossing the boundary, and breaking the rules, Jesus gives this woman the first bit of care and compassion, of healing and wholeness that she has known in 12 years. And it wasn’t by healing her of her bleeding, but by joining her in her isolation. 

And then Jesus continues on to Jairus’ home, and he enters despite the news of the little girl’s death. The waiting crowds tell him not to enter … they know the boundary that has come to this place.

And yet having just crossed boundaries to heal the woman bleeding for 12 years, perhaps Jesus is inspired to keep going. To keep crossing boundaries. He comes near to a sick person, a possibly dead person, and intrudes on a grieving family. 

But Jesus knows that the little girl will rise. 

Because Jesus is going to cross another boundary to join this little girl, this second daughter that he meets today. 

Jesus crosses the uncrossable. 

Jesus reaches across death and brings the little girl back to life. 

Jesus crosses the boundary of death. 

Jesus also crosses the boundary of resurrection and new life. 

And we saw it coming all along, because we know that story already. We tell it every week. 

For, you see, for all of our rules as human beings, we keep telling the story of God in Christ who breaks the rules. 

Christ, who gives forgiveness even though it is undeserved. 

Christ, who washes in the waters of baptism even though we are unclean. 

Christ, who brings peace even though there is conflict. 

Christ, who makes us one even though we are many. 

For, you see, for all of the boundaries that hem us in, we keep telling the story of God in Christ who crosses the boundaries and joins us where we thought God should NOT come. 

Christ joins us as the incarnate God, born into creation. 

Christ comes to us in the Word of God, spoken through human voices and heard with human ears. 

Christ gathers us together from every nation and tribe and corner of the earth. 

Crossing boundaries and breaking the rules shouldn’t be a new or surprising thing for us, because almost from the very moment we gather until we are sent out, God is doing just that in, through and with us. 

God is crossing boundaries and breaking rules in order to name us as daughters and sons, making us part of God’s family, bringing the kingdom near to us. 

No matter how much we love rules and cling to boundaries, God will always be willing to break and cross them, in order to love us more. 

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