Courage to Be Made Whole (reflections on the bleeding woman)

Mark 5:21-24

Jesus crossed the lake again, and on the other side a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, came forward. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded with him, “My daughter is about to die. Please, come and place your hands on her so that she can be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A swarm of people were following Jesus, crowding in on him. A woman was there who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors, and had spent everything she had without getting any better. In fact, she had gotten worse. Because she had heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his clothes. She was thinking, If I can just touch his clothes, I’ll be healed. Her bleeding stopped immediately, and she sensed in her body that her illness had been healed. 

At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” His disciples said to him, “Don’t you see the crowd pressing against you? Yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?'” But Jesus looked around carefully to see who had done it. The woman, full of fear and trembling, came forward. Knowing what had happened to her, she fell down in front of Jesus and told him the whole truth.  He responded, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.”

I awoke on several mornings this week to the news of more racial violence in our country, including the news that several black churches in the south have been burned to the ground, that AME and United Methodist women pastors in Clarendon County, South Carolina have received letters threatening their ministries and their lives, and that more hatred and intolerance is being thrown around to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality.  In other parts of the world (take Yemen for example), 1,200 ISIS and Al Qaeda prisoners have escaped, giving a renewed vigor to their efforts.  Voices on all sides of these issues are not responding with grace and respect, but are lashing out and just getting mean in their language choices.  Right now, it appears that hatred and fear are fueling rage and violence.

In the midst of all of this, I turned to the Gospel lesson this week and read the story of the bleeding woman, and I realized that in many ways, we are the bleeding woman.  As individuals, as a country, as a global community, and as a church.  We are bleeding.  Whether we are bleeding because of our sicknesses, our grievances, our emotional struggles, our addictions, our judgments, our stubbornness, our need to be right, our divisions, our pride, our selfishness, our lack of seeing worth in the other, our lack of generosity…we are bleeding.  And we are dying.  And it oftentimes it seems that we are doing nothing about it.

In the ancient world of the Hebrew scriptures, the Hebrew people believed that blood was the very life of a person or being.  When an animal was taken to the temple for sacrifice and its blood spilled on the altar, it was believed that its very life was being offered up to God. Blood was the element that signified its very life.  In the same way, when Jesus bled and died on the cross, it was his blood that signified life being poured out for the sake of forgiveness and love for all humankind.  The bleeding woman then, is fighting for her very life as it is draining out of her.  She is desperate, suffering, and considered unclean by Levitical law because of her condition.  Because of her status as a woman in the ancient world, her blood was not her life source in a positive way, but ultimately would have been her death- physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

We are told that she has suffered from her bleeding for 12 years…that means a a dozen years of being considered unclean.  No houseguests, no public events, no potlucks, no husband, no children, no visits from family…a dozen years of never being touched by anyone…ever (Higgs, Really Bad Girls of the Bible). And to make matters worse, it was assumed that she suffered because of some kind of sin, either committed by her or her parents.  And because of her “unclean” condition, she couldn’t even go to the temple to ask God for help.  So in God’s merciful love, God came out of the temple and into the streets where she could approach him, the Savior, the healer, one on one.

But in order for her to approach Jesus, she had to make the fearful decision that she would, in fact, make the journey and then take the action to be made well.  We don’t know how far she had come or how she had heard about Jesus, but we do know that she was desperate, tired of her suffering, and all of this for just a touch of Jesus’ robe.  She wasn’t supposed to be out in public, and especially not out in a crowd.  She knew the rules and societal norms, but she was not about to let that stop her.  She found the courage within herself to find the one who she knew could make her well.  She found the faith in this man she had just heard about that he could be the one to help her.  So she made a courageous decision that would change her life forever.  She found the courage to be made whole.

The word for healed in this Greek text is sesoken or “saved.”  When Jesus power goes out from him and the woman is healed, we can also read this as she was saved: saved from her illness, from her life of isolation and loneliness, saved from ridicule and shame.  She is healed in the way that matters most- she is made whole, both physically and spiritually.  In the same way, we are healed and saved by the One who loves us most.  When we are bleeding, when we are hurting, when we are spiritually empty, we must make the courageous decision to reach out for Jesus, despite what the world around us is saying in the midst of its brokenness.  We are not made to be broken and hurting.  We are made to be healed, whole, and well beings.

The problem is that many times, we are more comfortable sitting in our own blood than actually doing something about it.  We fear the cure more than the illness because we know that to make the decision to reach out and touch Jesus, and then to be sent off into the world as whole and healed persons will involve us in people’s lives in ways we are not sure that we want.  After all, to be whole means to be remembered and reconnected with God and God’s people, and creation itself.  It means that we are no longer isolated or living in our private lives where no one bothers us.  To be whole means that we stop wallowing in our sufferings and we get off the couch and join the world – to get involved, to make a difference, to contribute to fixing the messes out there.  It’s doing the best we can to find the strength within, despite the challenges we face.  (http://www.ekklesiaproject.org/blog/2010/05/courage-to-be-whole/#sthash.8eZvJkHF.dpuf)

The last time I was really sick was several years ago when I came down with a terrible case of bronchitis that put me in bed for a whole week.  I couldn’t do anything.  Although I was on medication, a part of me really didn’t want to go to the doctor.  The one thing that finally made me go was when I realized that my bronchitis was so bad that it had the possibility of turning into pneumonia, and that was the wake-up call I needed to take action.  When we are sick, many times we make excuses for not seeing someone.  I’m too busy, I’ll feel better tomorrow, I don’t know what this will cost me, or I’m scared of what they will tell me.  So often we hear tragic stories of people not feeling well and not doing anything about it, and later on find out that they would have been much better off had they gone to the doctor sooner.

When we are spiritually sick, we make the same excuses.  I don’t want to go the church because I don’t feel that I’m good enough.  I’ve made too many mistakes.  I don’t feel close to God.  I’m scared.  I don’t know what this will cost me.  It takes courage to take the first steps into a community and to be willing to be vulnerable and to open ourselves to the possibilities of being made whole by Jesus Christ and fellowship with others who are on the path to healing.  We come to this place not because we are perfect people, but because we are all in need of healing, wholeness, and for our bleeding to stop.  We come to this place seeking the courage to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ robe and say, “Yes, Lord, I am ready to be made well.”

When we find the courage within ourselves to be made well, when we find the faith to reach out and touch the Lord, we no longer make excuses; instead we walk forward to new life in Jesus Christ and go to work serving, healing, hoping, and living a life of joy and fullness.  That is what this unnamed bleeding woman did.  And when she did, Jesus gives her a new name.  His words endow her with more than she ever could have imagined.  She is no longer just a “woman,” but is now claimed as a “daughter,” and “one whose faith has made her well.”  Words and a promise have been added to the new reality of her life.  She receives these words of Jesus and he invites her to leave in peace.  And almost as an afterthought, she receives the confirmation that she has been healed of her disease (workingpreacher.org).  And then she is sent out into the world.

Church, if we are, in fact, looking at the bleeding woman and seeing ourselves, we must find the courage within to speak out, to take action, and go about the business of healing the broken systems and situations that threaten our communities.  If we are, in fact, the bleeding woman, we need to find the courage within ourselves to be healed and made whole again.  If we don’t, then we lose that which gives us life and hope, and we miss the opportunities in front of us to reach out and touch the hem of Christ’s robe.  Each of us has the audacity and the courage to seek out the face of Jesus and ask to be made well and to stop the hemorrhaging of fear, pride, hatred, complacency, and our individual sufferings and illnesses.  Each of us has the courage within to have enough faith in our God who is in the business of not only healing our spiritual sicknesses and our souls, but is in the business of healing the whole of creation itself. Our God gives us the ultimate cure found in the grace and acceptance of Jesus Christ.

And hear this: he has time for each one of us.  He has power to lend to each one of us.  He has healing to offer to each one of us.  The bleeding woman was a nobody who blended in with the hundreds of people pressing in on Jesus from all sides.  She thought she would go unnoticed.  Not only that, but our gospel reading began today with Jairus, a synagogue leader, summoning Jesus to come and heal his dying daughter.  Jesus is on his way to lend his healing powers to raise the daughter of an important figure in Israel.  Yet it is this insignificant, unnamed woman who catches his attention.  Out of all those who were touching him, out of all of those who perhaps were seen as more worthy of his time, it was her faith and courage that gave him pause.  Jesus stopped following Jairus in this moment in order to talk with this outcast of a woman, drowning in her suffering.  He makes time for her, heals her, calls her daughter, and sends her away in peace.  Friends, he also has time for you and me.

The question that we must answer for ourselves today is: do we have the courage to be made whole?  The hem of Christ is within our reach, but we must be willing to reach out and feel its power for ourselves.  We all suffer from something.  We are all bleeding.  As a church, as people, as a society, as a global community.  We are bleeding.  We are in need of healing.  Instead of sitting around and wallowing in our sufferings and watching these atrocities and horrors unfold in the world around us, we are being called to do something about it.  Our very lives demand the courage to be healed and sent off, out into the world with a blessing of peace.  What are you waiting for?  Amen.

(There was a time during communion where people came forward to receive a blessing/anointing for healing with oil.  I am always amazed at the participation in acts of healing, especially in this congregation.  All of us are in need of healing in one way or the other.  The response to this simple act never ceases to amaze me.)

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