Breaking Down Barriers

Mark 5.21-end

The people in our gospel story today couldn’t have been more different.


First, there was Jairus, a respected and important member of the community.


He was a leader of the synagogue, and as the synagogue was central and important to the whole community, he was a significant member of society.


It was Jairus, among others, by whose invitation Jesus preached in the Capernaum Synagogue.


He was bold and desperate enough to reach out publicly to Jesus for help at the time of his greatest need.


Then, there was the unnamed woman who touched Jesus’s cloak in the crowd.


She too was desperate, but years of being shunned and despised and an awareness that she shouldn’t be out in society made her choose a more private approach.


Despite their differences, though, these two are connected by the theme of barriers.

People, including some Christians, seem to like putting up barriers between people.

The barriers might be between those who are considered godly and those who aren’t, according to a set of rigid criteria.

They might be barriers of race, gender, sexuality, language, accents, clothing or wealth.

They might be barriers about how and when and where people worship.

Sadly, barrier-building has happened a lot in the Church in the past and can still happen now.

I find this strange, though, because it seems to me that Jesus was all about breaking down barriers.


He welcomed women and children and treated them as equals, at a time when that was unheard of.


His disciples were amazed when Jesus told them not to send children away but let them come to him.


As a Jew, he spoke to non-Jews and was concerned about them, at a time when it was common to look down on non-Jews.


He spoke to a woman by a well in Samaria and granted the prayer of a Syrophoenician woman, while his disciples looked on in confusion.


Jesus also broke down another barrier, one which seems strange to us today – the barrier between clean and unclean.


This is what we hear about in today’s Gospel reading.


The idea of being clean or clean was about whether a person was considered pure under religious law and therefore able to worship God or if there was something which had stained them.


It was a ceremonial rather than moral idea – various animals were considered unclean, as were certain skin conditions.


They weren’t immoral but they weren’t worthy of God.


Importantly for our reading today, though, a woman was considered unclean while bleeding, and dead bodies were also unclean.


And if you had contact with an unclean person, you were also made unclean.


This had serious consequences as, if you were unclean, you were both a social outcast, shunned by others, and a religious outcast who couldn’t go to worship God until you’d been made clean again through a religious ritual.


Jesus, though, took no notice of this in today’s gospel reading.


It describes him praising a woman who touched him for healing from chronic bleeding and talks about him taking the hand of the dead daughter of a local religious leader to bring her back to life.


Technically, Jesus was now unclean and an outcast, having had contact with two unclean people, but it didn’t stop him reaching out to help.


In the process, Jesus showed that there is no condition which cuts us off from the mercy and love of God.


In both of these miraculous healings we see Jesus demonstrating the steadfast love of the Lord.


This love brings genuine healing and hope to those who have experienced enormous suffering and loss.


The woman is restored to health and society; the young girl is restored to life, and in the process the ancient taboos of the law are broken.


No one is excluded from the kingdom of God, from the love of God or from the help of God.


In saying all this I’m conscious that there are times when prayers seem to go unanswered.


There are times when illnesses aren’t healed, people die anyway, and our worst fears come to pass.


This is a great mystery which the greatest theologians have trouble explaining, but I think we can be sure that, whatever it looks like, we are all equally loved, held and supported by the God who, in the words of Lamentations, ‘does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone’.


There are no people who God doesn’t want, no ways to put ourselves beyond his help, and no barriers that he won’t cross to reach us.


Us human beings still put up barriers between people, both inside and outside the Church.


But I wonder what it might be like if we took more notice of Jesus’s example of breaking down barriers?


What if we reached past our social barriers to get to know people who are different from us, or who we look down on?


We might be surprised at the good people we find and the ways in which our lives become richer.