A Time for Healing -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 5B
Mark 5:21-43 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat[a] 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[b] 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.
Jesus has long been known as one who heals. Wherever he went he healed people of various diseases and conditions, from leprosy to blindness. How he did it is a matter of discussion, especially in scholarly circles. Often these healing sessions took place on the Sabbath as a sort of challenge to the status quo expectations of his community. Jesus was nothing if not a provocateur, demonstrating time and again that people mattered more than principles! That is, love of neighbor should be the prime directive when it comes to how we relate to one another. It is in this sense of purpose that we hear two interconnected stories of healing found in Mark 5.
What is intriguing about these two intertwined stories of healing is the identities of the two persons involved. I think it shows not only a picture of Jesus’ compassion for others, but the breadth of Jesus’ vision. The framing story focuses on a young girl who is dying. Her father, a leader of the synagogue, meets Jesus as he’s getting off a boat in which he had once again crossed the Sea of Galilee. In the story preceding this one, Jesus has set free the Gerasene demoniac, the man whose life had been overtaken by “legion.” That event took place in a predominantly Gentile region bordering the lake, and now Jesus is back in a predominantly Jewish context. What is interesting about these stories about Jesus is that people always seemed to anticipate his movements. He can’t just get away by himself. Wherever he goes people are waiting for him, hoping that he will touch their lives and bring wholeness to them. The can be both rich and poor, influential and not in the eyes of the public inconsequential. Such is the case in this two part story where Jesus touches both the influential and the inconsequential, bringing hope to both and in the process building a possible bridge to relationship.
The leader of the synagogue is a person of some importance and likely wealth. He can afford to bring in doctors to attend to his sick daughter, but he seems to believe that his best hop lies with Jesus, whom he implores to come and heal his daughter. Since she’s near death, perhaps he fears there are no other options. Jesus is it. He’s heard enough about Jesus and his exploits to believe that hope might lie in this direction (remember Jesus is always trying to keep his work a secret). To reach out to Jesus took courage, because many of this man’s colleagues weren’t thrilled about the message of the young teacher from Nazareth who seemed unconcerned about the rules. But his daughter was dying and so maybe he felt that the rules had to be suspended. After all, often in life our relationships will determine our actions and even beliefs. So, when Jesus hears his plea, he agrees to go with him (accompanied by his disciples and a gathering crowd of onlookers). It is important to remember that if the daughter is near death, there is no time to waste. There’s no time to stop and deal with other business. Just a few minutes might be the difference between life and death. I can see the man hurrying along, pushing through the gathering crowd, trying to make way for Jesus, so they can get there on time.
Perhaps to the chagrin of the synagogue leader, a woman sneaks up on Jesus while they’re in transit, and touches the edge of his coat. She’s hoping that this might provide healing of a hemorrhage that was sapping her life away. She had tried everything she could to stop this internal bleeding, including spending every last dime on doctors (does this sound familiar? A significant number of bankruptcies in our country result from unanticipated health crises), but nothing worked. She was now penniless. There was nothing more she could do. There were no other options. Knowing that Jesus was busy and probably didn’t have time for her, she just reached out in hope that touching his robe would be sufficient. And it was. Jesus felt healing power go out from him. He immediately knew that something had happened. He stopped, turned around, and asked who it was that had touched him. The woman, now healed, was a bit apprehensive about revealing herself. Perhaps it was the way that Jesus seemed to wheel around looking for the “guilty party” that put her on edge. Maybe she had crossed a boundary. Maybe she put him at risk of being deemed unclean—there were, after all, rules about women, blood, and touching people. Her own experience with this hemorrhage had made her an outcast, unwelcome in public. So she really had to act in stealth—you might say that she had to live in the closet. Pulling together enough courage, she revealed herself to Jesus. Jesus responded: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Instead of rebuking her, he welcomed her, included her, and restored her not only in terms of health, but in terms of community relationships.
Of course, by stopping to deal with the woman, who remains unnamed, Jairus’ daughter has been put at risk. Precious seconds have been lost by this encounter. Sure enough, when they arrive at the house, Jairus and Jesus learn that this young girl has died. Jairus had put his reputation on the line. He had reached out to Jesus. Nonetheless his efforts had come to naught. His child was dead. That is, of course, not the end of the story.
Jesus goes to the room where the dead girl was lying. He put everyone out, because they didn’t have faith that this was not the end. He says that she’s merely sleeping. They knew better. She’d stopped breathing. She was dead. But Jesus is not deterred. He speaks to the girl (we even have the command in Aramaic), and he commands her to rise, and she does. She was dead, but now she’s alive. This isn’t the resurrection. This is healing. But she’s restored to life and to her family, who rejoice that they have not lost one so dear to them.
When we read a passage like this we have to do so with many questions in mind, one of which is why some people live and others die. Jesus doesn’t heal everyone. He didn’t bring an end to sickness and death. People who find it difficult to believe in God continually raise the question of how you can believe in a loving God and see that suffering is present. It is a telling critique, especially if you embrace the idea of an all-powerful God. I don’t have a complete answer to these questions. What I see here, however, is an expression of divine love, which calls us to love of our neighbors by being expressions of healing grace. Suffering and death appear to be part of life, at least life as we know it, but that does not prevent us from experiencing true healing in this life, however it might come to us. When Jesus encountered the woman who had reached out to touch the hem of his cloak, he simply told her that her faith had made her well. While we should never say that physical healing doesn’t come due to lack of faith, can we not say that faith allows us to receive God’s healing grace in ways that transform our lives? As Jesus said to the daughter of Jairus – get up and walk, and she did. The life of faith requires a willingness to take that first step. Each day we face challenges that require of us that step of faith, and with it we put ourselves in a position to receive the healing grace of God.