Summary: Two miracles of healing show us how faith and healing relate to one another in Jesus’ ministry.
Faith and healing
I’m not sure how the gospel lesson for today got paired with two readings on giving. Even the Psalm for today contains the lines “ 5 A good man deals graciously and lends...” and “He has given to the poor...” But, the gospel shows us two miracles of healing, when other passages from the gospel where Jesus teaches on healing are obvious candidates. So, even though today’s lectionary is a great one for a sermon on giving, I’m going to pass, partly because I do not think this parish needs pastoral exhortation on the subject of giving, and it’s kind of tacky to preach about the sins of other Christians.
Additionally, the gospel for today shows us something interesting about Jesus’ ministry that I think ARE important for us to notice in our day. And, in a round-about way, one of the things we’re going to learn from Jesus’ actions here is immediately applicable to giving.
I should also point out to you that the lectionary for today skipped past the eight verses all about the woman with the issue of blood. Instead, it includes only the verses about Jairus’ daughter. But, Mark – and, if I may say so, the Holy Spirit – seems to have thought these two healings were connected somehow. What, then, is the connection? I propose to share with you what I think the connection is.
First, let us note the ways in which these healings are similar. Both miracles are prompted by desperation. And, both miracles are prompted by faith in Jesus. Finally, both miracles occur in highly public settings.
On the other hand, both of these miracles of healing have notable differences. One miracle is, if we may say this, involuntary on Jesus’ part, while the other is obviously deliberate. In one miracle, Jesus takes steps to bring an otherwise invisible miracle to light. In the other, Jesus takes steps to hide, as far as possible, that a miracle of healing has taken place.
What do we make of all this? Well, several things, so let me simply list and comment on them.
First, as to the similarities of these two miracles, I think the lessons are not difficult to discern. What prompts both miracles is desperation. In the case of Jairus’ daughter, the crisis was very likely immediate. Mark doesn’t say so explicitly, but if there is a contrast in the little girl’s situation and that of the woman, it is this: the woman’s problem had persisted for twelve years, while the 12 year old girl’s illness was likely sudden and immediately threatening. Both examples are reproduced in the lives of Christians constantly. We come to Jesus pretty quickly when a crisis that overtakes us that is sudden and overwhelming. On the other hand, like the woman with the issue of blood, we also come to Jesus as a kind of last resort, when all other avenues have been exhausted. “Might as well try Jesus,” is the thought.
In fairness to the woman, this passage does not present her as avoiding Jesus until everything else had been tried. For one thing, she had the problem long before Jesus began his public ministry. But, once Jesus did make himself known publicly, she no doubt heard quite a lot about him. And her ears must have pricked up when she kept hearing reports of these miraculous cures he was conferring on people whose illness was, indeed, desperate. And that leads us to the second lesson, -- the primary priority of faith.
Faith in Jesus is so vital a matter in these miracles of healing that it can – as it were – snatch from Jesus what is sought in faith. The woman does not even ask. She simply believes that touching Jesus’ garment will heal her. And when she touches his garment, she is healed.
She senses immediately that she is healed; Jesus senses immediately that he has healed someone. I honestly do not know what to think about Jesus’ question here. We can excuse the disciples, for the moment, for they do not know what Jesus knows. But, it is what Jesus evidently does NOT know that is startling. He knows that faith in him has effected some miraculous cure, but – unless he is dissembling – he does NOT know WHO has been cured. So, he turns around and asks, “Who touched me?”
It was a nonsense question to the disciples; but the woman knew that Jesus knew. And, so when he no doubt searches the faces in the crowd for signs of someone who has been healed of some disease, the woman confesses – not her sin, but her faith in Jesus. And, Jesus is straightforward in what he wants her and all the others around them to know – her faith in him has made her well, not some magical touch of his garment. Her faith is imperfect, even superstitious. But, it is genuine faith, and so Jesus corrects it.