Mark’s Gospel today portrays Jesus as this Multi-Tasking Miracle Wonder-Worker. In rapid succession, Jesus heals, and answers the deep longings and prayers of two different people – a young daughter of Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, and an older woman with a debilitating, long term disease.
But we wonder. What about me? What about the rest of the world, now, in the 21st century, aching for healing and restoration? Everyone has some kind of ailment, whether it be physical, spiritual, psychological or interpersonal. Why doesn’t Jesus always seem to answer our prayers for the kind of healing we want?
I read about a man who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was just in his fifties. A man of deep faith, he and his wife began praying and praying that he might be healed. Twenty years later, in his seventies, he still had Parkinson’s, and in fact was in the last debilitating stages of the disease.
Nevertheless, he said that his prayers had been answered. He said, in all sincerity, “I have been healed, not of Parkinson’s disease, but I’ve been healed of my fear of Parkinson’s disease.” This man’s prayers were answered, but not in the way, or the timing, he wanted or expected.
As this man discovered, one of the most common, typical “ailments” there are, that we all humans share to some degree, is: fear.
And specifically: the fear of being alone, of being forgotten, of not having someone around who cares for us. The fear of not belonging.
Not only was loneliness a fear in Jesus’ day, it was a widespread reality. Especially for women. At the time, according to cultural norms, females in general were the invisible, powerless ones, with little or no status. As such, they would’ve experienced many things in life alone. They would’ve suffered alone. They would’ve been kept separated from mainstream events and society.
It’s interesting that the Gospel passage today has not one, but two women whom Jesus heals – as if there’s a point to be driven home.
Both are very alone and isolated from community. First, their illness makes them ritually and religiously “unclean” and therefore, kept isolated and physically distant from the rest of society. And secondly, their female-ness in Roman society at the time kept them invisible, powerless and side-lined.
But Jesus acts here as he so often does, breaking through socio-religious barriers of isolation, and healing them so that they’d no longer be so alone, ostracized, and ignored.
Jesus sees them, and their needs, and deems them worthy of his attention as anyone else.
In healing their physical ailments, Jesus draws them back into community, restoring them into relationships with others, and banishing their fear of being alone, forgotten, not cared for.
That’s the real healing here, I think. Healing from the fear of being forever alone, from being forever disconnected from relationships, from not having anyone around who loves and cares for you.
It was a remarkable discovery in the 1980s when the numerous orphanages of Ceausescu’s Communist Romania were opened to the world’s eyes after his fall from power.
Many orphaned children ended up in these vast, underfunded, state-run orphanages where they were kept in these isolated, single rooms, kept completely separated from others. These children would receive no love, and in fact, no human touch at all. As they grew older, it was found that many could not speak properly or even at all. They couldn’t relate to others. They couldn’t give or receive affection.
Our relationships – in our faith community, in friendships, in marriage – are not just some extra “add-on” to life for distraction and entertainment, as if we would be complete human beings in individual isolation.
Good, loving relationships, with others and with God, are basic to health and wholeness. They make us truly human. Jesus understood that.
A woman had gotten a new dog. But this dog had come from a very difficult background. The dog was not only abandoned, but had been mistreated, abused, and even almost drowned at one point. As you can imagine, this dog was aggressive, hyper, and very frightened of any human being.
Well, the dog desperately needed a bath, to cleanse it from its filth from neglect, and wash its open wounds from abuse.
But, it was not until she began to lower him into the warm water in the bath tub that she realized how terrified he was of the water. Remember, the dog’s abusers had tried to kill him that way.
He struggled and squirmed, screamed and fought, his whole body a solid mass of fear.
What was she going to do? Well, this is what she did.
Still in her shorts and T-shirt, she climbed right into the bath tub with him, along with all the fleas, the dirt, and the blood from the dog. She got right into the water and held him, gently stroking him, quietly talking to him until he began slowly to relax and calm down. Ever so gradually, the dog realized he could trust her love and care, and could indeed relax and rest in her presence.
Such is the deep healing from fear that took place.
Do you know what is the most frequently repeated encouragement in all of Scripture? Is it “Be good”? “Be holy”? “Don’t be immoral”? No.
The most frequently repeated encouragement in all of the Scriptures is: “Don’t be afraid.” “Fear not.” God said it to Abraham, Moses and Joshua. An angel said it Mary and Zechariah. Jesus said these words in today’s Gospel reading, to Jairus, the father of the daughter whom Jesus heals. “Do not fear, only believe.” Trust in God.
“Don’t be afraid.” The Holy One is right here with us, right in “the dirty bathtub water” with us, in the midst of our own complicated, messy and pain-ful lives. The healing we experience as we rest and relax in God’s loving presence is of the deepest sort.
It lifts a burden, and begins to transform us into agents of healing in the world we inhabit.
Knowing that we are not alone, that God’s love for, and presence with us is inexhaustible, knowing this turns us into a people able to befriend others, to break the fear of loneliness in others. We ourselves become wounded healers.
But first comes that awesome and amazing realization that, in Christ, we have nothing to fear, that nothing – not illness, hardships, weaknesses nor death – that nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.