Sermon: A Woman Interrupted: Healed Or Made Whole?
Scripture: Mark 5
Date: June 25, 2017
The other day I made the mistake of going to the drug store when I was in a hurry to get on the road to somewhere else. I anticipated it would just be a brief interruption to my journey because I really needed only a couple of things. First, because I have been feeling a little fatigued lately, I thought a good one a day vitamin might be good for me. After all, my mother had given me one to take every morning when I was a kid, and I had so much strength and energy then, that I could play all day. So I went, hoping to turn back the clock with a one a day vitamin. Well have you shopped for vitamins lately? There was a whole aisle devoted to vitamins. And none of them seemed to be the little red ones that I remembered from my childhood. In fact, there were at least twenty kinds of one a day vitamins alone on those shelves. Some said they had extra iron. Another had extra vitamin C. Some said they had something called Beta Carodene which sounded radioactive to me. And there were some for men and some for women. I couldn’t find just a basic one a day vitamin anymore. Now I was in a hurry, so after studying all the labels, I settled on a Men’s formula that had extra vitamin C and iron and calcium, but no Beta Carodene. I didn’t want to spend the day giving off an unnatural glow. Well, all of that vitamin shopping had given me a headache, so I moved on to the Aspirin aisle, looking for a bottle of the wonder drug. And, of course, it was no better. There were dozens of different kinds of Aspirin. There was an aspirin for every imaginable symptom. Headache, sinus headache, tension, eye strain, and every ache and pain I could imagine, and some I couldn’t. Now it occurred to me that there were a couple of problems with so many kinds of aspirin. One was that what I need aspirin for today, might not be the same as what I will need aspirin for tomorrow. Today a headache. Tomorrow pain in my legs. Whatever happened to the age old advice for whatever the ailment was. Remember – take an aspirin and call the doctor in the morning. And the second problem I have is Who really believes it anyway? Who believes that an aspirin will treat a headache but completely ignore the pain in my back. Don’t we just put aspirin into our blood stream and it travels through out our body until it comes on an ache or pain, and then it jumps off and attacks that pain. So finally after contemplating all of this I latched on to one that said it was “advanced medicine for pain” feeling that would cover everything, only to discover that it was not really aspirin but some different kind of pain reliever. Suffice it to say that my quick stop to pick up three things turned into a twenty minute odyssey and on my way out I passed by the shelves of health food supplements and diet aids. So here’s the point. It seems these days that there is a pill to address our every ailment, or a supplement to put into our unhealthy food that magically makes it healthy. It seems like every other commercial on television these days is an ad for the latest miracle pill that will cure whatever we think ails us. And never mind that the list of side effects goes on and on, if there’s a chance that that pill will heal me, then I’m in -no matter what the other consequences. We are obsessed with our health and we continue to look for the miracle cures. Well it might surprise you to know that all of this is not really a recent phenomenon. In Jesus’ day the areas around the Dead Sea and even the Sea of Galilee drew persons searching for cures for what ailed them. It was an area that was rich in hot springs and people flocked to those springs in search of a cure. From all over the Roman Empire they came. Some were dying and desperate. Others came out of vanity. And because of that, it was also an area that attracted a lot of magicians and con artists offering miracle cures, and the people in their desperation flocked to them, to be healed by them. Of course, they didn’t do it for free, and there were no guarantees, but whatever it cost, people were willing to pay to be healthy again. And if you couldn’t pay – well get out of the way of the people who were in real need. And the doctors of the day weren’t much better.
And so a girl came to them who had been experiencing constant blood loss – so what’s the solution. Let’s open up a vein and bleed the sickness – the impurities out of her. Mark implies that this poor woman had tried it all. Been to all the doctors and witch doctors and they had only bled her dry in every way. She had nothing left to give. And nothing to show for it all except twelve years of suffering and misery. They had not restored her health and had robbed her of her hope and her resources. And then Jesus came along. This itinerant Rabbi who they said could heal you with just a touch. And even sometimes without a touch. Now she had gone to Rabbis before for help and all they had done was label her as unclean and kept their distance so as not to be made unclean just by touching her. So she knew that she could not approach the Rabbi directly. Could not interrupt all the important work He was doing. She was unclean. His Disciples, the crowd, would not allow her to be anywhere near Him, much less touch Him. They had no use for an unclean Messiah. No she would have to approach him in secret, remain anonymous – hidden – and then at the last instant reach out to touch the essence of his healing power. No one would know. If only she could get close enough.
And so Mark describes a day when Jesus was ministering to the great crowd of people. They barely let him get out of the boat before they were on Him. Reaching out. Touch me Jesus. Heal me Jesus. Teach me Jesus. Each person brought their own version of desperation to Jesus that day. And as Mark describes it, two persons came towards Jesus from the opposite extremes of life. One was the leader of the local synagogue. Highly respected. He probably traveled with an entourage of servants. Because of his position, he demanded a great deal of respect. He could have just about anything he wanted. Accept his position couldn’t do anything about the fact that his little 12 year old daughter was dying. He had tried everything to make her better, but she had continued to decline and so in his desperation He came to Jesus. And as He comes the crowd would have parted to allow the important man through. “Make way for Jairus to approach the Rabbi,” some would have shouted in the midst of the crowd. And he came and stood face to face with Jesus.
And then at the same time, from the back, this poor woman approaches Jesus. And the crowd parted for her also. But not out of respect, but out of fear. Just one touch from this pitiful creature would make them unclean. So alone and weak and exhausted she came. With all eyes on the confrontation between the synagogue leader and Jesus, this was her chance. If she could only touch Him and receive His healing power. And as she hears Jairus making his surprising request of Jesus, she drops to the ground at Jesus’ feet and she touches the tassle at the end of the Rabbis prayer shaw. That was where spiritual essence was. If He truly had the power to heal her, that’s where it would be. One touch and perhaps she would finally be healed.
Two persons, from the opposite extremes of Jewish life. But so much of their stories oddly connected. Jairus’s daughter 12 years old, on the verge of adulthood. Approaching the age of marriage and childbirth. On the other hand, tradition says that the woman’s illness had begun when she was 12 and had lasted for 12 years, causing her to be unfit for marriage and childbirth. The woman spiritually unclean for all those years, hoping that just by touching Jesus she will somehow be made clean. Jairus on the other hand, spiritually clean, but knowing that if he touched Jesus he would be considered unclean. But still they both came, interrupting Jesus at virtually the same time, one in secret – one in front of the crowd, seeking the same thing in essence – healing – and both got so much more.
You know, as a pastor I spend a great deal of time, in hospital waiting rooms. And I am always struck by what a microcosm of society that is often represented there. There are people there who are immaculately dressed, all put together well, and there are people who look like they came in the clothes they had slept in. Disheveled. People from all walks of life, but in that place all the same really. They are there seeking healing for themselves or for a loved one. When Jesus was interrupted, He didn’t pause to consider who it was that was interrupting Him. Jairus or this poor woman, it didn’t matter. We are all God’s children in Jesus’s eyes. I recently read a pastor’s account of an incident that took place while she was serving as a hospital chaplain. She wrote:
Each of the five weeks I worked in the pediatrics unit we would have a meeting with the parents of our patients where we would try to help them share about their fears and joys and concerns. And they would share information with one another – like good places to stay and places to eat and not to eat near the hospital. Sometimes they would cry and express their feelings of hopelessness around their child’s illness. This support group became very important to the parents. It didn’t matter where they had come from because they all had a common concern – their sick child. And then one day a newcomer to the group, a lady who’s child had been transferred from ICU to our floor, shared that her daughter had been hit by a car and was in a coma for six days, but that she finally woke up. The little girl still could not speak, but she was awake and she recognized her family. The whole group celebrated with the woman, and several expressed the hope that a similar miracle might occur for their child, some who were in the final stages of cancer.
But then the atmosphere changed – because the new lady told the group that her daughter was alive and would fully heal because she had faith in God and the others did not. In effect, she told these desperate parents that their lack of faith was the reason their children were dying.
You see, here’s the thing. Neither this woman, nor Jairus, came to Jesus in faith. Rather they came filled with desperation and doubt. The woman had no idea really that Jesus could succeed where all the doctors and witch doctors had failed, or that He would even want to, but what choice did she have. Her healing was not a faith healing as much as it was a hope healing. Faith came with the healing, rather than the other way around. Her healing was not based on the strength of her faith, but rather the strength of her hope. It was hope that propelled her through the crowds to the feet of Jesus. And really the same was true for Jairus. By all accounts he was a man of faith. But not faith in Jesus. In fact everything he knew told him not to have faith in Jesus. His faith was in the Law. But in the case of his daughter the law had failed him. And so he came to Jesus in the hope that He could help his daughter. And Jesus turned his hope into faith. You see, what Mark wants us to know about these simultaneous interruptions is that Jesus was a faith healer yes, but not like the faith healers that plied their trade around and up and down the Jordan Valley, offering little more than snake oil to cover over the symptoms of people’s ailments. Band aids for their wounds. No Jesus was a faith healer in the sense that He healed people’s faith. Jesus was all about wholeness.
So this woman approaches Jesus from behind, hoping that by simply connecting with Him on a most basic level that this disease that she has suffered with for 12 years might at long last be healed. She has decided to act on her hope. So many of us make the mistake of holding on to our hope, never acting on it, and then we blame Jesus, or the church, or others, when our hopes are not realized. We are so afraid of being disappointed, of our hopes being dashed, that we hold on to them rather than act on them. So while Jesus is engaged with Jairus, the important man from the Synagogue, this poor woman who has had her hopes dashed by so many things of the world before, takes the chance. She reaches out to touch Jesus. She does not intend to interrupt Him. She would not presume to be worthy to interrupt the Rabbi, the Messiah. In fact, she doesn’t even want Him to know (or anyone to know) that she had touched Him. And she only touches His cloak, not His body. And yet in that instant, she feels the healing power of God’s Spirit, surging through her and at long last her body is healed. And so her plan is to kind of merge back into the crowd without anyone ever knowing. But the truth is that she has interrupted Jesus. You see if this story was just about restoring her health, then Jesus could have gone on with Jairus to heal his daughter and not thought anymore about it. The woman had gotten what she had come for. Her body was made well. She would go and tell this story about this miracle healer who had finally done for her what no one else could do. And all I had to do was reach out and touch Him. But then Jesus interrupts her plan. “Who, in this large crowd of people, touched Me.” And the Disciples say to Him, “Who touched you? With all these people pushing and crowding around you, it would be easier to figure out who hasn’t touched you.” And Jairus, poor Jairus, must have been thinking how absurd it was to stop and look for some unseen, unknown person who had touched him. That could take hours, Jesus. And meanwhile my daughter is on the edge of death. Every moment you delay could be her last.” The woman is healed, but the little girl is still dying. No more interruptions, Jesus, let’s get on with her healing. But the truth is that it is never really about healing for Jesus, but it is always about wholeness. The woman was healed of her physical affliction, but she was not made whole in that instant. You see, the word that Mark uses here that we most often translate as “to heal”, really means “to save.” The woman might be healed, but she is not saved. When Jesus comes to us in the interruption of our lives, His primary concern is not our physical well being, it is our salvation he seeks. Now don’t miss this. Several years ago, I sat in a hospital room with a family whose husband, father, grandfather lay near death. For hours he struggled to take every breath. And we prayed and they told stories and clung to the hope that he would be miraculously healed. But he wasn’t. And after he had passed his wife said to me, “I just don’t get it preacher. We prayed and prayed that Jesus would heal him, but He didn’t. Why does Jesus heal some and not others?” And I took her hand and spoke words that could have only come from God when I said: “Because Jesus is about making us whole for eternity rather then well for the time being.” If Jesus would have not interrupted her plan to just fade away, remain anonymous, after she had been healed, then she would have never been made whole. This woman thought that she was healed when the blood flow stopped at the touch of Jesus. But 12 years of her illness had left her isolated and alone. Her family had left her behind. And because of the illness she had been left barren, she had missed the opportunity to marry and have children of her own. She might be well for the moment, but without family, who would take care of her from this point on. And her illness had separated her from the family of God. For twelve years she was unwelcome in the Synagogue and Temple. An outcast. Unclean. You see, as she tried to disappear back into the crowd, she really was no better off then she had been when she approached Jesus in the first place. And so He seeks her out and says . “Daughter”, He says. With that one word he had adopted her into His family. “Your healing was just the beginning of faith. And it was because of that faith that you have a family again, a home with God, forever. Pardon the interruption my child, but your faith has made you well. Your faith has made you whole.”
I love the character of Father Mulcahey on the old TV show M.A.S.H. And I recall a conversation that he was having with Dr. Friedman, who was a psychiatrist about a patient that he had been working with that had completely rejected everything Dr. Friedman had tried to do for him. And tired and discouraged Friedman had come to the MASH to escape and recharge. And Father Mulcahey came to him and the conversation goes something like this: “Dr. Friedman I would like to talk with you about a friend who is feeling pretty low and discouraged right now.” “Is it you Father?” Friedman asks. “No,” Father Mulcahey says, “it’s you Sydney that I came to talk about. Are you ok?” And Friedman says, “I will be. You see, when the doctors lose a patient they lose a life. But at least the suffering is over. But when I lose a patient, I lose a mind. And the suffering is just beginning.” To which Father Mulcahey responds, “Yes, Sydney. But when I lose one, I lose a soul. And the suffering lasts forever.” You see, when Jesus interrupts our life, He is not so concerned about our here and now as much as He is focused on our forever. Because the power of Jesus doesn’t just heal us for the moment; it makes us whole for all time. He did not come just to restore our life. He came to give us new life. And by His touch we may not always be healed, but by His touch we will be made whole. This daughter, this suffering woman, came seeking healing, the restoration of her past life. But what she received was a whole new life. And the glorious news is, that no matter what ails you today, at the touch of Jesus, you too can be made whole. You can receive new life today.