I preached at my local congregation this week and someone asked me to post the sermon online for the sake of those who might have missed a portion of it. Being a mother of young children, I totally understood. So, here it is based on the lectionary reading from last Sunday, Mark 5:21-43, the healing of the hemorrhaging woman and the synagogue leader's daughter.
Healing stories from scripture can be difficult to talk about. Nearly always there is someone amongst us in desperate need of healing. Always there are those amongst us who grieve someone beloved who did not receive healing. To make things worse, today’s gospel reading has often been used to imply healing will happen if only we have enough faith. While I do not negate the possibility of miraculous healings even in this day and age also I do not believe it likely there are some mental gymnastics we can go through by which we convince ourselves to deny rationality and believe beyond all likelihood that a miracle will happen for us and thereby convince God to intervene on our behalf. I most certainly do not believe a lack of healing is evidence of a lack of faith.
So, how are we to understand miracles of healing found in scripture? There are several ways to wrestle with such scriptures. Some would say the time when Jesus walked the earth in the flesh was a unique moment in history. God walking amongst us in the form of his son Jesus allowed things to happen in that time period which otherwise would not. Others would point out that healing stories were not uncommon in the past. Often such stories rose up around those who were celebrated as uniquely superior: kings, prophets, and the like. For those who understand healing stories in this light, what is amazing about the stories in the gospels is who Jesus was. That such stories were told about a poor Jewish carpenter rather than a king reveals the unique presence of God in Jesus' life. Still others would claim with great conviction that miraculous healing are still part of our reality, all around us if we only look. There is likely truth in all of these claims. Our human understanding of such things can only really amount to hints and whispers of a greater truth beyond our understanding.
Still none of this gives very satisfying answers when the need for healing is great and personal. At such times only hope and lament might have meaning.
Yet there is much Good News in the two stories of healing which we read today. The interweaving of the story of the hemorrhaging woman with the story of a synagogue leader Illustrates that the love of God is not bound by gender or status, cleanliness or propriety. The things that divide us in the eyes of the world are no barrier to God. The man of status is made to wait while the other story unfolds yet he is not rejected. His needs are cared for, his daughter is raised. The hemorrhaging woman was separated from Jesus in the eyes of the world by her gender and her uncleanliness. She broke rules of order by approaching Jesus for healing without his permission or even his knowledge. And Jesus calls her “daughter” and applauds her faithfulness.
Not only do these stories tell us about the boundless nature of God's love, they also tell us some things about faith. There is little in the way of theological discussion between the woman and Jesus. Yet Jesus applauds the woman's faith. So then faith is not about a particular set of beliefs. It is not about intellectual assent to the articles of a creed. The woman simply trusts and acts. She believes that Jesus can heal her and she sets out to touch his cloak. Faith has to do with trust and action.
I struggle with the word trust. I am not very good at the trusting aspect of faith. I am too good at looking around the world and seeing all the times when trusting in God turns into persevering through pain when tragedy strikes. But it occurs to me that the trust demonstrated by the hemorrhaging woman is more akin to hope than certainty. The woman believes with great hope that Jesus can heal her. Then she puts that hope into action. She maneuvers through the crowd, reaches out and touches Jesus' robe. Then when Jesus demands to know what had happened, the woman hopes in Jesus love, with fear and trembling, and steps forward to speak the truth. In some ways this is a greater act of faith than touching the robe.
There is no magic formula for healing to be found in this scripture, as much as we might wish for one. I don't know when and why miraculous healings happen. But I do believe that we are called to faithfulness, acting according to a trust in God's ultimate love for all people. Through Jesus we have hope and purpose. Jesus tells us the kingdom of God is all around and that we can help usher in that kingdom, we can be the miracle of God’s love and God’s healing in this world. One day when the kingdom is fully realized all people will receive fullness of healing and our greatest longings will be satisfied beyond our imagining. In the meantime we hope with those who search for healing, rejoice with those who are healed, and lament with those who are not. We trust and we act. This is our call to faithfulness.