Do not fear, only believe

From Claire Bischoff

This week’s Gospel reading from Mark (Mark 5:21-43) is dramatic and complex. Taking the form of a story within a story, it tells of two healings performed by Jesus. The reading opens with Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, coming to Jesus to beg him to heal his young daughter who is so sick she is at the point of death. As Jesus follows Jairus, a large crowd begins to follow Jesus, among them a woman who has suffered from a flow of blood for twelve years. In other words, instead of menstruating on a monthly basis, this woman had a hemorrhaging ailment that caused her to bleed constantly.

According to Leviticus 15:19-31, the flow of blood of a woman’s menstrual cycle makes her unclean. While she is menstruating, a woman’s touch would make others unclean, and she was forbidden from entering the temple. As such, the hemorrhaging woman’s ailment did not only have physical consequences. It also had serious personal and social consequences. People would have avoided interacting with her, for fear her touch would make them unclean. She would not have been able to gather in the temple with her Jewish community. She would have been an outcast and an outsider, basically alone for twelve years.

Trusting that Jesus can stop the flow of blood and heal her, the woman reaches you to touch Jesus as he passes. At this touch, Jesus feels power leave him, and he searches for the cause. Despite her fear, the woman admits to having touched Jesus. For her faith, Jesus tells her to go in peace, free from that which has been ailing her.

I have always been struck by the bold faith of this woman, who dares to reach out and touch Jesus in order to be healed.  What gave her the power to take such action? Was it the power of a desperate person who has spent all her money hiring physicians to help cure her only to remain afflicted? Or was it the power of certainty, of knowing when she saw Jesus that this was truly the one who could change her life forever?

What is also striking is Jesus response to this woman. How are we to read Jesus’ question, “Who touched my clothes?” Is he angry that someone dared to touch him without asking? Is he surprised at this feeling of power going forth from him so that he wants to see the face of the person who drew it from him? I believe that this was a crucial moment in Jesus’ journey to understanding who he was as the Son of God. Here Jesus experiences his own power to heal in a new way. I think Jesus needed to see himself reflected in the eyes of the hemorrhaging woman in order to know himself better, to know himself as the one who came to unite the world to God.

As a final response to her, Jesus calls this woman “daughter,” telling her to go in peace because her faith has healed from her scourge. I imagine the woman shedding a few tears, as in her isolation it had probably been years since someone had used as intimate a term as “daughter” for her. This woman now has a new community; she is a daughter of God and sister of Christ because she had believed.

At the conclusion of this scene with the hemorrhaging woman, messengers from Jairus’s house arrive with the tragic news that his daughter is dead. Jesus’ response to Jairus echoes the stance of the hemorrhaging woman: “Do not fear, only believe.” Then in a private moment at Jairus’s house, Jesus insists that the daughter is only asleep and raises her from the bed. The family is overcome with amazement that their daughter, thought to be dead, is actually alive. Despite this miraculous occurance, Jesus urges them to tell no one of what has happened.

Think about people you know who suffer from a physical ailment. In what ways does their physical pain also lead to personal and social suffering? What can you do as a sister or brother in Christ to stay in relationship with them?

The hemorrhaging woman does not fear and believes that Jesus can heal her. Jesus also instructs Jairus: “Do not fear, only believe.” What are you fearful of? Where does fear limit your ability to act as Christ’s body in the world? Where does fear limit your ability to be your best self? Spend some time in prayer this week, asking for the power of belief to move beyond your fear.

Photo courtesy of gregory_bastien (Creative Commons License).  

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