In my hospice work, I am called upon most days to offer prayers for those placed in my care. Very rarely am I asked to pray for someone’s healing but rather for a peaceful death. I also pray, which usually surprises the folks gathered around; I pray for those taking care of them: the ones who have been there and who will be there. Most of the time, the caregivers are the ones that need our prayers, but we forget about them.
Today we have two prayer stories presented to us in the Gospel of St. Mark. I call them prayer stories rather than miracle stories because the focus should be on the immense faith of the father as well as the woman who comes to Jesus. I have said this before, but it bears repeating, the focus should not be on the actual miracle but on the lesson that the miracle is trying to teach us, and in this case, as in many of the stories, that lesson is faith.
The story begins where the last one left off. The disciples and Jesus have come across after a night of storms. They have survived their harrowing journey and are now safe on the other side. As usually happens, a crowd starts to gather around Jesus. Jairus comes to Jesus and falls at his feet. This is not an unusual occurrence, except that Jairus is a leader in the Synagogue, and as such, he is taking a significant risk of coming to Jesus in this way. His daughter is very sick and Jairus, being the good father that he is, is willing to risk everything to make her well again, so he comes to Jesus. Jesus leaves with Jairus to go and attend to his daughter.
As they are walking to Jairus’ home, a large crowd begins to follow them. Perhaps they have heard what is going on, and they wish to offer prayers along with Jesus. But, on the other hand, maybe they are just following the crowd as so many do not know what is happening, regardless of why a large group follows Jesus.
Here the focus shifts a little. A woman, we do not know her name, only that she has had a blood issue for most of her life. This woman pushes her way through the crowd to only “touch the hem of his garment” that she might be healed. On the surface, this may seem like any other healing story but, if we drill down, we will see how extraordinary this scene is.
In the world that Jesus lived in, this woman would have been a social outcast. Her condition would have made her ritually unclean, and anyone she met would face the same fate. She would have been isolated from the rest of society to maintain the ritual purity that was required. Instead, she had come to a place in her life when she was willing to risk it all for a chance to be healed. Sure, her bleeding was a problem, but she has been isolated her entire adult life. She has no physical contact for years.
Many of us will have a better understanding of this isolation because of this last year. So many of us have been cut off from physical contact with others. We have been prevented from giving hugs to parents and grandchildren. Think about it; we experienced this isolation for a year; this woman isolated her entire adult life.
Mark tells us that she “pushes her way through the crowd” to get to Jesus. By “pushing her way,” she has come in contact with others and has made them ritually unclean. But she does not care. She has had enough and is willing to risk it all for a chance to be healed of her isolation. So great is her faith that all she feels she needs to do is touch his garment, and she will be made whole again.
She touched his garment and, scripture tells us she felt that her illness had left her that she had been healed. She tried to shrink away, but Jesus “felt power leaving” and asked who had touched him. I can almost see the faces of his disciples as he asked this question. How were they to know who touched him? The crowd was large and pushing and pulling as they walked. But Jesus knew, and the woman knew.
Mark tells us that she came forward and “threw herself at the feet of Jesus.” She was all in on this one. She had risked it all pushing through the crowd, and she still had more to risk. She threw herself down, begging to be healed. Jesus looks on her not as someone to be avoided, not as someone who is unclean and unfit to be in his presence. No, Jesus looks upon her and calls her daughter. Jesus looks past her illness to see that she is a blessed child of God. Jesus confirmed what she already knew, she had been healed, and Jesus tells her to “go in peace.”
Someone comes to tell Jairus that his daughter has died and that they are too late to do anything. Leaving the crowd behind, Jesus pressed on to the house. He arrived and found them all gathered around her bed weeping. He told them not to be sad, for she was only sleeping, and they laughed at him. But Jesus took her lifeless hand and said, “little girl get up,” and she rose. She was restored to health because of her father’s faith, who was willing to risk it all for his daughter.
I said at the start that this was not a miracle story but rather a story of faith, and it is, but it is also a story of risk. Both people in this story risked everything to approach Jesus. Their faith was so great that it drove them to forget about the danger of their actions. Instead, their faith moved them to do something extraordinary and outside of themselves.
What is your faith calling you to? What are we willing to risk making that calling a reality? These two had great faith, but scripture tells us that we can do amazing things even if we have faith the size of a mustard seed. So, push through the crowd, take the risk, for God is with us and will never leave.