5th Sunday After Pentecost
Two stories. Two unrelated people. Two different circumstances. Two surprising conclusions. That is the sandwich that Mark’s Gospel serves up for us to digest today. Both are stories of great need and of desperation. Both are stories of hope that life can be different or changed. Both this father and the hemorrhaging woman came to Jesus with a real sense of urgency about their desperate situations.
The happy ending for both of these people is their encounter with Jesus and their transformation from death to life. That’s obvious in the story of the ruler’s daughter because she literally died. It’s a little less apparent in the case of the women who had hemorrhaged for twelve years. In Jewish belief, blood was a sacred force so the woman who had been bleeding for such a long time was losing her life and because of this affliction, unable to produce life.
We don’t know her name or where she came from. She’s anonymous; another face in the crowd who was curious about this man Jesus. What we do know is that she is sick, desperate, and in need. She has been bleeding for 12 years and no one has been able to help her. She’s spent time, money, energy and only gotten worse. She’s losing more than blood. She’s losing her life, its warmth, vitality, and she is losing hope.
This is a story of an unidentified woman who lived in a specific time and place in history but it is also a human story, our story. It is about men and women, young and old, married and single, gay and straight who when they are drained by some circumstance in life, feel detached, isolated, and alone.
Jesus didn’t perform miracles to show off or to entertain the crowds. He offered signs—the more correct way to describe this part of his ministry—to show us that the way things are in this world are not the way God wants them to be nor the way they will always be; that God does not delight in our sickness or misery or death for God created all things that they might exist. All of creation is wholesome. The healing stories in the Gospel teach us that God does not want us to live in turmoil, but rather in wholeness.
Each event is an opportunity for God’s kingdom to break through time and show us—if even for just a moment—how things will be when God’s realm, not the world’s, reigns. Miracles are the stuff of those passing thin places where we get a glimpse of the heavenly.
There is diversity in the two healing stories. One was a wealthy leader of the Jewish community, and one was a woman who, because of her condition would have been an outcast, living in poverty. Who would employ her? Give her housing? Marry her? She was unclean and must be shunned.
The healing they received was not something to which they felt entitled. It was a free gift. And that gift is offered to both the well-off and the rejected members of society. There is no litmus test for receiving God’s grace, nor are there any outcasts in the household of God.
Many of us may have learned that if you don’t get what you’ve asked for, it is because your faith is not strong enough. That’s just plain cruel. It also suggests that miracles are something we can control and, if you happen to be ill or have some misfortune or crisis in life, it must be your fault. You did something bad, and this is your payback or you just didn’t pray hard enough. The truth is that God is with us in our pain and our pleasure, our sadness and joy, our faith and doubt, our hope and our despair. These two stories are about God’s desire and power to heal our brokenness.
What is the shadow in your path today? Where do you feel confined? What is pulling the life force out of you? Whatever it is, God knows it and feels our longing for healing, peace, and restoration. We may not be able to reach out and touch the clothes of Jesus or fall at his feet to get his attention, but we can reach out to one another and we can ask and graciously receive support and prayer.
Perhaps the real miracle is that more than two thousand years later, there is still a community of people like us who believe that God works through us—through our welcome of the desperate, our willingness to walk with one another in times of suffering, our offering of a sacred space in which to find and be found by a God who wants to restore us to wholeness.
This one, anonymous, desperate woman, had the courage to step out of the crowd. She touched Jesus—a huge taboo for a sick woman in first century Palestine—and he stopped for her. Jesus will stop for us, too. We just may need to look a little harder for him in the crowd. He may be nearer than we think. Jesus, you see, wears many disguises.