I once knew a woman once who had chronic kidney disease. Her life was controlled by her disease. She had to plan her schedule around when she would receive dialysis. Her husband and daughter had to adjust their lives around the times when she was sick and when she felt better.
The woman Mark zooms in on in our story today is like my friend with kidney disease. Her illness had defined her life. For 12 years she had suffered persistent hemorrhaging. Such a discharge of blood packed a double whammy. Her loss of blood made her weak and tired. And according to Jewish law, she was ritually unclean. So for 12 long years she had been ostracized from normal family relations and synagogue life. She was an outcast in her own community.
Mark tells us that she was so desperate to get well that she had spent all that she had to find a cure. We are not told how much money she had in the beginning, but however much it was, she had been willing to exhaust it, down to the last penny, in hopes that some doctor somewhere could heal her and return her life to normalcy. We wonder how far she had traveled in the ancient world to find the right doctors–perhaps to Jerusalem or the coastal cities, or perhaps even to faraway Macedonia and Egypt, wherever she heard there was remarkable physician–in the undying belief that somebody somewhere could heal her.
And we can also imagine what treatments she had to endure. One doctor would have her wear a bag of garlic around her neck. Another would examine her skull then give her a mysterious mixture of herbs to mix into her food. But all to no avail.
It is no wonder, then, that when the word of Jesus’ extraordinary ministry reaches her ears, she begins planning to see him, even though she has no money. When she finally does cross his path, he is surrounded by a crowd. He is, in fact, on another mission, on his way to the house of an important dignitary from the synagogue named Jairus, for Jairus’s daughter had died, and Jesus was summoned to see if he could help.
She pushes her way through the crowd, and reaches out and touches his cloak. It’s interesting. She assumes she will be healed by merely touching Jesus, or at least touching a part of his clothing. Immediately here bleeding stops, and she felt that she had been healed. And Jesus realizes that something has happened to him, some part of himself which Mark calls his “power” has been diminished. He has been emptied of something, and so he asks, “Who touched my clothes?”
Then the woman shyly steps forward and told him the whole story, and Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace, and be freed from your suffering.”
Well, what do we make of this story? There are several dynamics which interplay with each other. Let’s look at each of them.
First, the woman came to Jesus out of desperation. All other avenues have been exhausted.
Some of us have known that kind of desperation. A spouse walks out on us. The doctor says, “It was malignant and I couldn’t get it all. We get a call from the police department because our teenager has been arrested for use of alcohol.
Perhaps it is part of our nature, perhaps just part of the human condition that we only truly reach out to Christ in extremis, when we have spent all our funds and energy before we accept his Lordship in his life.
I greatly admire Chuck Colson. Colson was an official in the Nixon administration and was implicated in the Watergate affair. He was sentenced to prison. He tried everything he could think of — judicial appeals, self help of various kinds, and sheer stoicism. And then, the night before he was to enter prison, a friend said to him, “Chuck, you need Jesus Christ in your life.” He left the friend’s house and went out to his car. It was raining. He sat there in the darkness with the rain hitting the car and began to weep–and he opened his heart to Jesus. It turned his whole life around, and enabled him to transform even his prison sentence into a blessing. He came out of prison and founded Prison Fellowship, which has brought Christ to thousands of prisoners across America.
So it is that we have to hit rock bottom before we hit the Rock of Ages.
A second dynamic at work in this story is the healing power of Jesus. This power is so all-pervasive, so intimately flowing throughout Jesus’ being, that it saturates even the clothing on Jesus’ back.
Whenever you read through the Gospels you see that healing real, physical illnesses was central to Jesus’ ministry. That’s hard for us to understand in a scientific such as ours where healing is tied into high technology such as Cat-Scans and MRI’s and surgery with lasers.
But I believe there is a way for us to understand why it is that Jesus had the ability to heal people. You talk to any doctor and she will tell you that the only reason a doctor can produce health is because the human body is biased in favor of health. The universe is prejudiced in our favor, and its powers are working on our side. Albert Einstein used to say: “When a baby drops its rattle out of a crib, not only does the rattle fall to reach the earth, but the earth rises imperceptibly to meet the rattle.” So we don’t have to work at seeking health. It’s the way the created universe functions. God has built a drive toward health in our bodies.
If Jesus was God in human form, as the Christian faith claims, that means that all of God that can be expressed in a human being was expressed in Jesus. And if a fundamental part of God’s nature is ultimate healing, ultimate wholeness, that means that Jesus carried in his body that incredible power. That’s what Mark was trying so hard to express here–that when the woman touched Jesus, some of his healing power was imparted to her.
We don’t quite understand how it happened, but Mark makes it clear that it happened.
Two stories about the healing power of Jesus, one personal, and one not.
I had been counseling with a woman for a long time. She had been in an abusive marriage, and when she first came in to see me, she was really beaten down. But over the months she got better and stronger, and one day, she said something extraordinary to me. She said, “You have helped heal me.”
I’ve thought about that a lot, and tried to figure out what she meant. If I could put what she was saying theologically, I think she was saying that by listening to her, by caring for her, I was making manifest the love of God, which by always brings wholeness and health and well-being.
A second illustration about the healing power of Jesus. Dr. Randy Byrd is a staff cardiologist at San Francisco General Hospital and a professor at the University of California. During a ten-month study, a computer assigned 393 patients admitted to the coronary care unit at S.F. General Hospital to either a group that was prayed for by home prayer groups (192 patients) or to a group which was not remember in prayer (201 patients). The study was designed according to the highest standards of clinical testing imaginable. It was a randomized double-blind experiment in which neither the patients, nurses, nor doctors knew which group the patients were in. Byrd recruited Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptists and Jewish groups around the country to pray for the designated patients. The prayer groups were given the names of the patients, something of their conditions, and were asked to pray each day–but were given no instructions on how to pray. The results startled everyone. Prayed-for patients were five times less likely to require antibiotics.
They were three times less likely to develop pulmonary edema.
None required endotracheal intubation–breathing tubes, compared to twelve in the other group.
And fewer of the prayed for patients died.
If the technique had been a new drug or surgical procedure, it would have been heralded a “breakthrough.” But since it was prayer, it hardly got mentioned.
I know we are all skeptical about faith healing. I certainly am. All those t.v. preachers we see have jaded us all. But maybe we need to take a look again at the Gospels, and replace the negative images we have about the healing power of faith, and see if we can find positive images.
For healing was basic to the ministry of Jesus. Healing–knitting together fragile bits of our fractured bodies and souls, remains God’s most basic ongoing creative work in the cosmos. God has provided us with a universal vaccine for our ills in the principle of love and the person of Jesus Christ.
Can we trust God to heal us? That’s the question. What in your life, what in a loved ones life, needs Christ’s healing touch? Is it an incurable illness? An emotional difficulty? Some sort of addiction that is preying upon you. Can you think of one good reason of continuing to carry this problem yourself and not giving it over to Christ. If you can’t, then maybe it’s time to do what this nameless woman in the Gospel did–reach out and touch Christ’s garment as he passes you. He will know it if you do, and will bless your life as he blessed hers. He always does.