Chance Encounters: Tactile Transformation
Topic: Life Changing Moments Scripture: Mark 5:21–5:34
All of us have had chance encounters in our lives. Moments where we met another person who, for some reason, left a memorable and lasting impression on us. These weren’t planned meetings or anything like that. Instead, it is a seemingly random collision of two lives. Maybe you bumped into a celebrity at the airport or a famous athlete at a coffee shop. One time when I was flying into the tiny Dubuque airport for a seminary intensive, and I happened to be on the same flight as Jason Derulo. I didn’t know who he was. But all the students from my old youth group sure did. And while crossing paths with a famous person can be exciting, sometimes chance encounters can lead to something much more reaching than a selfie or a story. Sometimes they change the very trajectory of our lives.
When I was in college, I met such a person. The first time we met we were actually in the same intro to youth ministry class. I didn’t know much about her except that she was quiet and didn’t seem to answer our professor very often. I kind of thought she was a snob at the time. Unbeknownst to me, she had her opinions on me too. She thought I was a know-it-all, teacher’s pet. It turns out that she had a better read on me than I did on her. You’ve probably guessed that I’m talking about my wife, Caitlin.
Sharing an intro level class was the first chance encounter I had with Caitlin, but it wouldn’t be the last. A year later, in our sophomore year, I became a student chaplain. It was my role to encourage and support the spiritual well-being of the guys on my floor and help contribute to the sense of community in our dorm building. One thing I did was to try and intentionally learn the first name of everyone in my building, so that every time I saw them, I could greet them by name. Everyone likes the sound of their name, and it offers a sense of acknowledgment and value we all desire. And this included Caitlin. I guess using her name several times was enough for her to notice me, because one day when I got back from class, she was waiting for me and asked me to our spring formal. We eventually started dating, and that’s how I ended up married to a girl way out of my league. Really, by a chance encounter.
Chance encounters can change everything. About the way that we think about a person, about ourselves, and the same is true with Jesus. Often when we think of Jesus and his interactions with people, we think of crowds. Big scenes like the feeding of the 5,000 or him preaching to the multitudes. We might have this image in our minds of Jesus being the lead presenter at a TED talk or something like that. And, sure, Jesus did have moments like that. But Christ also had unexpected, seemingly random, chance encounters with folks. And for the next few weeks, we’re going to explore a few of those encounters in this series. Not only to see how these individuals who encountered Christ were changed but also to see how these encounters can and do speak to our encounters and experience with Jesus.
And for our first chance encounter, I want us to look at one of my favorites, and perhaps, the chance encounter of Christ’s time on earth. As is often the case with significant moments in life, this chance encounter occurs while Jesus is already on his way to do something else. It starts off with Jesus being approached by a leader of the local synagogue. Mind you, this isn’t our encounter but instead the lead-up. This religious leader, named Jairus, comes to Jesus and begs him to go with him and to save his dying daughter. Jesus heads out with his disciples and Jairus, and they make their way to where the daughter is. While traveling, a large crowd forms around Jesus and follows him. And that’s when a woman notices Jesus for the first time We’re in Mark 5, and we’ll start at verse 21 with Jairus coming to Jesus and go through verse 34.
* Read Mark 5:21-34 *
Ok, so Jairus comes and seeks the kind of help only Jesus can offer. Jesus, being all of the compassionate and loving person we know him to be, agrees. While they are making their way to the daughter, a very sick woman notices Jesus and decides to make a last-ditch, desperate effort for healing. Make no mistake, this woman’s circumstances were severe. We’re told she suffered from a bleeding disorder and while the actual name of this particular malady is unknown to us, we can discern that it was bad. Very bad.
For one thing, it had persisted for 12 years. 12 years! Anyone who has had a chronic condition or known someone with one can imagine just how difficult this must have been. Then there’s an element of this we may not consider at first glance. In the culture and context of our passage, it’s important to know that blood was deemed unclean and that bleeding only spread that sense of unclean to anyone who came in contact with the affected person. So this woman would not only have been dealing with a major health issue, she also would have been persistently pushed outside of the community. Away from her family, any friends, public gatherings, even local worship. This woman would have endured over a decade of feeling abandoned, entirely alone, and without hope.
And then there’s the financial aspect. Most of us are well aware of how medical care can create piles of bills that only add another heavy burden to our lives. This woman had spent everything she had consulting countless doctors only to come up with no cure and now no financial means to move forward. Physically, she was weary, socially, she was abandoned, and financially, she was bankrupt. In almost every sense, this woman was broken and defeated and without any hope. That is until she hears about this person named Jesus coming in her general direction surrounded by a crowd. And she reaches out.
She makes her way into the crowd, probably no small feat considering her condition, and gets behind Jesus and just reaches out and touches his cloak with the desperate thought that if she just touches this man she had heard so much about that she might be healed. Now, I have a strong affinity for fantasy and science fiction and superhero movies. I appreciate the theatrical and special effects. So my imagination takes this moment in our text and I see in my mind the woman’s fingers barely brush Christ’s clothes but, when she does, a flash of light courses out of Jesus and down into the body of this woman - first from her fingertips and then all throughout her body. As I said, I just piece this together with my own imagination. But even if we don’t know what it looked like, we do know one thing: She experienced a tactile transformation, and she was freed from her suffering.
Then we get an almost quizzical or comical moment. Jesus feels it. Maybe he made an expression like we do when our phone vibrates in our back pocket. Maybe he shuddered. But he felt the power go out from him. He was aware not only of his power being used but that he had become intimately connected with another person. So he stops and starts looking around and asking his friends who touched him. His followers are like, “Jesus, are you serious? Do you see all these people? How can you ask who touched you?” But if there is one thing we know about Jesus. Whether it pertains to his teaching, his miracles, or his love: Jesus is relentless.
So Jesus keeps looking around and through the crowd until the woman comes to Jesus and tells the whole story. The response of Jesus is as meaningful to the woman as it should be to all of us: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Like I said earlier, this is one of my favorite accounts of Jesus. And part of the reason why is directly connected to this series we’re starting. This event – this life-changing, hope-restoring, miraculous event – happens while Jesus is on his way to do something else. Remember Jairus and his sick daughter? Jesus was on his way to heal her. I think all of us have fallen ill with the sickness of business. Our calendars and daily schedules are sometimes packed so tightly we wonder how we can get everything done. The tyranny of the urgent kicks in and suddenly there are 5 or 6 or 30 problems or errands or tasks that have to be done right now. I don’t know about you, but when I’m having a busy day and feeling at the end of my rope, the last thing I want to do is add another thing to the list.
But Jesus doesn’t ask this woman to make an appointment or explain to her how he is already committed to something else. He stops and he looks for the one who reached out to Him. This is a moving reminder that there is never a time where Jesus puts us on hold or asks us to reschedule. He is present and available to us whenever we reach out. Even though our lives may be busy beyond belief, there is never a time in the life of Christ where he has not or will not make time for those who seek Him. Jesus chooses to make us a priority, to make you a priority.
Another thing we learn about Jesus is that there is a cost to His healings. When this woman touched Him and was healed we’re told that power left Jesus and He felt it. There is a price to be paid when Jesus healed. The important thing about this reality is not the price itself. We know that Jesus was human and grew tired, exhausted, and hungry. He often needed to retreat to quiet places to be alone for an extended period of time. It is natural that He would grow tired from all that he did. The incredible thing about this price is His willingness to pay it. William Barclay, a fairly well-known Bible scholar, describes it this way, “The greatness of Jesus was that he was prepared to pay the price of helping others, and that price was the outgoing of his very life.” We should know this by now but there is no cost too great in the eyes of Christ if it would benefit those whom He loves. Whether it be enduring difficult people, spending more energy than He has, or the very cross itself, Jesus pays the price willingly for the benefit of those whom He loves.
And Jesus loved this woman. This broken, hopeless, all-but-forgotten woman. It was by a chance encounter that their stories became intertwined. But we also know that God Almighty, the Creator of all things, knew this woman. God knew her story from beginning to end and God valued and loved this woman. In her story of pain and fear and doubt, we have the potential to see a reflection of ourselves. Many of us have experienced, are experiencing, or will experience periods of hopelessness. A fractured relationship, the passing of a loved one, the loss of employment, unanswered questions, impossible expectations, and unknown outcomes. As human beings, we are born into a broken world and surrounded by brokenness. As Christians, we are not promised freedom from pain or offered a free pass. The dark night of the soul comes to all of us. But this woman shows us what our response should be.
In the story of this woman, we discover a simple but transformative truth. Sometimes the most meaningful action we can take in the face of anxiety or pain or darkness is reaching out to Christ in faith. The healing power of Jesus Christ courses through the faith of this woman like an electric current goes through a conduit. Jesus tells us this even. He says that it was her faith in Him that healed her. Now I’m not standing up here saying that if we just call out to Jesus that everything will be fixed and restored. As I said, following Christ doesn’t preclude us from enduring things like pain and loss and anguish. In fact, often God uses those very things as the means for fostering within us a true, vibrant, unblemished faith. We come to this woman’s story after 12 years of suffering. If we had come to her story after day one or year one or even only hours before the moment in our text – we would only find tragedy and sorrow. We aren’t always given the knowledge of when or how Christ will transform our afflictions into affirmations of His love but faith compels us to not lose heart, to trust in God, to hold on.
It’s possible that you’re in a similar place as this woman. Running out of options, overcome with fear, feeling hopeless. Friends, I don’t know how but I know with everything that I am that when we reach out to God – something changes. It could be like the sudden flux of divine power we see in our text or it could be like the slow but steady growth of a blossom. But something happens when our faith is turned into action and our longing is focused on the person of Jesus Christ. Often the most difficult, seemingly impossible thing we feel like we should do is reach out to God in prayer and hope. But, at least in this instance, that is exactly what brought freedom and hope where nothing else could.
Over the course of the next few weeks we’re going to explore chance encounters just like this one. Just like the ones we have experienced in our own lives. Moments where Jesus bumps into the story of another person and leaves them changed forever in profound ways – just like the woman in our text. And just like with this woman’s story, we have the chance to see how Christ’s collision with the stories of these people reflect and inform His presence in our own lives. Because, with each encounter, we find that these were ordinary people like you and me. Who struggled with the same sorts of things we all struggle with. And in every single account, Jesus brought about some form of lasting, reaching transformation. Just like the tactile transformation of the woman in Mark 5.