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The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 1, 2012
The Gospel: Mark 5:21-43
Sermon: "The Spiderman Gospel"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
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." 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 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."
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.
The Spiderman Gospel
I have a confession to make. Iím a comic book hero fan. Well, not all of them, but certain ones I really like to follow. One of my most favorites is The Amazing Spiderman. Well, actually, itís not so much the Spiderman in action that I like to follow, itís the man he comes from, Peter Parker, the very normal, ordinary guy behind the super character. The reason Iím mentioning this is that Mayor Bloomberg of New York City has declared this week to be Spiderman week, in honor of the opening of the new summertime blockbuster movie about the web-slinger.
What with there having already been three major movies about him, youíd think there wouldnít be much left to tell. We all know his story: High school student Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains super strength, as well as the ability to stick to walls and ceilings. He invents a device that enables him to shoot webs and swing high above the city streets. Wearing a Spider-Man costume, he goes out to fight criminals, including super-villains such as Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus.
Peter Parker is a compelling character; as the wall-crawler is persecuted by the very community that he's trying to protect. City authorities are suspicious of him, not knowing if he's a vigilante or a criminal, and the local newspaper launches a campaign against the "Spider-Man menace."
Further, as himself, Peter is awkward with girls, teased by his peers and accident-prone; in short, he's a normal young man who's easy for us to relate to despite his superpowers. We've watched him grow up from high school student to college student to married high school teacher to single, freelance photographer. So, what more can be said? This new movie takes us back to Peter Parker's high school days, and it promises to tell us "the untold story."
You just might be wondering about now, what any of this has to do with Jesus or our Gospel lesson this morning. Well, just this: Jesus has a Peter Parker problem. I mean this in the sense that we think we know all about Jesus. He has appeared in countless books, television shows, and blockbuster movies. Jesus Christ Superstar, and Godspell are among the most memorable musicals of the last 40 years. In a recent poll of Wisconsin residents, Jesus was second in popularity only to Abraham Lincoln. Oh, number three? Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.
On top of this, many people are drawn to Jesus because he's a suffering servant, persecuted by the community that he's trying to help. Jewish scribes accuse him of blasphemy and question him for eating with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:7,16). Pharisees look down on him for healing on the Sabbath, and conspire with the authorities to destroy him (3:2,6). Like Peter Parker, Jesus is always being attacked for doing good.
But maybe there's something we have missed in our many experiences with Jesus. Perhaps it's time for us to reboot the gospel and discover "the untold story.
Mark, in our Gospel lesson this morning, tells us that when Jesus crosses in a boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, a great crowd gathers around him because rumors are flying about the Amazing Jesus-Man. (5:21) Imagine the buzz in the crowd: One person says that she saw Jesus remove an unclean spirit from a man, leaving everyone amazed and saying, "What is this? A new teaching; with authority!" (1:21-28) Another says he watched Jesus heal a paralytic and reports that all who witnessed it were amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" (2:1-12) A third tells of how a demoniac was healed by Jesus, and then the man "went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed" (5:1-20). Again and again Mark reports that people are amazed by The Amazing Jesus.
But here's the untold story of what Jesus is doing for the people of Galilee: All of his mighty acts are intended to save them. Whether they're facing evil, illness, destruction or death, Jesus is there to rescue. The Greek word for "save" pops up again and again in the Gospel according to Mark, although it's usually reduced to bland English words such as "heal," "cure" or "get well." What amazes the crowds is that Jesus is working to rescue them, to save them.
First to appear out of the eager crowd is Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue. Although you might think that he would be in league with the authorities who are anxious to stamp out the "Jesus menace," Jairus is desperate. He falls at Jesus' feet and begs 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" (5:22-23).
Well, that's the standard translation. What the Greek actually says is that Jairus wants Jesus to lay hands on her, "so that she may be saved, and live." Jesus goes with Jairus, and a large crowd follows him and presses in on him. And just as you will see in the Spider-Man movie, one challenge at a time is never enough; the superhero goes to save one person and is unexpectedly pulled aside to save another. Just so, with Jesus, a woman who has been suffering hemorrhages for 12 years comes up behind Jesus in the crowd and touches his cloak, believing, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well" (vv. 24-28). Again, the English translation is bland. She says to herself, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be saved." That's the untold story.
No doubt, this woman really needs to be rescued. As a result of her physical condition of unstoppable hemorrhaging, she is, according to the Levitical purity code, unclean. She is to be perpetually segregated from the Temple, the synagogue and every person who wishes to be considered clean; this in addition to her personal pain and suffering, as well as the loss of whatever financial means she may have once had. She, Mark tells us, had spent all she had trying to get well, ďand she was no better, but rather grew worse" (v. 26).
The woman reaches out, touches Jesus, and immediately her bleeding stops. She is healed of her disease and rescued from a miserable life of pain, social isolation and exploitation (v. 29). She is saved by the Amazing Jesus!
But wait. Like Peter Parker when his "Spidey-sense" begins to tingle, Jesus has a feeling that his power has flowed out of him. Jesus spins around in the crowd and says, "Who touched my clothes?" (v. 30). His disciples look at him as though he's crazy, since a mob of people are pressing in on him from every side. But Jesus searches the crowd for the person he knows is out there, until the woman finally confesses what she's done. He doesn't rebuke her, but instead says, "Daughter, your faith has made you well" (v. 34). Sort of. What he really says is, "Daughter, your faith has saved you."
When we reboot the gospel and hear the untold story, we discover that Jesus has come to save us from anything that can damage, divide or destroy us. And he does this not only through his unique powers, but through our willingness to trust him.
The scene shifts, and some people come from the house of Jairus to tell him that his daughter is dead. But overhearing what they say, Jesus says to Jairus, "Do not fear, only believe" (v. 36). He challenges Jairus to trust with the very same conviction that the woman had just shown.
Jesus arrives at Jairusí house, moves all the mourners out, and gathers the child's father and mother, along with his disciples. He takes the girl by the hand and says to her, "Little girl, get up!" And Mark tells us that immediately the girl gets up and begins to walk about. Jesus saves her not only from illness, but from death itself. And the witnesses? Not surprisingly, they are "overcome withĒ, you guessed it, ďamazement" (v. 42). The Amazing Jesus!
Thatís Jesusí Peter Parker problem; his ďuntold story.Ē But what about you and me? Do we have a Peter Parker problem, an ďuntold story?Ē Peter Parker is not a Messiah character. Peter Parker is more representative of a person gifted by God for a particular mission in life: "With Great Power, There Must Also Come Great Responsibility." Thatís a solid piece of good philosophy. By the way, Voltaire said it first, not Peterís uncle.
Peter is not to be confused with our Savior. Rather, he is a regular everyday person that makes the most of his unique gifts in the best way he can. Peter Parker is more Christlike than a Christ-figure. He is not the savior of the world. Rather he is a savior in the world. That is our vocation; our calling. Just so, we are all to be Christ-like people who are there for others. We are ordinary people who have been gifted by our Savior with extraordinary powers for good, and we are now called by him to use those gifts to change the world.
We can be insecure, awkward and still achieve great things in this life. None of us is God, but we can do godly things. Because Jesus saves us, gifts us and calls us, we can.
As fun as it is to watch Spider-Man at the movies, the Web-Slinger has nothing on Jesus. His wall-crawling is pure fantasy, and his web-shooters are the stuff of comic-book sci-fi.
Jesus is the one with the power to save us, and this fact should not remain an untold story. Jesus rescues us from our bondage to sin through his gift of forgiveness. He saves us from illness by working for healing in our bodies, minds and spirits. He breaks our social isolation by giving us a place in his community of faith. He rescues us from death through his promise of eternal life with God. Jesus saves! Donít let his story, or yours, be untold. You have gifts. You have a calling. Answer it, and letís change the world!