HOMILY FOR JULY 1, 2018 – THE REV. STEPHANIE SHEPARD
Pentecost 6, July 1, 2018
St. John the Apostle
“Helping or Hindering Healing?”
I speak to you as a sinner to sinners, and as one who is loved by God to the beloved of God, through the mercy of God. Amen.
Here in the gospel of Mark we have two healing stories. One is about a sick daughter of a respected member of the community. The other is about an unclean sick older woman. They are very different narratives. But they have been folded together carefully by the writer to show God’s purpose in bringing the good news to the poor and to those in need. Jesus has come as a healer. And Jesus is willing to cross social and religious boundaries in order to fulfil his mission. We, as listeners and followers of Jesus, have to decide if we are going to help him or hinder him in this work.
It is easy to feel compassion for the loving father. His twelve year-old girl is very ill, and he is willing to do anything to make her better. As a respected leader of the synagogue, he shows more respect to Jesus when he kneels before him and begs him to come to his home. He has faith that God will work through this young rabbi to make his daughter well and live. Surely this is a deserving recipient of a miracle? We are happy, like the crowd, to go with him and Jesus to see what will happen.
But on the journey, there is another person in need of healing. She has been sick for a long time. Maybe she is too shy to approach Jesus directly, like the father. More likely, she is afraid of being turned away because she is unclean under Jewish purity laws. Her continued bleeding has not only weakened her physically, it has cut her off from her religious community and social life. She is not to touch another and spread her uncleanness. She is not a worthy recipient of a miracle. The disciples are guarding Jesus as he walks, struggling to keep the crowds surrounding him from pushing in. Still, the woman has faith that Jesus can make her well, so she creeps up behind him and grasps the corner of his cloak.
What happens next is the opposite of what the religious authorities would predict. Instead of Jesus becoming unclean by being touched by a bleeding woman, the woman is healed! The disciples don’t understand the importance of what has happened. For them, it is an inconvenience that someone has slowed Jesus down from his real objective. But Jesus seeks out the face of the one who has received healing, and names her as a restored daughter to Israel.
Then the story continues with the arrival at the home of the religious leader. It is evident from the wailing and sadness of the people presence that this is now a house of mourning. The girl has died. Jesus is no longer needed. Jesus’ first job is to dismiss all the doubters from the inner rooms. He only takes the girl’s family and his disciples with him to demonstrate what healing really looks like. Now, Jewish law also says that if you touch a dead body, you will be ritually unclean. Jesus disregards this as he takes the hand of the girl, and tells her “Talitha Cum”- “little girl, get up”. For the second time that day, there is a reversal in expectations. God’s healing power flows out to restore the girl.
The miracles of the physical healings are evident in these two stories. A girl is dead and brought back to life. A woman is cured of her internal illness. But when you put the two together, there is much more good news. Now Christians have to be careful when we talk about God’s healing power. It is not the same as cure. Some people do not recover their health, no matter how hard we pray. That doesn’t mean we tell Jesus to give up and go away.
Healing isn’t always physical, and it is never only physical. As we pray, there may be other aspects of a person’s wellbeing that God is working on: their emotional, mental, and spiritual healing.
These are different kinds of healing which are as important as what happens in our bodies:
- Forgiveness of wrongs
- Coming to terms with a grieving heart
- Accepting sorrow for hurts received
- Peace in the midst of anxiety
- The cleansing of hatred and rage
- Acknowledgment of our history
- Finding meaning in pain
- Coming home from exile
- Discovering vocation in uselessness
Allowing God to work with our hearts, our minds, and our spirits can bring benefits on the physical level as well, for all are inter-related. They are all medicine for our souls.
The disciples are witnesses that changes in a person’s condition go far beyond immediate recovery. A girl on the edge of puberty is restored to hopefully live a good and productive life. For the woman who had suffered for as many years as that little girl had been alive, however, there is a much greater change. She is no longer on the margins. She can be accepted back into her community, and can find the strength to take care of herself and others. She sees herself and is seen by others as a true daughter, loved and appreciated by God. Surely she is raised to new life just as much as the little girl on her deathbed?
How can we share the good news that God’s love and grace extends to each person who asks for healing? There are ways that we can help and there are ways that we actually get in the way. We can help by pointing to God as the healer, rather than playing God and taking the credit. We can practice nurturing our own faith, rather than giving in to fear. I believe that it is better to leave room for possible holy pathways to healing rather than thinking that we know the whole answer. Seldom do we know the mind of God, so why should we presume to explain why something is or is not God’s will?
Funerals make room for the possibility of healing. We gather to celebrate a person’s life, however well or incompletely we thought we knew him or her. We grieve the loss- to ourselves and to the world. It may have been difficult to let go of the hope that physical death has really come. These services are hard because they face the reality. But death is not the final word.
There is, at the end of every funeral service, a time when we offer a prayer to give the one we honour back to our Maker. We commend the person who has died to God’s almighty care, and express our trust that he or she is now completely healed. Then those who are grieving do something truly courageous. They get up, perhaps sing a final favourite hymn, and they follow the priest out of the church. Family and friends, believers and supporters: they go forward into life again after their encounter with death. And in that very action of getting up and walking, I see God’s healing in our lives.
Christians are called to stand in solidarity with all in need of God’s touch. We are not to get in the way of the One who heals, like the crowds who pressed around Jesus. And we are not to weep and wail and doubt that God has the power to change the situation. Instead, as disciples, we are to be aware of the pain of the ones around us and respond in ways that promote the healing of individuals and our community. Amen.
August 17, 2018
August 17, 2018
August 17, 2018