We actually have two stories from Mark – one which addresses the question of life after physical death in the case of Jairus’ daughter, and one of a woman desperate to find life before death. Our Tuesday Bible study group has been delving into Mark’s gospel and his narrative style. One of the features of Mark is a style called intercalation – which in plain terms means a story sandwiched within another story. We begin with Jairus, a high official in the synagogue, who comes to Jesus to beg him to come and lay hands upon his daughter who is near death “so that she may be made well and live.” In Greek, the word which we translate as “made well” is sozo – which also means salvation, liberation and rescue. So Jairus is begging for his daughter to be rescued from death.
As Jesus begins to make his way to Jairus’ house, he encounters the woman suffering for 12 years with bouts of bleeding. While physically this woman is technically alive, socially she is dead because a woman with a bleeding disorder was considered polluted or unclean and thus barred from most social interaction including temple worship. Was there life before death for her? Yes, she was breathing and taking nourishment, but is that enough? She has no meaningful life within the community – she is utterly outcast. She is surviving but definitely not thriving.
But Mark tells us something about her: she was brave and tenacious! We hear she spent all of her money seeking a cure and had done everything she knew how to do to get better, even if it didn’t work. This woman knew how to advocate for herself! If there’s anything I’ve learned from my pastoral work with people who are ill it’s this: tenacity and bravery are necessary prerequisites for healing! We cannot sit idly by and be passive, hoping that God will just take care of everything for us. No! We must cooperate in the healing process and sometimes not just cooperate but even actively pursue it.
So picture this outcast woman mustering up the courage to take one last shot at healing knowing that for her to approach Jesus was a serious violation of social boundaries. Women were not to touch men who were not either their husbands or their blood relations. Now consider that to touch Jesus while being ritually unclean also, according to the Law, would render Jesus unclean too! For her, it must have been terrifying – and yet she did not let her fear stop her. You see she had tremendous courage. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the determination to act in spite of it. And why did she do this? Because she ached to have life before death and she would not let anything get in her way. In essence, she had nothing to lose and everything to gain. She was bound and determined to be the active agent in saving her life trusting the power of Jesus Christ.
I think we often fall into the habit of hearing these stories of healing in ways where we imagine Jesus as the agent of action and those being healed are somewhat passive. In Mark’s gospel, with the exception of one person, all of the people who are healed are anonymous which lends to this image of passivity: the blind man, the paralytic, the deaf man, Jairus’ daughter, and this hemorrhaging woman. Make no mistake – while she may not be named, this woman is no passive agent. She is desperate and ready to do anything to gain her life. She is the active agent, she reaches out and touches the hem of Jesus’ garment, and she is “made well” … she is saved, she is liberated, she is set free. Jesus even says so … “Daughter, your faith has saved you.”
St. Iranaeus said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” When Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd in John’s gospel he said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. To be fully alive is not a solitary action – it is to be in relationship with others in the wider community. We do not exist as isolated entities. One of the greatest spiritual lies of the evil one is to make us think we are alone and isolated – that nobody understands us or can possibly care about us. And when social systems collude to exclude and isolate people, it is definitely not of God.
Jesus promised abundant life but he didn’t promise it would happen without change, he never said the journey would be easy, and it doesn’t happen without our active participation. Abundant life, life before death, is what our Lord came to bring us. We are not called merely to breathe and take nourishment – we are called to more than survival. God calls us to thrive and grow more and more into the likeness of Christ that we may have life before death.
All of us need healing – each and every one of us. Our wounds may be different, but they are there and very real. We share one common condition – we all have a terminal diagnosis … it is called life. And since we live with this terminal condition, what have we got to lose by having the courage and tenacity to seek the healing of our own wounds? As we continue this summer to look for hope and seek signs of it springing up around us, I challenge you also look for tenacity and bravery as well that you too, by the power of the risen Christ, may be liberated, freed, and made well.