Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Touch of Faith, A Touch of Healing

Mark 5: 21-43
 You might think that in the Gospel of Mark all Jesus does is to get into that old wooden fishing boat with his disciples, catch a cool breeze and cruise to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, not a very long distance really.  He does that a lot but not because he was an avid sailor!  It was because throughout the Gospel Jesus is on the move; here, there and everywhere taking his message, miracles and ministry wherever it needed to go and to whomever needed or wanted to hear it, and, honestly, every so often he needed some ‘down’ time which the sanctuary of that maritime vessel provided him.

Today’s float over the sea was specific.   Jesus leaves the country of the Gerasenes which was Gentile territory and crosses over to the Jewish side of the country.  He’s now back among ‘his people’, fellow Jews, which makes a difference in this story in whom, by Jewish purity laws, Jesus could touch and not touch, who was clean and unclean. 

Hear now the fifth chapter of Mark beginning at the twenty-first verse:
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 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.”
So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
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?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.”
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. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.  Amen.
Jesus embarks from the boat and immediately is surrounded, even crowded in by people.  Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet and out of sheer desperation begs Jesus to come to his house and heal his daughter.  His poor twelve year old daughter was at death’s door, she hardly had a start in life and now she was so sick, in fact, she was dying.    I think we have all been in that same place as Jairus, that is at the point of desperation when one of our loved ones or perhaps ourselves have been gravely ill.  How fervent and impassioned, perhaps even pleading our prayers become for a miracle of healing.  We hope.  We trust.  We pray.  Maybe we even fall to our knees like Jairus. Jesus takes note and follows Jairus to his home.

But the crowds.  How hot and humid it was, the rays of the Galilean sun were relentless.  And the people pushed and pressed in on Jesus as he slowly tried to make his way to Jairus’ home.  They weren’t making much progress when Jesus felt the power serge from him.  He turned around and said, “Who touched the hem of my robe?”  The crowd halted, a hush gripped the air.

Unbelievable!  Unbelievable the disciples thought, here we are in the middle of all these people and Jesus could isolate and feel one little touch?  Unbelievable.  What about Jairus’ daughter?  We thought we were on the way to his house.  You see by now Jesus was used to interruptions.  We can appreciate that right?  You think you’ve got your entire day planned and boom, something happens and your agenda goes right out of the window.  In ministry we call it, the Ministry of Interruptions because interruptions happen at the most inopportune times and it’s usually in those distracted moments that God’s incredible grace pops up and asks us to pay attention and give of ourselves.
The woman, already feeling life flow back in her just from touching Jesus robe, cowered because she knows she did the unthinkable.  She, a hemorrhaging, ritually unclean woman touched Jesus and in that touch told him the whole story and truth of her life.  It was a remarkable witness to her faith.  “What faith!” Jesus says. “Go be about your business in peace, you’ve been healed.”  If only healing were that simple, right?

The crowd was stunned, and confused and Jesus was still speaking and…. I wonder if he had forgotten about Jairus’ daughter?  Word filters through the crowd that the daughter had died, no need for Jesus to come.  Jesus overhears. And, as theologian and preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Jesus preaches his shortest sermon ever: Do not fear, only believe”.  He hadn’t forgotten after all. 

“This daughter of Jairus is only sleeping, she’s not dead like you say” Jesus says.  Jesus risks ostracism once again from his own people as he crosses the threshold of her room and goes to her death bed. 

He reaches out and takes her young, limp hand and says quietly, “Talitha cum!”.  “Little girl, get up”.  And she does.  And, as typical 12 year olds would do she probably rubbed her eyes, giggled and chowed down what she was given to eat and asked if she could go to tell her girlfriends.  
 These two miracle stories hold so much for us to reflect upon.  A story within a story wherein both stories have several parallels which would have deepened the interest for first century readers.  Back in the day, miracle workers were a dime a dozen.  Jesus, of course, was not some two bit magician but gave all of the credit to God for his work.  His powers and ability to work miracles came from above.  The synagogue authorities were very concerned with the religious laws that Jesus seemed always to be defying.  Jesus was not so concerned that he was ‘breaking’ the law.  Rather he believed that he was expanding, recasting, amending, and revisioning the law for a more just world for everyone.  So in addition to the miraculous healing there were all sorts of nuanced meanings embedded in the stories.

Jairus’ daughter and the hemorraghing woman’s stories have fairytale endings.  They are lucky enough to receive full and total healing direct from the source.   But we know that full and total even dramatic physical healings such as these rarely occur like that.   So what happens when our expectation for healing doesn’t happen or our healing turns out to be much different then what we were hoping for?  That question begs a more profound question and that is, what does it mean to be healed?

All of us are in need of healing from time to time in our lives.  From a physical healing of a devastating illness to an emotional healing from the stinging effect of a lost relationship.  From a scarred healing of a traumatic incident to the mental healing and health from prolonged years of abuse perhaps even we are in need of healing from division’s and disarray due to a lack of clarity.  None of us will escape life without some sort of hurt or sickness in it but with God’s attentive touch we will heal.

It just may not be in the way that we have been hoping and praying for.  It’s those doggone expectations once again that will trip us up every time.  Sometimes we may have to look for the way in which God heals us in the less obvious corners of our lives with a touch of faith bolstering us so that we can open ourselves up to other possibilities for living.

Franklin, a man with diabetes, I met him when I did some chaplaincy work at an area hospital.  He was on and off, mostly off about controlling his diabetes.  He said he prayed hard and even promised God with ALL of his heart that he would change and do what he needed to do to get the diabetes under control.  He was hurt, angry and bitter and felt let down by God when he found out his foot need to be amputated.  He thought God had no listened to him or just didn’t care about him. 

Well, the weeks and months of rehabilitation proved to be a physical and spiritual healing however.  He realized that even without a foot or ‘complete’ body that his life was whole and filled with blessing.  Now he participates in walks for diabetes and even does some education for others.  Healing came to Franklin, just not in the way that he wanted…but he got so much more.  He witnessed to others of the healing power of Jesus Christ.  He was, in fact, inspirational. 

John Pilch a Scripture professor at Georgetown University has done a lot of writing on healing and particular, healing in the New Testament.  He says, “Healing is the restoration of meaning to people’s lives no matter what their physical condition might be.” 

After something devastating happens to us, after recovering from serious disease, after we have been lifted out of the depths of depression something changes.  After the woman stopped hemorrhaging and the blood flow was restored, after the girl was raised from the dead, their lives were changed.   Healing does occur and life is not the same.  We are changed.  We see differently.  We hear differently.  Things that never mattered before now do and things that mattered before we find out are really not that important.  Life takes on a different meaning and it’s something that only God can provide.  Be open to the many ways in which God heals and makes better our lives.  Therein lies the miracle of healing for our lives.

Photos of the Sea of Galilee taken by Suzanne Wagner

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