Mark 5: 21, 24b-34, Isaiah 41: 1-10
NOTICE: In the very Jewish culture of Jesus’ day. In the male dominated culture of both Judaism and more so of Rome. In a time when women were an expendable commodity – this sick and dying woman commands Jesus’ attention in the middle of his journey to go heal the daughter or an important Jewish leader. Jesus isn’t just interested in saving little girls. He is interested in saving old dried up women too. A message note for our country in which 10 million women and men experience abuse at the hand of a partner[i], in a world in which 830 women die of maternal mortality each day. [ii] And the healthcare gap for women of color in this country is deadly – cervical cancer twice that of white women, infant mortality twice that for infants of color – breast cancer 40% higher likelihood of death. It’s not economics – it’s race. Throw-away women….it’s still a thing.[iii]
Sometimes what looks like great courage or daring is simply desperation. When we haven’t got anything to lose, we can and do take bold risks. The woman in the story does this – we do it too. Why not? We’ve got no other options – we go for broke.
In the story of this woman in Mark, she has to act boldly to get attention. How else could she act? There is no man to ask for help on her behalf in the story. She was ill enough, and her ailment was the kind of thing that would exclude her from going out in public. She had seen doctors – for years. She had experienced great suffering. She is bleeding to death. She is powerless to heal herself. There were no other options except this amazing man, Jesus. So she reached out, just to touch the fringe of his garment – believing that here was the presence of God that could heal her. She goes for broke and touches the hem, the very outermost edge of his clothing.
Any of us who have struggled for years to get a diagnosis and treatment that would help can find ourselves in this story. For our family, one such struggle began when our daughter Carol was eleven. She was weak and tired, and had trouble keeping up with normal activity. She was hospitalized several times, had lots of tests, and it took a long time to find out what the sources of her problems were. Finally the doctors told us that she had an impaired immune system which caused her to catch everything that came along – and that her liver was failing. There was no recommended course of treatment because the two problems interacted. They couldn’t do a liver transplant because her immune system was weak. They couldn’t do drug therapies for her immune system because her liver couldn’t break down the drugs. They basically told us that they could monitor her decline and do everything to make her comfortable – but that she wouldn’t live to her thirteenth birthday. We heard about a remarkable physician whose methods were very “outside the box,” but who was willing to treat her. It’s a long story and much of what he did is outside of traditional medical practice, although he was indeed a medical doctor. And the insurance didn’t cover much of it since it was either diagnostic or experimental. But we went for broke. Of course we did. It wasn’t great courage or daring, it wasn’t that we were familiar with functional medicine at that point or that we had more than a cursory understanding of the therapies this doctor used. It was that we had no other options. We were desperate enough to try anything.
We are, all of us, walking wounded. We carry a lot of wounds. We are a wounded people. And we don’t really want to talk about them, so they continue to wound us and others. “Hurt people hurt people.” And we have quite a collections of hurts in our arsenal.
Yes, this is hard. We are more comfortable covering up the places that we hurt until we can almost – but not quite – forget about them entirely. Unexpected things will remind us and we may find ourselves weeping at incongruous moments as something touched that not-quite-healed place in us.
Some of them are personal, individual wounds. Perhaps things we have pushed to the back of our memory shelves for many years, but that have never really healed.
— They may be physical wounds that have healed up on the surface, but the scars remind us of the deeper wounding. Our physical scars tell our story, whether we want them to or not.
— We also carry emotional or psychological wounds that have held us back from reaching our full potential by causing us self-doubt or even encouraging self-sabotage. We may be so accustomed to the negative self-talk that we aren’t even aware of it, often with echoes from past emotional abuse, “You aren’t good enough. You can’t do that.”
We hurt others in our woundedness, acting out of our own hurt. We carry a lot of wounds.
Some wounds are institutional. Churches and communities are injured by episodes from the past that do similar damage to the institution or community that we experience in our personal wounds.
–Congregations are wounded by pastoral leaders with boundary transgressions with finances or personal relationships. Those make it hard to trust and damage future pastoral relationships with clergy who are innocent of those betrayals.
–Divisions in congregations over social issues create a fear of being honest about what we believe. Even in the church we seem to have forgotten how to practice civil discourse and disagree in love.
In a workshop yesterday focusing on the health and wellbeing of clergy, there was a lot of conversation around the hurt carried by pastors due to the behaviors of congregations: unreasonable expectations, wanting all subsequent pastors to be like a past beloved pastor, unwillingness to consider the needs of pastors’ families, expecting pastors to be constantly available and tend for every expressed desire. And many of the hurt passed along to pastors came from personal or institutional woundedness. We all carry a lot of wounds. We all carry wounds – and if we don’t open them up to heal a bit past the surface, they will continue hurting us and others.
Jesus cares. God cares. FOR ALL. It comes through in this story very clearly. When he felt power leave him, he turned around to find the person of faith who had touched him – not to rebuke her, but to commend her. Jesus encouraged the new life growing in her. In ALL.
This story points us to some teaching truths that may help us to heal. Jesus wanted to help the people around him. It wasn’t that his clothes were magic or that the woman had some power of her own, but the presence of God brings healing. The life of Jesus, everywhere he went, the people he encountered, brought healing – brought new life. And this new life is for ALL. Just in this one chapter of Mark, Jesus heals a gentile wrestling with demons, the daughter of Jairus – a leader in the synagogue – and a woman who has been ill for a very long time. Jesus brings God’s healing, life-giving presence to a woman excluded from her family and community and unable to participate in normal life for many years because she matters to God. God cares for us all. And not just the physical healing. He speaks to her to encourage her – to acknowledge this woman who has been relegated to the shadows of life. “Your faith has made you well.” Affirmation – your faith is strong. Your actions and your faith have brought you healing. You are strong.
It is perhaps the first century equivalent of Aibileen’s affirmation of a chubby toddler giving her the positive identity she needs to carry her through life, “You is kind. You is strong. You is important.”[iv]
Healing isn’t guaranteed. Nor is it immediate. It is a process – and there are different kinds of healing. And ultimately – the death rate is 100%. The rest is details – important details, but details. So — Sometimes healing means letting go. Sometimes it means hanging on. Sometimes it means living stronger and sometimes it means dying here to find healing in death. The only constant seems to be the presence and power of God – which can make us stronger. And our fellowship with God does NOT end in death.
“Sooner or later, life breaks us all, but many become strong in the broken places.” Ernest Hemmingway.
Sozo= salvation, wholeness. Sozo= Tomake well. NOT the usual term for physical healing. Has theological tones. Shalom. This is the word Jesus uses in his blessing of the woman in the story – perhaps his blessing for us as well. May your life be lived in meaningful relationships, with shelter to help keep you safe, daily bread, peace in your spirit, and fullness in your life. Where you were an outcast, I name you daughter. Be saved, whole and well. A blessing FOR ALL.
For all of us, God wants new life. It can only happen if our wounds are healed. We can’t push them to the back of our memory closets or lightly cover them with bandages. They need deep healing that only happens with the presence of God working in our lives.
Faith and wellness are mysteries. But that God wants them for us, yearns to help us find them so we are renewed and restored – that is no mystery at all.