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Fear in the Gospel of Mark


When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages 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 haemorrhage 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." While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

MARK 5:21-43

Sermon (by the Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor)

We might not realise it, but at the heart of so much of what we experience lies fear. In today’s world terms like anxiety and panic are more common, with fear often associated with being afraid of spiders or snakes, for example. But the reality is that many our struggles are due to fear…this deep seated, dis-ease, worry, nausea-inducing sense of dread concerning aspects of our lives….it can paralyse us, cloud our better judgement, consume our minds and hearts. The fear could be caused by things like an unexpected illness or diagnosis, maybe a sudden or possible change in work, living or economic situation, it could be something global, like a pandemic or the climate emergency (maybe you have heard of eco-anxiety, fear about what’s going to happen to our planet as climate change continues). It took me a long time to realise the extent to which fear permeates life, that at the core of many of my own struggles lies the fact that I am afraid of what is coming next, of what I am unable to control.

As we each, in our own ways, wrestle with fear, the Bible offers us a response. The theme of fear runs through the Gospel of Mark. The Greek for fear, phobeo, from which we get the English phobia, is used 12 times in Mark, but thematically it plays a much larger role. In the calming of the storm in Mark 4, which we heard last week, the storm itself incites fear in the disciples; when Jesus walks on water in Mark 6, again the disciples fear; at the end of the Gospel, when the women go the tomb after the resurrection, they run away in fear. These are just three of many examples…two more are actually found in our Gospel reading today.

In our Gospel we meet Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, who has a young daughter who is ill. Like any parent, he would have worried that his beloved child would die and he had likely spent a lot of time and money seeking a cure. But nothing has worked so he reaches out to Jesus, asking him to come and heal his daughter. And immediately Jesus goes, the crowds accompanying him along the way.

This narrative is interrupted by the bleeding woman. She is among the crowd and had tried to find a cure for her ailment, but she continues to bleed. So, she reaches out to Jesus and immediately the bleeding stops.

As Jesus turns, searching for the one who touched him, we hear of the woman again, “But the woman, knowing what had happened to her came in fear and trembling, fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” We do not know exactly what she said, but we know her state…she was in fear, her body shakes as the emotion manifests itself outwardly. And Jesus responds to her fear, with a simple phrase, “Daughter, your faith has made you well, go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

At this point, we learn the fate of Jairus’ daughter…some people from Jairus’ home come to Jairus, who is among the crowd with Jesus, and they tell him that his daughter has died. Although we have no physical description of Jairus, clearly Jesus knows he is afraid, because he says, “do not fear, only believe.” And, like the unnamed bleeding woman, the child also finds healing.

In both episodes we not only have people who are ill, then healed…but also we have people who are in fear and reach out to Jesus.

The woman reaches out to Jesus in fear and Jesus reaches back to her with a reminder of faith and its power, followed by a confirmation that she has been healed of her disease.

Jairus reaches out to Jesus in fear and Jesus reaches back to him with a reminder of the importance of belief and telling him that his daughter is healed. This coupling of fear and faith or belief appears repeatedly in Mark’s Gospel…both in our passage today and in others, such as those I mentioned earlier…when there is fear, it is met with faith.

So what does this mean for all of us, who have and will experience fear?? Our Gospel is reminding us that when we fear, we must turn to Jesus, as both the bleeding woman and Jairus did. Because when we reach out to God, as we saw today, God will reach back to us and healing will come.

While this sounds so simple, unfortunately, it isn’t. I know that when fear hits me, my first thought is to figure out a way to fix things…turning to God doesn’t immediately pop into my mind. It is truly hard to have faith when fear rears its head, fear takes our attention, pushes us away from God. Our Gospel, however, is urging us to be like the woman and Jairus…when we are in the worst of situations, when death, illness, or any other terrible thing rages in our lives, when we feel like we have exhausted every option to find the peace we need…we must remember God, remember that we are not alone and reach out to God. Because when we do, we can fully trust that God will reach back to us…God will heal us as we saw in the Gospel.

And we don’t have to beat ourselves up when we are unable to do this, when we find that the fear is taking over and there is little to no faith to be found. Because, God has not left us on our own…God has given us friends, families, a church family, who can reach out to God on our behalf. God has blessed us with other people who will be with us and support us as we cope with fear, others who can help us to remember God’s presence in our lives. In so many ways, we are never left to face fear alone.

Whether it is anxiety, worry, or panic…fear is a part of our lives and it consumes us, paralyses us, prevents us from thinking clearly. In response our Gospel today reminds us that when this happens, we must be like the bleeding woman and Jairus, who in states of fear turned to God. So, as we go from this place today, as we face the many things that cause fear in our lives…remember to have faith, remember to reach out to God and know that without a doubt God will reach back to you, God will bring you healing. Amen.

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