This week, Faith in Real Life discussed two familiar healing stories from Mark’s gospel. Several common themes emerged in the conversation, as Vernon points out in this week’s blog. First, God’s grace is always wider than we can ever conceive. Next, Jesus’ healing, much like his teaching, transcended human understanding and ideas about propriety. Finally, like the hemorrhagic woman who touched Jesus’ robe to be healed, we act fearing reprisal sometimes, when the simple act of faith of facing up to our need and asking for help brings not an angry response, but a gracious one.
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 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.” 24 So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35 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?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 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. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
This passage contains two different healings that are set up in parallel to each other. What Jesus sees in each situation is dramatically different than what anyone else sees. He sees a child of God when the world sees a pariah. He sees new life when the world can only see death. Jesus, once again is turning human expectations upside down and offering the possibility of transformation the world could not imagine without him. Jesus calls us to see as he sees—which is always greater and more inclusive than we can imagine.
Jesus responded to human need regardless of social or religious expectation. The hemorrhagic woman had two obvious strikes against her. She was a woman and she was bleeding. A rabbi would would be forbidden to interact much less touch such a woman. No matter how many people were around her, she would always be unseen, avoided and alone. Jesus saw beyond all of that, he saw her suffering —-a woman who “had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.” Human need trumped social acceptability and religious correctness. That is the gospel. Jesus lived a life that demonstrated God’s love—quite apart from any human judgment.
That is an ideal we hold high but it is also remarkably difficult to adhere to in real life. We are far more likely to respond with fear and avoidance to the different, the ‘alien’, or the socially unacceptable—whether that is with immigration policies that demonize or social politeness that both avoids and condescends. If we get really ordinary, it is often hard to genuinely listen to our spouses much less the poor and disenfranchised. The different and unknown all too often inspire fear and defensiveness rather than curiosity and respect.
Jarius’ daughter is similar. Her social ‘liabilities’ were her gender and the fact that she was a child. Again, two categories that were and are held in lower esteem. It might be argued that at least she had an advocate—a father who was male and a leader of the synagogue. But please notice that his position did not give him priority. Jesus allowed himself to be interrupted in his journey to her home—an interruption that prevented him from seeing the girl before she died. It was too late, ““Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” When that did not deter Jesus, “they laughed at him.”
Again, in real life, it is hard to imagine beyond what we can see. By all human expectation, both the hemorrhagic woman and Jairus’ daughter were hopeless. The hemorrhagic woman was an outcast — and Jairus’ daughter was dead. Neither had a future. But Jesus affirmed new life for each of them. The ‘woman’ became a daughter ( “Daughter, your faith has made you well”) and the daughter had the opportunity to become a woman (“Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about”). Jesus gives new life by seeing, responding and in relationship.
My ordination notwithstanding, describing, much less understanding, a physical resurrection is above my pay grade. But I can realize that any miracle is a way to confront me with the limitations of my own vision. Trying to define ‘what happened’ is another attempt to see God on our terms, with our eyes—and all to often a means to ‘prove’ a particular brand of ‘faith’ (more on that in a minute). For me, one of the main points of these two stories is to realize God’s love is always wider than we can imagine. God is present for least of these, present regardless of how the world views us and present in ways we cannot imagine when all seems lost. That knowledge should give us humility—and hope.
I want to shift gears to look more deeply at the exchange between Jesus and the hemorrhagic woman. This woman had no reason to believe she had any value. She was more than unseen. She was a pariah. Even imagining she was worth helpling was probably impossible. But she was desperate enough to defy all convention and touch the clothes of Jesus. Jesus felt the touch and immediately asked ‘Who touched my clothes?’ The woman—who felt she had no standing to even ask for healing, “came in fear and trembling and told him the whole truth.”
She could have stayed silent. After all she was already healed and the crowd was too thick for her to be identified. But it was in that moment that an entirely different level of healing was offered to her. She was recognized. She was seen. She was transformed from an anonymous woman to a child of God. She was in a new relationship and that relationship gave her a worth and value the world could not.
This exchange is a common one in real life. For whatever reason, we are often hesitant to say directly what we want and need. We may fear we are not enough or that we are not worth another person inconveniencing themselves on our behalf. We may feel like we do not have a ‘right to ask’ or that if we ask, we are ‘compelling’ a response. No matter what the reason, it is very common to try to get what we need without saying so. We have all been this woman.
Whether it is making internal lists of ‘what I’ve done for you’, and expecting reciprocity or making announcements and expecting a response (saying “I’m thirsty” — instead of saying, “Would you please bring me a glass of water?”) or leading with an apology when we need reassurance—-we put enormous pressure on other people. (And we have all felt the pressure when others have reached out to us in those ways.) It is implicitly asking other people to read our mind and determine when and how much they should respond. When we risk saying what we want and need, we receive another’s free choice. We receive a gift.
We all do all kinds of things to get what we need without saying so. That’s what we do when we have trouble believing God’s promises. When we ‘expect’ people to respond, even if they do , we may receive the service but we lose the gift. When Jesus asked ‘who touched me?’, the woman was afraid. But Jesus was not angry. He wanted her to know she did not have to ‘steal’ his care, he could see her, know her and love her.
And this brings me to faith. Jesus says: “your faith has made you well.” Faith is an activity more than a cognitive belief. The woman was willing to stand before Jesus without knowing how he would respond. She had taken her first step in desperation. She took the next step in fear. She had every reason to believe she would be chastised for approaching him. Both steps were the activity of faith. I’m sure neither step felt good.
Faith is taking the next step even when we are desperate and alone, the next step when the world rejects us—hoping against hope that God will be present. In our Faith and Real life groups, every single person has lost someone they loved, every single person has felt so lost it was hard to imagine going on. Sometimes, some were immobilized, but each took the next step. Faith is always a step into uncertainty. They sought love and life when both seemed impossible. That is what it means to walk by faith and not by sight—and it is often difficult and frightening.
That is what Jesus did on the cross. And that is our hope, our refuge and our strength. Let it be so.