On a recent April night that felt too much like January, I was randomly flipping through the scriptures, looking for inspiration, for something interesting to think about after a day of internet sameness.
I found it in Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Mark, in Jairus’ plea to Jesus that he make haste to visit Jairus’ sick little girl: “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”
Oh, that spoke to me; on a damp, frigid night with my joints screaming, I read that and thought, “Me too!”
Along the way to Jairus’ home, we read one of the richest and most powerful stories of Christ’s healings:
There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.
She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors
and had spent all that she had.
Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd
and touched his cloak.
She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Immediately her flow of blood dried up.
She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him,
turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?”
But his disciples said to him,
“You see how the crowd is pressing upon you,
and yet you ask, Who touched me?”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
The woman, realizing what had happened to her,
approached in fear and trembling.
She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.
Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” (Mark 5:25-34)
This story very gently puts the lie to the increasingly popular notion that Jesus is just our fluffy pal who asks nothing much of us beyond our being that vaguest of things, “a good person.”
There is no reason to think the hemorrhagic woman was not a good person, but the Christ she encountered still asked something of her.
Jesus was an observant Jew; when he healed a leper, he told man to partake of the prescribed cleansing and show himself to the priest, because it mattered. To be pronounced clean gave the man admission back into the community; it rescued him from a life of lonely singularity, unable even to worship in community.
Similarly, for a hemorrhagic (thus, “unclean”) woman to touch anyone in her community would give great offense, both social and religious. For twelve years she lived like an abyss in their midst. Unable to partake of a ritual cleansing, she reaches out in great hope to the Living Water who cleanses like nothing else.
In her deep wish to be healed, she knew she risked the possibility of rendering someone else “unclean,”of dragging another person (however briefly) into her exile. What if this man was just a Rabbi, and not something more? She would be defiling him, making him unfit for the synagogue!
And yet, she reached out, trusting that her hand was accessing a fresh well of mercy.
She touches his cloak, and she is healed; instantly, her bloody issue dries up. One moment she is weak and debilitated from this constant drain. The next instant, strength is running through her.
She had only touched his cloak, but she did it with a faith so absolute that it made her willing to be vulnerable to social scandal—and further rejection—for its sake.
Now healed, she can bathe and be readmitted into her community. She has gotten her life back, but it has cost her something: instead of being vulnerable to the crowd, she is now vulnerable to Christ, who insists that she expose herself, and her faith, before all the assembly. It is not enough for her to simply be anonymous in the crowd, accessing his glory, in secret. As with the Holy Eucharist, she must publicly declare herself before him.
Just as we do at Communion, in receiving the Real Presence of Christ, the woman has to make acknowledgement—a kind of “Amen.”
The Eucharistic theme continues when Jesus meets Jairus and is told that the little girl has died.
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. (Mark 5:41-42)
Jesus tells her family to give her something to eat. Again, we get the message that to participate in any part of Jesus’ healing involves becoming subject to his direction.
What sacramental stories these are! There is an element of the confessional in Jesus’ demand that the woman reveal herself to him, to come out of hiding. There are Eucharistic themes of thanksgiving and meal-taking.
Within this single narrative, we see two healings that seem to bridge the Old Covenant and the New: the woman had hemorrhaged for twelve years—a reminder of the twelve tribes of Israel. Her circumstance was about what had occurred in the past, leading up to that day, and concerned the law and what Moses prescribed, for the sake of Justice.
The little girl was twelve years old, like the twelve apostles; her issue was an issue of the future—her future life—and moved beyond law for the sake of mercy.
And it included a meal.
Both justice and mercy reside in Christ, and both are present in each healing, perfectly balanced in him. In this gospel we see the Alpha and Omega—ever ancient, ever new—engaged with both Old Covenant of Moses and the New Covenant of Christ.
For me, this just reinforces the lesson that justice and mercy must kiss—that one cannot be withheld, or the other is lacking—and that everything before us must still and always find its connection to what has passed. The present and future, untethered to the past, becomes all disorientation.