The two healing miracles by Jesus (Jairus' daughter and the woman who touched his cloak) paint a picture of radical compassion. They follow Mark’s account of Jesus’ healing a violent man who broke chains others used to restrain him, who howled day and night, and who cut himself with stones. This scary scenario gives way to the healing of two much more sympathetic people.
Yet I think, taken as a trilogy, they show how broadly inclusive Jesus’ healing ministry was. As signs of coming God’s reign, they offer hope that all sorts of disorders may be made right in the end. As signs of divine – human relationships, they point to ways that God will reach out to us, even in very troubling times.
Jesus often helped people who were on the margins of society—the violent man and the hemorrhaging woman certainly were outcasts. But the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter took place in the home of a well-respected member of that community: a leader in the synagogue. Yet all were desperate and despairing.
The violent man ran to Jesus and knelt before him. Mark reported that an “unclean” spirit in the man caused him to beg Jesus not to torment him. Was he afraid of being healed? He sounded like someone who had fallen so far into despair that he believed healing was impossible. Yet Jesus appeared to be reading the man’s heart. Jesus would not let the violent man slip away, but he called out his despair and drew the violent man into a healing relationship.
Although a very important person, Jairus’ desperation could be seen in his falling at Jesus’ feet and begging him repeatedly to come and heal his dying daughter. How many times did he beg Jesus? Mark gives us the words of only one request. Perhaps in the great crowd Jairus didn’t think he had been heard. Saying his plea over and over to get the healer’s attention worked, and Jesus left with him.
But as Jesus’ walked with Jairus, a very ill and desperate woman—probably an outcast because of her hemorrhaging—reached out to touch the cloak Jesus was wearing. When Jesus realized what had happened and demanded to know who touched him, the woman became fearful. Desperate as she considered what might happen because of her because of her boldness, she begged for mercy by falling at Jesus feet. He spoke gently to her and explained her faith in reaching out to him had allowed the gifts of God’s coming reign to be hers: peace and healing or being made whole.
Jesus moves on toward the leader’s home. If Jairus was desperate before, now he was in complete despair as he was told his daughter had died. Jesus, too, had heard the news and told Jairus not to give into the fear of not having done enough to save his daughter. Professional mourners began their loud grieving. Jesus kicked them out, because he wasn't interested in being seen by the crowd as having magical power. He wanted the young girl’s parents and the disciples Peter, James and John, to see their fear of death wasn’t the final chapter. With the gentle words, “Talitha cum” Jesus calls the young girl to embrace life and healing. This healing was one more sign that God’s coming kingdom was stronger than their fears. It showed God’s working through Jesus to bring abundant life to the child’s fearful, despairing parents.
These three healing stories end, as we would want them to with the ill person cured. But in our lives no matter how hard we pray, our friend or loved one is not cured. Has God chosen to ignore us for some reason? Or is there randomness in who gets cured and who doesn’t?
These are tough questions with which we must struggle as people of faith. Yesterday I met a woman who explained to me that she had survived a bout with cancer. Then later as her husband was dying with dementia, she fell gravely ill as well and was hospitalized. A neighbor called a family member and said he must come to help them. As she told me the story, it appeared her healing came in knowing she had the loving support of that family member. Yes, in the end she was cured through medical treatment, but her healing came first through that supportive relationship.
In Jesus, we can see how God can reach out to us to create a loving and healing relationship—a sign that God desires that we become well and whole. To put this in a more personal way, I have struggled over the past seven months after Fred’s death to feel that God was reaching out to me and offering healing. In my mind I knew God loved me, but in my heart I felt abandoned. Then a moment came when my heart knew, too.
Two weeks ago I preached about walking “by faith and not by sight.” The Carmelite hymn about “Holy Darkness,” which we sang at Sr. Barbara’s life profession as a Carmelite and which I used to end that sermon, reminded my heart that God is present in the darkness of my grief. It reassured my heart that healing would come as I embraced the darkness of my grief as a holy time. Being patient and waiting on God’s healing was one way of embracing my grief as a holy time.
When and how God’s healing will come will be different in each situation, as it was in the three accounts about Jesus’ healing we considered today. But I can testify that it will come.