The passage this morning is one the classic miracle passages, where Jesus not only heals someone, but also raises someone from the dead. But what I want to look at this morning is not the healings that Jesus did, but the people who come to him for help.
First was Jairus who is a leader of the synagogue. While Jesus had many Jewish disciples and followers at this point, Jairus is the first leader of the synagog to show up. His very presence would have made a statement. After all, leaders are trained to be competent, to get things done, to keep it all together. Until, that is, your little girl gets sick, really sick, maybe even sick unto death.
We hear in Jairus the story of a man who would go to any length to get help for his daughter. He runs through the street himself rather than sending a messenger. His love compels him even to beg, a posture no man in his time and place would consider if he felt he had any other choice. What must it have taken for him to approach Jesus? What other avenues must he have attempted first before he turned to Jesus? But all of that was secondary in his desperation to save his little girl. For her, he would do anything.
Now, the woman is nearly the exact opposite of Jairus. She is not a leader and has no social standing in the community. Moreover, she apparently has no advocate to beseech this teacher on her behalf. So she, too, has been rendered desperate and for this reason braves the crowd seeking only to touch the cloak of this healer whatever the potential cost.
In the woman we also hear of one so desperate she will go to any length to find wholeness. I intentionally use the word 'wholeness' here because like any physical disease hers was one that isolating in more than just the physical. In Jesus' day, she would have been considered 'unclean' and therefore prohibited from entering the 'holy places' of her time like the synagogue. She would have been shunned and exiled by her family, her community. We hear that even in her desperation, she does not feel worthy enough to go to Jesus to ask for what she needs. Rather, she believes if she can just get close enough perhaps some of the goodness Jesus offers will also be hers.
They are both desperate. They are both so desperate that they are willing to let themselves be vulnerable in different ways. And that’s the thing. It takes desperation for them to be willing to be vulnerable. It usually takes desperation for any of us to be willing to be vulnerable.
Researcher Brene Brown has done a lot of work with vulnerability and shame. She is most well known for her TED talk "The power of vulnerability," and has published several books. She says, "The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness. This is where shame comes into play. Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by the fear of what other people think or that gremlin that’s constantly whispering "You’re not good enough" in our ear, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it."
Admitting our needs, being willing to stand up and be vulnerable, is one of the hardest things we ever have to do. We all have different reasons why it’s so hard, just like the characters today did.
Some of us can't admit our need because we're too invested in having it all together, or at least in looking like we've got it all together, to admit that we actually don't. Like Jarius, we have social standings in the communities we live and work in. We can’t imagine what would happen if there was a crack in our armor. It's too scary, too frightening, to be that vulnerable. What if someone else notices or tries to take advantage of us? Or, maybe it's just that the world would seem too unbearable if we admitted for a minute that we're not on top of it. I know I've felt that way at times.
And some of us have a hard time admitting we don't have it all together because we're convinced that others need us to have it all together, and we don't want to let them down. Vulnerability doesn't feel like an option because, quite frankly, we're not sure those we love would make it without us. People are counting on us, so we just keep pushing ahead. Now we haven't checked that it’s true, haven't explored whether that's fair to them or to us, but by now, that's become part of our identity. I've felt that way at times, too.
And some of us know we don't have it all together, but find it hard to admit because we're pretty sure that's an unacceptable option to those around us. What would people think? How would they respond if they knew how hard it was to keep going? Given the huge emphasis on success, on getting ahead, in our culture, we've gotten used to pretending all of the time. It's exhausting, but what's the alternative?
The alternative is, we can begin to change the way we think about vulnerability. We tend in our culture to avoid vulnerability, to admitting that we don't have it all together, because of the way it can leave you feeling exposed, desperate and, well, vulnerable. And there is something of that in these stories. There’s the leader who finds that all the usual advantages and experience that go with his office suddenly avail him nothing. And the woman who has endured much and isn't sure she can bear any more. In their complete desperation, they are willing to become vulnerable.
Because it is only in admitting our vulnerability are we able to receive help, and only by owning our moments of desperation are we willing to try something out of the ordinary, discover the courage to be and act differently. So perhaps admitting need isn't the end of the world we think it may be, but just the end of the world we've constructed. And as the world of self-imposed or culturally cultivated perfection crumbles around us, we're invited to enter a new world of mutual regard, acceptance, and community. And we can start to describe that world, even name it the kingdom of God.
Because the only way to trust God's great "I love you" is to first hear God's equally important "I know you." Because as long as we think we're fooling someone, whether it is a loved one, a co-worker or neighbor, or even God, we can never really trust that they accept us for who we really are.
Brown goes on to say, "Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path." By being vulnerable, by being willing to open ourselves up like that we literally make our lives better.
None of this is easy, of course. Admitting our need, our vulnerability, can be scary. And I know I can't do it by myself. But I think that's part of the nature and import of the Body of Christ and community of faith: that together we can create a place to admit our vulnerability, to share our hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments, so that together we may speak and hear word of God's amazing grace, unfailing acceptance, and unrelenting mercy.
So this week, open yourself up. Choose to see vulnerability not as weakness, but as courage, not just for others, but in yourself. Ask for help. Leave yourself open to other people. And see what the God who knows you and loves you has in store.