Mark 5: 24b-34
Psalm 34: 4-10
I knew her only as “Bunny.” Every Saturday morning during my seminary years, I was a deli
clerk at the Coraopolis Cash Market. And every Saturday morning, Bunny would come in for her
Virginia baked ham and hot pepper cheese. She was, I supposed, in her ‘30’s, but looked much
older. She once told me the story of her love affair with alcohol. She had been drinking since
she started sneaking her dad’s brandy out of the liquor cabinet when she was just fifteen. “I’ve
tried everything,” she stammered. “I’ve been in jail. I’ve been to a dry-out farm. I’ve been in
and out of at least a half dozen different AA groups. I’ve seen two shrinks. I know I have a
drinking problem. But no matter how hard I try, that damned bottle keeps calling me back.”
She confessed to me across the top of the deli counter how ashamed she was of her addiction.
She had tried attending church; the same one her grandmother took her to as a little girl. But
she couldn’t focus or follow what was going on. She couldn’t wait to get back to her apartment
and break open that six-pack on her refrigerator shelf. She felt self-conscious among all the
neatly-groomed church folk. It was like all eyes were on her; probing her; judging her; knowing
her every secret. So after a few months, she didn’t bother going any more. She was in such a
tight grip of her addiction that all she could ask was, “What now?” I had no answer.
There’s another woman who had been with her abusive husband for almost thirty years. He
had never struck her, but his verbal abuse was so harsh that she wished he would just beat her
up and leave her alone. Throughout the marriage, she had tried everything to make things bet-
ter. She would acquiesce. She would try to stay out of his way. They had tried marriage counseling a few times. But he would end up convincing the counselors that it was all in his wife’s head. She had gone to stay with her adult children twice; only to be harassed and threatened into going back home. Over the course of twenty years, they had moved six times; her hope being that a “change of scenery” might make the situation better. The abuse only grew worse. She never invited family or friends to her home because she was too embarrassed by how her husband berated her. He had both an anger and a drug problem. And while she denied any physical abuse, she couldn’t hide the bruises on her face in recent years. Through misty eyes, she asked “I’m at the breaking point. What now?”
At the depths of their hearts, these two women are contemporaries of the unfortunate woman we meet in our gospel lesson this morning. Mark introduces this woman in the middle of a story of Jesus going to the home of a Jewish leader by the name of Jairus to heal his deathly ill daughter. I think Mark inserts this story in the midst of a life and death situation for a very specific Christological purpose: to demonstrate that Jesus was in control. No interruption will
short-circuit His power to heal Jairus’ little girl.
The crowds on the road are pressing in around Jesus and His disciples. This claustrophobic
situation might feel much like being near the main stage on Lincolnway during the cruise-in.
People are literally shoulder-to-shoulder on the narrow Palestinian street. Into this chaotic
scene creeps a woman, upon whose mind has been a question: “What now?” Mark tells us
three important things about this woman.
First, she has a major female problem. Fibroids? Uterine polyps? Endometriosis? We’ll
never know. But we don’t need a diagnosis to realize that after twelve years of continual bleeding, she has to be in trouble. She is surely anemic; probably dehydrated. We can imagine a very thin, feeble frame; a pale face with sunken eyes; hollow cheeks; thin, cracked lips. Extreme fatigue makes walking just a short distance unbearable. It’s something of a miracle that she’s still alive. And to make things worse, under Jewish Law, her condition makes her ritually un-clean. She is avoided like a leper. Her family had cast her out long ago. In her condition, she is deemed neither qualified for God’s blessing, nor deserving of the company of others. She is a
woman, very sick, very desperate, very alone.
Second, not only is she sick, desperate and alone. She is destitute. Mark tells us that she had
“endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better,
but rather grew worse.” Many in this very room know what it’s like to go from doctor to doctor;
from test to test; one scan after another; enough blood drawn to make you wonder how much
more there is to give…… and no definitive answer. And the bills keep piling up. This woman has
suffered under the primitive practice of medicine. One doctor literally and ruthlessly bleeds her.
Another crudely cauterizes her. They and she have tried everything. And all she’s ended up with
are bills which way exceed her means. Physically, emotionally, and financially, she’s tapped out.
Third, she’s ashamed. For twelve years, her quest for wholeness has resulted in frustration,
rejection, and disappointment. We can imagine how little she thinks of herself at this point. No
self-esteem. She’s much too ashamed to face this rabbi she’s heard so much about. Perhaps
she’s too weak to even stand on her feet. At any rate, Mark witnesses that she “came up be-
hind (Jesus) in the crowd and touched his cloak.” This scene is painted on the wall of the Sistine
Chapel, and is also part of a fresco at St. Peter’s Basilica. In both cases, the artists show the woman lying prostrate on the ground reaching up. There is a sense of her literally crawling through the crowd; this poor, wretched creature extending a skeletal hand toward the hems of Jesus’ robe. In a manner of speaking, this is her last grasp, and last gasp. Yet feeble as it may be, she still has a grain of faith, thinking to herself: “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
“Immediately” [that’s one of Mark’s favorite expressions], the bleeding ceases. At once, she
knows she is cured. That which twelve years of doctor’s visits could not alleviate has been remedied in a heartbeat. The story could have ended here. But Jesus doesn’t let the woman off quite that easily. There is a more important healing – a deeper healing – yet to be imparted. Jesus “immediately” turns and looks around asking, “Who touched my clothes?” One might suppose Jesus whirling around in anger. But I think such an understanding reflects more our own reaction. If we’re on our way to a life and death situation like Jesus is, on his way to the home and dying daughter of Jairus, and we’re harassed and delayed by the crowds, and then further delayed, frustration and anger may be our knee-jerk reaction. Yet I think it’s more accurate to suppose Jesus turning out of curiosity, not anger. Maybe He senses within Himself that a work of healing has begun which needs to be completed. Jesus was pretty good at that.
If it’s up to the woman, she may just as well take her blessing and go; allowing Jesus to continue on His way. She would be quite satisfied with a mere physical healing. But Jesus’ question “Who touched my clothes?” compels the woman to respond to the blessing, AND to the One from whom that blessing has come. The woman, out of her shame, “in fear and trembling,” makes herself known. She tells Jesus “the whole truth.” For maybe the first time in twelve years, she comes out of the shadows into the light.
There is a lesson Jesus wants her – and maybe us – to learn. She has been a victim of mistaken trust; understandable for a person in her situation. Her search for healing has been fervent, but misdirected; sincere, but superficial. And now, she believe that the healing lies in the fringes of Jesus’ robe. Jesus wants her to understand that the healing didn’t come from His robe. It comes from the compassion of His heart; from the compassion of the heart of Almighty God. She thinks much of the healing in itself, but little or nothing of the healing as a sign of God’s love. And again, Jesus wasn’t going to let her get away with misidentifying the Source. It is after she comes forward; comes from the shadows into the light, that Jesus is able to proclaim: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” You see, the illness – or at least its manifestation – was hemorrhage. The “disease” was misplaced trust.
How often do we find ourselves misplacing our trust? Oh yes, we profess our belief and faith
in the Lord. But how often do we seek blessing and healing in the external and the superficial?
How often do we seek blessing and healing in the folds of Jesus’ robe, unaware in our misery
that blessing and healing are ultimately in the chambers of Jesus’ heart; in the folds of God’s
heart. This very day, we may be carrying a burden with us. It may be a physical dependence or
addiction; alcohol; tobacco; drugs; overeating; maybe something we’d be too ashamed to even
talk about. It may be an emotional dependency on gambling, or spending, or an abusive relationship. It may be something as seemingly benign as an overwhelming need to gossip. It may be physical illness or infirmity. We tend to seek every worldly means possible for taking care of the problem before finally reaching a skeletal hand out to the Lord, and depending ultimately on Him. Perhaps we go from doctor to doctor, from counselor to counselor, from one self-help method to another. But at the end of the day, we are still sick, desperate, isolated and alone.
Understand this: Quality and caring doctors are a gift from the hand of God. Reliable and
trustworthy counselors are a gift from the hand of God. Thoughtful and effective self-help
methods are a gift from the hand of God. But when all is said and done, where do we really
place our trust? I contend that no medicine, no treatment, or therapy, or cure of any kind has
the power to truly heal, in the deepest sense, until we recognize God’s love expressed in every
healing act and action. Our ultimate trust must be in the love of God embodied in the person of
Christ, and brought to bear by God’s Holy Spirit which enables the hands of surgeons; the minds
of research scientists; the wisdom of counselors; the power of medicines. Then, we are made
well. Then, we can go in peace. Then, we are healed of our disease.
Jesus calls us in this morning’s lesson to properly place our ultimate trust. We all have our
problems. We often feel ashamed by them. We are often overwhelmed by their magnitude and
potency in our lives. We frequently get to the end of our resources – just like the woman who
had the hemorrhage, or the woman with the abusive husband, or Bunny with an addiction to
alcohol. But Jesus encourages us, nay desires us to reach out to His heart, not simply to His
robe. When we find ourselves asking, “What now?”, the answer is, “Turn to the heart of the
Lord, wherein true blessing and healing lie.