A sermon for hard times. The readings include Mark 5:21-43, in which a woman with a 12-year chronic condition sneaks up to the hem of Jesus robe to be healed, and a child is restored to her parents.
There is more than one miracle happening in this story.
First, there is this woman; this bold frightened woman.
This woman is afraid to come face to face with Jesus, not because she lacks faith in him, but because she has lost faith in herself. After so long, she has bled out all self-confidence, the assurance that she still carries the image of God within her body and soul seems to leak, ebb away. With every step she takes she feels diminished.
It is not a lack of faith in Jesus that holds her behind him, keeps her at his back, unable to face him. It is the erosion of her own ferocity, the uncertainty, any more, that she is worth healing.
She has visited doctors, yes, and she has heard doctors of the faith proclaim her disease a punishment, a test of character, a blessed burden chosen especially for her. She knows enough to sneer at them, and yet their words, like the hairs of a cactus, cling unseen to her garments and her skin, scratching at her, creating burrowing sores. She still knows better, but their superiority is wearing, and her condition wearying, and she is running out of hope.
She still believes, somehow, hope against hope, that Jesus might save her; but she dare not face him, in case she sees in his eyes the same lack of faith in herself that she cradles, like a child, against her body. In case he does not believe in her.
That is why he has to find her, to face her, to see her. How many others touched his hem, plucked at his sleeve, and went away with their hearts lightened and their stoops straightened and their coughs calmed? In the Acts of the Apostles, it is said that even the people upon whom Peter’s shadow fell as he walked by were healed. Surely the same must have been true for the people surrounding Jesus.
But this woman’s healing was not complete until she had faced him. It was not enough, Jesus knew, to stem the flow of blood. Healing is only just begun with the staunching of the wound; after that, attention is needed to sew it back together, to soften the scar, to smooth over the history of pain that the body otherwise wears on its skin.
She prostrated herself before him, in fear and trembling that she had stolen her healing from him, even now that she did not deserve his power. Jesus shook his head in disbelief.
Daughter, YOUR FAITH has made you well! Your faith in me! You! You have used your mind and your spirit and your body and your bravery to bring yourself before me (well, behind me) and by your actions you have been made whole! By your own actions! Do you not see? Your faith in me has restored my faith in you.”
Woman, your faith has made you well. Your perseverance, your resistance, your persistence. Your refusal to give up hope when all hope was lost. The feet that carried you closer to the hem of his robe even when you had said, you had thought, you could not take one more step. The hands that moved as though with a will of their own, reaching out in prayer, while you watched as though from some great height, and wondered at the boldness of your own body. Your faith has made you well.
Your faith has brought you, finally, face to face with your fear, and with your salvation. Your faith has driven out evil and restored you to health and to wholeness. Your faith. Your faith has brought you home to yourself. Will you now believe, not only in him whose power runs through your veins, but in yourself to wield that power?
It is a message, perhaps, for our own times; that when we are running out of faith in ourselves, Jesus still has the power to use our faithfulness, our closeness to him, our hope and even our desperation, our longing for God’s kingdom come, for his powerful purposes: to generate healing, when all other promises and panaceas have failed; to render life in the face of death.
“Do not fear,” Jesus tells Jairus only a little while later. “Do not fear only believe.”
Is he still thinking of that woman and her trembling faith? Is it her healing that gives him the courage to deny even death; to take the little girl by her hand and command her back to life?
I confess that there are times – days, weeks, months – when I am short on faith, of many kinds; and long, way too long, on fear. Those are the times when the faith of others carries me; the faithfulness of a community gathered in prayer. Only enough faith to come this close – that’s all that is needed in the darkest days. That is when the promise of Jesus to this woman, this brave, frightened woman sustains me; that all it takes is a shy stumbling toward him. The smallest mustard seed of faith can do great things. The very last crumb, small morsel of faith can bring us face to face with God.