Jesus and Maggie
Pentecost 4B, Mark 5:21-43
The title of the sermon for today is JESUS AND MAGGIE. It comes from the gospel lesson for today and it is the middle story.
Four times in the Gospel of Mark, Mark starts to tell us a story and in the middle of the story, he starts another story. I know people like that who do the same thing. My mother was often that way. So am I.
In the gospel lesson for today, the author Mark starts to tell us the story about Jairus and his sick daughter who ultimately died but was raised from the dead by Jesus. In the middle of this story, Mark tells us another story about a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. My sermon for today is going to focus on that middle story. The title of the sermon for today is JESUS AND MAGGIE.
In this story, as in most of the stories in the Gospel of Mark, there is immense graphic detail. Why are there so many details in this story and other stories from the Gospel of Mark? The Gospel of Mark was written by a person by the name of John Mark. John Mark was a traveling companion with the Apostle Paul on several missionary journeys. Papias also tells us that as Simon Peter was preparing to die in Rome, (in about the year 65 CE) he shared his reminiscences of Jesus to John Mark who then wrote them down. There are all kinds of wonderful, little details in the Gospel of Mark. The historical events in the Gospel of Mark are the reminiscences of Simon Peter who was there in person to observe the events of Jesus’ life first hand.
In preparation for the sermon for today, I was thinking about the power of faith, the power of believing. Faith, in and of itself, is a power. For example, most of us are aware of placebos. Many people have heard of the “placebo effect.” That means, when you are really sick, and your head feels crummy and your belly feels crummy, and your legs feels crummy and you feel crummy all over, you go to the doctor and say, “Doctor, I feel crummy all over.” “Where specifically in your body do you feel crummy?” the doctor asks. You say, “All over. My head. My belly. My legs.” The doctor looks at you and says, “I have just the right medication.” The doctor then goes into his medicine cabinet and gets the biggest, ugliest, awful tasting pill that you have ever seen. The doctor gives you a week’s worth of these ugly, awful pills. The doctor says, “Take two of these a day, one in the morning and one at night, and I guarantee that you will feel better.” You, as a faithful patient do this, and you come back to the doctor after a week and say, “Those pills really worked doctor. I am feeling fine.” Now, we gradually figure out those big, ugly, awful tasting pills were only sugar pills, with nothing of medicinal value in those pills. Those pills were placeboes. They were given in such a way as to convince you that they were medication and you believed that you would get well if you took them.
All kinds of studies have been done on the placebo effect where the patient believes and is convinced of the power of a particular pill but there is no medicinal value in those pills.
The opposite of the placebo effect is called the nocebo effect. The nocebo effect occurs when a patient disbelieves in the treatment, it has a worsening effect.
If it is true that 85% of all disease is caused by psychological factors, that means 85% of all cures are psychological.
Basically, the medicine is in the mind. The power of belief is so important to healing. Just the opposite is also true. The power of disbelieving contributes to continued sickness and suffering.
We all know that we need to believe and trust our doctor and his/her suggestion of medical treatments and medications which will be most effective for us.
Let me give you another example. This story is told by Dr. Robert Schuller who I don’t quote very often. It is a story of a Ph. D. student in mathematics who was going to take his final test for his Ph. D. Unfortunately, the student arrived late for that test. Everybody else in the classroom had already started the test. On the blackboard were three math problems. The late student sat down immediately to do them. He worked feverously for an hour and a half but everybody else had finished the test and left. He felt to himself, “What an idiot I am, for I am the last one here taking the test. I must be MUCH slower than any other students in this class.” He had finished only two problems and he knew that he was going to flunk his math test. You can’t leave a third of the test unanswered and not flunk. He was very upset. He came up to the professor and said, “Professor, I didn’t finish the last problem. Would you please let me finish the third problem and bring it into you later tonight? Please, I’ll get the third problem done and bring it to you.” The professor said that was permissible. The math student turned in to his math professor the calculations for the two problems and went to work on that third problem. He worked all afternoon. He worked into the night. He worked until 11:00 that night and he finally finished the third math problem. He rushed it over the math professor’s office which, of course, was closed. He slipped the test of the third math problem underneath the door and went home exhausted. Early the next morning, his telephone rang and it was his professor who excitedly said to him, “Young man, you are a genius. You are brighter than bright. I have never seen anything like it.” The young man said, “What do you mean?” The professor responded, “The first two problems on the board were the test. The third problem was a mind teaser. I have never had a student EVER finish that problem. No student of mine has ever gotten that right. You have done something that no other student has ever done before.”
The student had come in late to the test and never heard that the third problem was impossible to solve. He never heard that it was a mind teaser, an impossible challenge.
The power of believing. If you believe that the pill can cure you, it can really help. If you believe that you can really solve a very difficult problem, chances are increased that you can solve it. There is a power to faith. We all know that. We all experience that in our daily lives. We read all kinds of signs that simply say, “Believe.” We know the power of belief.
Today’s story is a faith story. It is a story about a woman who had the power of faith. I will call her, Maggie. The Bible doesn’t give her a name. She is really a “no-name” person in the New Testament. But I will call her Maggie because one time in my life many years ago, I knew a woman who reminded me of the lady in the story today and that woman’s name was Maggie. .
She has been bleeding now for twelve years. Twelve years of menstrual bleeding. She felt like she was an embarrassment, both to herself and other people. Because she was bleeding in that way, Jewish law from the Book of Leviticus had declared that she was unclean. She was unclean. She could not come to the temple. She was treated like a leper, like an outcast, a reject from society.
You know about Maggie, don’t you? You heard, didn’t you? You heard the rumors, of course. Anybody who has been that sick for that many years must have done something mighty bad twelve years ago to receive that kind of punishment from God. (whispering) “Wait til I tell you this one. Maggie did something incredibly bad twelve years ago to become so sick. Let me tell you what I think she did.”
And the result? Maggie has been an outcast ever since.
Maggie had been to every doctor that she knew for twelve years. I love such numerous little details in the gospel story for today. Simon Peter told John Mark that this lady had been to every doctor, gave them all her money and it didn’t do her any good. What do these details have to do with the story? Nothing. The gospels of Matthew and Luke leave these details out. These details have nothing to do with the story but Simon Peter, because he was an authentic eyewitness who was there at the scene that day. I love the colorful details of this story.
Maggie had heard that Jesus had the power to heal. For some reason or another, Maggie had this deep belief that Jesus could heal her. She was absolutely convinced that Jesus could do it. Hers was a magical, even a superstitious faith.
She said, “If only I could touch the fringe of his garment, I will be healed.” In the Greek language, the fringe means tassel, like the end of the cincture that I am wearing at this service. The woman said, “If I only touch the tassel on the hem of his garment, I will be healed.” Again, notice the detail of the story.
Hers was a simple, magical, even superstitious faith. She may have thought: “He doesn’t need to see me. He doesn’t need to speak to me. He doesn’t need to lay his hands on me. He doesn’t need to spit in the mud, and wipe that spittle across my eyes.” Hers was a superstitious, primitive, magical kind of faith. She had an absolute faith in the power of Jesus to heal.
A large crowd was gathering around Jesus and they were rubbing shoulders against him. The crowd was jammed together, pushing, shoving, crowding like they were trying to get the autograph of some religious superstar.
According to the detailed story in the text, Maggie came up behind Jesus, so he wouldn’t even seen her. The story tells us the detail that she knelt down and she touched the fringe of the tassel. Simon Peter describes the detail including, immediately she was healed. There was like instant radiation, like magical healing flowed from Jesus’ body into hers.
According to Peter who was there on the scene, Jesus turned around and asked, “Who touched me?”
The disciples responded, “What do you mean? Everybody has been touching you. Everybody is rubbing against you. It is crowded here.”
Jesus said, “Healing power has gone from me. Who in this crowd touched me and received healing power?”
Jesus began looking around and Maggie couldn’t hide. Maggie couldn’t hide from Jesus’ eyes. Nobody can.
The gospel text says that she came up to Jesus, knelt down, and started crying, because she was very afraid. She was crying and trembling. She was absolutely petrified and scared. She said, “Jesus, I touched you. I was healed. I needed to be healed.”
I love that line, “She told him the whole truth.” Maggie told Jesus her whole story, her story about bleeding for twelve years, all the rejection, all the doctors, all the poverty. She told him the whole truth about her own story.
Jesus looked down at the woman and said, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your disease is healed.”
And that ends a beautiful detailed story within a larger story, a story about a woman whom I call Maggie, who was an unnamed woman who had great faith in the power of Jesus of Nazareth to heal her life.
Briefly examine the painting on the screen. Look carefully for the woman in the lower center of the painting. Her head is covered with a white cloth. Her right hand is reaching out to touch the fridge of Jesus’ garment. Her left hand is on the ground and stabilizing her. Her right leg is stretched out to the lower right hand corner of the painting. She is lost in the crowd. The artist captures the dramatic tension of the event.
How does such a primitive, magical, superstitious story apply to you and me who are part of a scientific generation more than twenty centuries later? How does a story like this, of a woman who faith seems almost magical, apply to us who live in a technological age in the twenty-first century? We who have every hospital available to us, who have numerous doctors and hospitals and medical research centers around us; how does this story apply to our world today?
First and foremost, this story is not about Maggie. Who is this story about? This story is about Jesus. This story is about Jesus who is the Son of God. That the power of God lived in Jesus like in no other human before him or after him. That the power of God was in Jesus to heal, to restore, to make whole. This is a story about Jesus who had the power over the wind and the waves on Lake Galilee. Today, in this story, Jesus has the power over disease. In the story for today, we also hear that Jesus has the power over death, that Jesus raised Jairus’ twelve year old daughter from death. Anyone who has power over the wind and waves, over disease, and over death must be a very, very special person. In fact, that person who has such powers must be the Son of God. The Spirit of God was on Jesus of Nazareth like on no other human being before or after.
This story isn’t about Maggie. It is. But more importantly, this story is about Jesus, saying that he is the Son of God.
And so this text is saying that the power of God was on Jesus like on no other human being before or after, that Jesus is the Son of God. This passage is about Maggie but primarily this story is about Jesus.
But the story is also about Maggie. So let’s talk about Maggie.
There are three qualities in Maggie that I really want to talk about. The first is this: One thing that I like about Maggie is that she wanted to be healed. She wanted to be made whole. She wanted to be healthy, sane, and good.
You may not have realized it as we read this Biblical story that Maggie was very much in much in contrast to the crowd. What did the crowd want from Jesus? Did the crowd want healing? No. What did the crowd want? To see a religious superstar. They wanted to rub shoulders with Jesus. They wanted to get his autograph. They wanted to chat with the superstar, so they could go and tell their friends who they had met. They wanted to listen to Jesus so they could brag about it. The crowd wasn’t coming to be healed by Jesus. The crowd wasn’t coming that day to have their lives made whole. They were coming just to rub shoulders with Jesus and hoped that they would see one of his miracles first hand so they could entertain their friends with a good story about Jesus the healer.
This still happens today in the life of the church. It is still possible for great numbers of people to come to church and hear stories about Jesus. To rub shoulders with Jesus. To see their friends at church. To have their kids influenced by the youth ministries of the church. But not necessarily coming to find healing for their own lives. It is possible for us to come to church today, not for the purpose of coming to have Christ make our lives whole. I mean, we really don’t see our need for healing, do we? We think, “Things are pretty good in my life. I don’t need to be healed. I just came to church today. It is what I do on Sunday mornings. That’s all. I don’t need to be healed.”
What I like about Maggie is that she told the whole truth about herself. That is, she saw that she needed to be healed. She was aware of the disease in her stomach. She was aware of the inner anxiety within herself. She was aware that she did not have her life all together. So Maggie came to Jesus that day with no façade. She came asking for Jesus Christ to heal her.
Hopefully, we would learn that from Maggie. That we would come wanting and looking to be healed by Jesus.
One time Jesus said, “Only the people who know that they are sick want to see a doctor.” And only those people who are spiritually sick really want to see Jesus.
The second thing that I liked about Maggie is that she told Jesus the whole truth about herself. She told Jesus the whole truth about herself, her rejection for twelve years, her search for doctors, her poverty, her feelings of guilt for what she had done wrong but wasn't quite sure what it was. We are invited to do the same with Jesus: to tell Jesus the whole truth about ourself. The details. The particulars. The minutiae.
The third thing that I like about Maggie is her great faith. Hers was a deep faith in the power of Jesus to make her whole. Hers was a simple faith, superstitious, even magical. She said, “If only I touch the hem of his garment, I will be healed.” It was her deep faith that helped heal her. Her deep faith was a major contributor to her healing.
Her healing was not the cause of her faith.
You know, it is the opposite for many people. Such people think, “Lord, show me a miracle. God, if you heal me or my loved one, then I will really believe in you.” No, no, no, no, no. Not with Maggie. Maggie had that basic faith and as a result of that basic faith, God healed her.
We have all known people who “really believed” in this Jesus. The simple, devout, overwhelming faith of our grandmother, grandfather, a parent, a friend. Recently, I saw that faith in Norm Carlsen who died not long ago. More than almost any other person, I saw the deep, genuine faith in Norm Carlsen. He had a faith similar to Maggies. I want to have the quality of faith that Norm exhibited all his life.
What was the object of Maggie’s faith? Of Norm’s faith? This is very important.
Was her faitn in her own abilities to solve her problem? No. She had been sick for too long to have faith in her own abilities.
Was her faith in her own self confidence? No. She didn’t have much.
Was her faith a faith in faith? No. That is the placebo effect, to have faith in faith.
Was her faith in positive thinking? No. Today, if you watch programs on religious television stations, you see a lot of faith in positive thinking. “You gotta have the power of positive thinking to get ahead in this world. If you think positively, life will go better for you.”
Hundreds of times in the New Testament where the Bible talks about faith in Christ. “Faith in Christ” is a technical phrase that is repeated again and again in the New Testament, some 345 times. Again and again. Faith IN CHRIST. In the New Testament, it is always faith IN CHRIST. It is never faith in faith or faith in possibility thinking or faith in self confidence.
Further, I don’t want to be misunderstood. Just because a person believes in the power of Christ, that does not mean that a person will be healed of one’s diseases. Right now, someone may be saying to themselves, “If I really believed like Maggie, I too would be healed. I would be healed of this cancer. I would be healed of this inner torment. My husband would be healed. My marriage would be healed. If I only believed like Maggie, then I would experience healing in my life.”
That isn’t the point of the story. That is NOT what the story is about. In fact, that is the devil putting bad ideas into your head.
Just because you have deep faith, that does not mean that you will inevitably experience healing. It just doesn’t work that way. I know all these devout Christians with the deepest of faith who died. Like we all do. My friend Norm Carlsen, one of the the most pious devout men I have ever known, lived with and died of lung cancer. Things are done according to the mystery of the will of God and these things are often done beyond our comprehension.
Today’s gospel lesson is a wonderful story about two people. It is a story about Jesus who calmed the wind and the waves. Who healed Maggie. Who raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. And then we hear that wonderful story about Maggie and that she was so honest about her needs.
Today, this story is an invitation for you and me to have this simple faith in Christ, the power of God. This story is an invitation to call upon Christ, the power of God, for all our needs. Amen.
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