Saturday, February 28, 2015

Jesus' Healings as Restoration

One of my favorite healing narratives from the Gospels is found in Mark 5:21-43, where we find Jesus healing two different people. As we read the two stories, we should notice that these two stories are set in juxtaposition with one another, and they have become, in the hands of the author, intertwined into one story. This is intentional and leads us to some very important theological emphases that the author of Mark wants to bring out.

In fact, scholars of Mark have called the structure of these two stories a Markan Sandwich, one of a few that we find in the second Gospel. The Markan Sandwich is when the author tells a story, but that story is interrupted by another story, which is then told in its entirety, before the first story is finished.

In the narrative of Mark 5, Jairus’ story begins, but is interrupted by the story of the bleeding woman, whose story is told in completion before the rest of Jairus’ story is told.  The two stories are intertwined into the sandwich to give meaning to both.

Yet, when we read the stories together, as we should, we also come away with the idea that the two individuals that come to Jesus could not be more different. Jairus, whose name we know, is a male.  The woman, who remains nameless, and therefore insignificant, is a female.

Moreover, Jairus is a leader in the synagogue, a man of great religious and political stature and influence. The unnamed woman, who has been bleeding for 12 years, is an outcast, who has been shunned by her community because of her disease. Jairus can come to Jesus expecting to seek healing for his daughter, but the woman must approach Jesus from behind, hoping not to be noticed by him.

Perhaps one of the reasons these two stories are told together is so that all of us can face the reality that in our human existence none of us are free from the pain of sickness and death. Sickness and death, viewed as enemies of God’s good creation by the biblical authors, do not respect people of importance or sympathize with people of weakness and need. At some point in our lives we will all seek healing.

But what exactly is healing?

The great founder of Methodism, John Wesley, described the intervention of sin into God’s creation as that which brought disease and death to humanity. He preached that healing was holistic union of a person’s body, mind, and soul that returned us to the unity and peace of the original creation.

When we consider the plight of the woman who has bled for twelve years, and despite spending money on doctors and cures, she has not found healing from her disease, we find her seeking this kind of healing. Yes, she was tired of living with this disease that was making her feel sick and weak. She was tired of waking up each day having to deal with this sickness.  But she was seeking something more than physical healing.

Remember who this woman is. She is an unnamed, and therefore, insignificant, female. In fact, when Jesus says, who touched me, the disciples question him, “How can you say who touched me?”  The crowd was pressing in on them, and they simply were not aware that this woman even existed. And for that matter, no one else knew she existed.

Her physical ailment of bleeding was a social, and indeed, a religious stigma that caused her to be ostracized from her community. She had no purpose for living, no real connection to others, not much self-respect, and little, if any, control over her life. She was not only disheartened by the physical state of her illness, she was perhaps more troubled by the mental and social state of her existence.

It may be true that she comes to Jesus primarily for physical healing; something she desperately needed, but which she had not found from other healers. But it is conceivable that this woman approaches Jesus knowing that he can offer her more than the absence of a disease.  He can offer her more than physical healing. He can give her wholeness.

The clue to Jesus’ holistic healing of this woman, which leads to her full restoration as one of God’s children, is found in the way Jesus responds to her act of faith. When hearing the woman tell him that she is the one who touched him, Jesus replies, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

In calling this unnamed and ostracized woman, “daughter”, Jesus affirms her place in the people of Israel, as a daughter of Abraham. No longer is she to be cut off from her community, from her connection to significant others. Rather, she is restored to her community in which she can find love, acceptance, and self-worth.

Moreover, Jesus tells her that her faith has made her well. The word well used in the New Revised Standard Version is actually the word often translated as “saved”.  The salvation of which Jesus speaks is more than the “get me to heaven salvation”. The salvation Jesus offers affirms her holistic healing. Not only is she cured of her physical ailment, she is restored to full health in which she can find purpose and meaning. Her days of hopelessness have now changed to days of purpose and fulfillment as God’s child.

The same may be said for the daughter of Jairus. The death of innocence is a mockery of God’s goodness and blessing for life. Jesus knows this, and in raising this young girl to life, Jesus is not simply restoring physical existence to her. He is affirming the goodness and blessings of life. “Give her something to eat,” he tells those around him. She is alive; let her live life as God intends.

But there is something more this story tells us about healing. Jesus offers no preferential treatment to Jairus. Rather, he acknowledges the dignity of every human. In a market driven system of health care, Jesus would have passed by the unnamed woman and gone to assist the synagogue ruler in a home visit.  Instead, Jesus stops to recognize the stranger and outcast, not as a number among numbers, but as a person in need.

These two stories, intertwined into one narrative, tell us not only of the healing power of Jesus as a miracle worker; they also tell us what healing really is. It is the restoration of the whole person to the full potential of God’s gift of life, in which we find purpose and meaning, loving relationships in community, and self-love and respect.

This is the kind of healing we all need.

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