But I Want Help NOW, Lord!

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

June 27, 2021
Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture readings: Lamentations 3: 22-33 and Mark 5: 21-43

The man was falsely and unfair imprisoned in the King’s dungeon on trumped up charges.  He studied the stone walls, the hard-packed dirt floor, and the solid oak bars – and knew there was no way to break out of this medieval fortress.  His family and friends – those who believed in him despite the public charges – could do nothing to help him.  He was not allowed visitors or even a priest.  

Day after day, he paced his cell alone and wondered how long he could live.  He was given bread, water, and occasionally soup three times each day – that was all.  He was trapped.

One day he examined the wooden bars a little more closely.  There was only one bar on one window looking out the back of the dungeon.  The window was about 20 feet above the ground.  If only he could break that bar somehow, he could escape.

But how can any man break a four-inch thick oak beam with no tools?  He picked at the wood, trying to find a spot where it was weak or cracked, but the beam was solid. 

He recalled a sermon he had heard in church in which the minister reminded his congregation that “the Lord helps those who help themselves.”  He had been praying for the Lord to get him out of that unfair cell, but now he thought maybe the Lord had given him a way to get out on his own.

It took months of painstaking, careful work.  He began to gnaw on the bar with his own teeth.  Whenever he broke off a piece, he threw it out the window as far as he could throw it.  He used part of his daily rations of bread to create a fake-wood that filled in the spot that he had eaten away in the wooden beam.

By the time he escaped and made his way to safety months later, his teeth were worn down to the gums, and his jaws and face resembled that of a hideous gorilla because of the muscles in his face getting so strong.  But because he refused to wait for death, because he wanted help NOW, the man escaped and made his way to freedom.  He was never recaptured again.

Waiting on the Lord for help can be frustrating.  Some people refuse to wait and insist on help NOW.  But some of those pesky people have already been waiting a long time.  It’s not like Jesus didn’t come to earth to help people…we know he did.  And it’s not that unusual for Jesus to be interrupted in his travels or his work by someone insisting on help NOW.

Remember these examples?

  • Peter and his friends interrupting when Jesus went off by himself to pray early in the morning;
  • The leper interrupting Jesus as he was leaving the synagogue after preaching;
  • The paralytic whose friends lowered him through a hole in the ceiling as Jesus was teaching in a tightly packed house;
  • The blind man on the side of the road who called out to Jesus to “have pity on me” as Jesus and his friends were traveling to Jericho.

In each case, Jesus was already doing something important, but he was interrupted by someone who refused to wait any longer for help.  And in each case, what did Jesus do?  Did he become annoyed, irritated, or angry at being interrupted?  Did he roll his heavenly eyes and sigh with a shake of his head?  Did he ever, EVER refuse to help anyone?  No, of course not!

In each case, Jesus loved the one who interrupted him and made others wait.  Then he proceeded to help the others too.

Yet, in the passage we have from Mark’s Gospel today, we actually have a common literary device that Mark employed more than once.  Some experts call it an “insertion” but one theologian called it a “Markan Sandwich.”  The idea is that Mark is telling a story about Jesus, THEN SUDDENLY Jesus is interrupted or distracted or sidetracked by someone who needs his help NOW.  The brief, new story is sandwiched between the two parts of the main story.  In today’s reading, the main story is about Jarius’ daughter, but sandwiched between its beginning and ending is the story of the bleeding woman.

Let’s take a closer look.

Jarius was a desperate man.  His beloved daughter was dying, but he heard about the healing power that Jesus possessed.  Yet, because he was also the leader of the local synagogue, he had no doubt been warned about this Jesus guy who was going around breaking the rules and stirring up the people.  But Jarius no longer cared about what the other religious leaders thought about Jesus or what his own synagogue might think.  He needed help NOW.  So, look at what he did: he went to Jesus, he fell at Jesus’ feet, and he begged Jesus to come and lay his hands on his daughter to save her.  Jarius didn’t care about anything at that point except saving the life of his precious child.

So, off they went to save the day…until the bleeding woman caught up to Jesus and touched the hem of his clothing.  She was instantly healed – and Jesus knew it.  Jesus stopped to find out what happened and everyone began looking around.

Meanwhile…did we all forget about poor Jarius?  There he is, standing with Jesus who was supposed to be hurrying to save his daughter, but now Jesus stops to find out who touched his clothing?  Can’t we just imagine what Jarius is thinking at this moment?  “For God’s sake, hurry up!  MY DAUGHTER IS DYING!”  But Scripture doesn’t tell us anything that Jarius said or thought.  All we have is the woman on her face before Jesus and thinking she is in BIG trouble.

And that brief delay is long enough for Jarius’ daughter to die.  They are too late.  If only Jesus had acted more quickly…if only Jarius had gone to him sooner…if only that bleeding woman hadn’t been so selfish!!  Jesus could have healed her after saving Jarius’ daughter.  If only!

But remember that an insertion or a Markan sandwich has one story split in two with a different story in between the two parts.  We are not done with this story.

We know how it turned out: yes, the child had died, but Jesus touched her and told her to get up…and she did.  So, both the woman and the little girl were healed by Jesus.

But there is more, of course.  What about all the parts that Mark skipped and we are expected to know?  What about the refusal to wait for the Lord’s help?

In the Book of the Law and in the hearts of righteous believers in Jesus’ day, there were many rules from the book of Leviticus.  Many of them dealt with things that made the people unclean and therefore unable to worship the Lord…such as:

  • Touching or being touched by a woman who was bleeding;
  • Touching or being touched by anyone who was sick and especially anyone in danger of dying; 
  • Touching or coming into contact with a dead or dying body.

That’s just a short list of what the righteous people of God had to deal with.  In many cases, they didn’t mind waiting a while because they knew they could become clean again in the sight of the Lord.  But what about those who had no choice and could not get well, could not be cured, could not become clean?  There was NO path for them going forward.  It begs the question: “Why should they wait on the Lord?  Why shouldn’t they act NOW to get the Lord’s help?”

Why, indeed!  Their own lives had been interrupted by whatever was going on in their lives or in their bodies.  Now it would have felt they were being punished somehow just for being unfortunate.  Just like the prisoner who ate his way out of his prison cell, these people refused to sit and wait; instead, they wanted the Lord’s help NOW, and so they acted.

The lesson is a good one; Scripture tells us to “wait on the Lord” but often we do something besides sit and wait.  Sometimes the Lord may be waiting on us to get up and DO something.  

Churches such as ours need to pay careful attention to this particular lesson.  When should we wait on the Lord and when should we do something NOW?  We have been given that opportunity again.

We just sold our church property.  We have a big sum of money in the bank in our building fund.  We would like a church home of our own.  But we already tried that with the last piece of land.  What should we do now?

Part of our collective mind is to bull ahead and find something quickly.  “It must be out there,” we tell ourselves.  “We just need to find it, and then the Lord will bless us.”  Perhaps…

The other part of our collective mind is remembering how much it hurt when we failed to build on that land in the past 8 years.  It was always a good idea with an excellent location.  But it couldn’t be done by us.  That doesn’t mean we just sit and wait, but it might mean we should proceed slowly and carefully seeking just the right solution.  Faith and prayer will always be required for our future.  But we will also need good people doing the right work on our behalf and with our support.

Because the full story of Heritage is just being temporarily interrupted.  Between selling our previous home and finding our new church home, this may be the insertion in our own story.  I wonder what the rest of the story will be.

Let’s keep praying.  Let’s wait on the Lord.  And when the moment is just right, let’s ask for the Lord’s help NOW.