June 30, 2024

Health and Healing

Health and Healing

5th Sunday After Trinity 30 June
Readings: Wisdom 1. 13-15; 2. 23-24; 2 Cor. 8. 7-end; Mark 5. 21-end
Theme: Health and Healing

One of the particular things about Mark’s gospel which has always fascinated those who have studied it is the fact that it ends somewhat up in the air. There are no accounts of the resurrection appearances of Jesus as in the other gospels and we are left with the women at the tomb trembling and bewildered and who say nothing because they were so afraid at the words of the angel, that you will see him in Galilee. And, if there is no clear ending to Mark’s gospel, there is also no familiar beginning. Jesus bursts on the scene with his baptism in the river Jordan by his cousin, John. Later writers wanted to fill in the ending of Mark and, probably around the second century AD, added a slightly longer ending of around eleven verses to some manuscripts, but this later ending has a very different style and vocabulary to the rest of his gospel and is probably based on a reading of the resurrection appearances recounted in Luke 24 and John 20.

However, one thing is clear about Mark’s gospel, he is a fantastic storyteller and he has a great eye for detail in the story. This combination of great storytelling and an eye for detail is present in our passage today concerned with the raising of Jairus’s daughter and the healing of the young woman who had a haemorrhaging illness. Both of these interventions by Jesus pick up the theme of our first reading from the Wisdom of Solomon, namely, that God wills life and not death, health and healing, not sickness and illness. And this intention of God for us, spelled out so beautifully in the Wisdom of Solomon, is situated within the story of Jesus by St Mark. It may be that the fact that Mark ends his gospel the way that he does and starts it so abruptly is because the manner in which he tells the story of Jesus will answer the questions of the beginning and end of Jesus through his actions and his words. It is almost as if, once you understand the meaning of the words and actions of Jesus you do not need to have the beginning and end of the story because these are already contained in each of Mark’s wonderfully portrayed stories.

The particular story that we are presented with today brings together two incidents which reveal who this person of Jesus really is and his will for us. The story begins with the leader of the synagogue, Jairus, whose name in Hebrew means, “may God enlighten”, pleading with Jesus to come to his home to heal his critically ill daughter. However, the crowd is so great that Jesus is detained from going immediately, and in this large crowd is another woman who is ill, but this time with a bleeding disorder. Notice how in the passage, St Mark recounts the very words of the woman who is ill. “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”, and we are also told that she had suffered from the complaint for twelve years. What wonderful pieces of detail to the story which St Mark uses to really draw us into her perspective on this healing. We are very much accompanying this woman, and the account feels quite intimate. This intimacy continues as a result of the healing by Jesus of the woman as we are told that she feels in her body that she has been freed from this suffering and as a result Jesus realizes that power has gone out of him.

The story takes an even more dramatic turn once Jesus is aware what has happened. The drama here is related to ritual purity laws operative at the time in Judaism, that ill people were not to touch the well for fear of contagion, and so she is understandably afraid and falls at the feet of Jesus trembling in fear. But the response of Jesus is not condemnatory, he does not say to her, “who touched me”, because he did not want to be made impure by her, rather he asks who touched him so that he could demonstrate what faith in him means: It means health and healing. This health and healing is the will of God for all of us and this beautiful incident identifies Jesus as the Son of God who has come to bring us health and healing.

Yet, if this is the will of God manifest in Jesus for this woman and for us all, in the second of the incidents recounted in this passage, the theme of health and healing is situated in an even larger context. This larger context of the resurrection of Jesus is depicted by Mark through the fact that news reaches him that the daughter of Jairus has died. This news also arrives with the presumption that because of this, there is no longer any point of bothering Jesus. It is too late for healing. But once again, St Mark uses this incident to communicate a truth about Jesus, namely, that even death will be overcome through his ministry. And, as is typical in Mark’s gospel, the crowds reject his message. This is brought out in our passage by the fact that when Jesus says she is only sleeping they laugh at him.
The details which embellish the raising of the girl are also highly suggestive. Jesus uses the Aramaic expression, “Talitha Koum!” (“little girl, get up!”). This is Jesus’s colloquial language, his mother tongue if you will, and so most probably an example of the remembered sayings of Jesus that had been passed down in the community of the Markan believers. It is an expression which points through this particular raising of the girl to the fact of his own resurrection, his own being raised from the dead, and so to our destiny as believers listening in to this story recounted by St Mark.

The raising of Jairus’s daughter prefigures the raising of Jesus in his resurrection. It is a sign that the health and healing brought by Jesus will go beyond the immediate punctual healing of illness to the very core of the healing of the causes of illness, namely the power of the devil and the death which is brought into the world through sin. Just as the Book of Wisdom recounts, God does not make death and has made us to share in his immortal life. So, whilst Mark’s gospel may not have a clear ending by recounting the resurrection stories that are present in the other gospels, he does incorporate the meaning of the resurrection in the very actions of Jesus’s healing ministry. Understanding the deeper meaning of the healing of the women with haemorrhages and the raising of Jairus’s daughter are all we need to understand that through the resurrection of Jesus all of us are called to rise up to full health and healing through him.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.