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A Healing Faith…

June 27, 2015

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Over the years I have had the opportunity to visit a number of holy wells in Ireland and England. Wells were thought to be especially powerful places of healing. Of course, if you look it at quite literally, they are places of healing since without water, we would die. But there was always something more than just the water at the bottom of the well for many. The above pictured well is in the garden of the former Convent of the Presentation Sisters in Dingle, Ireland. After lying hidden for years, it was restored and rededicated in 2009. It is in a serene spot in the garden and it was wonderful to wander the garden and feel the healing peace of the place. Denise and I enjoyed spending some time there on our honeymoon in 2014.

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Another famous well that I got to visit was the Chalice Well in Glastonbury, England in 2007. Yes, it was a bit more commercialized and yes, I did bring some water home from the well. My oldest son, Alec decided he was going to drink his water and see it it made a difference (it didn’t). I decided to keep the water I brought home from the Chalice Well and it now has its home on my dresser. Throughout the ages, many have sworn by the healing properties of the water from the Chalice Well (reputed to be the final resting place of the Holy Grail of legend). I frankly believe that the healing properties have more to do with the belief of the person than the actual healing properties of the water. The same can be said of water from the River Jordan where Jesus was baptized by John. I have heard of many who brought home vials of water from the Jordan and incorporated it into the baptismal ritual for family. It is not special because of any specific properties but it is special by virtue of faith and what people believe.

In tomorrow’s Gospel reading from Mark 5:21-43, we see two instances of holy healing by Jesus. We also see two different acts of faith on the part of Jairus and the unknown woman. Jairus was an important leader of the synagogue and he approached Jesus and fell at his feet. Jairus had a daughter who was deathly ill and he begged Jesus to lay hands on her and heal her. This was an important man from the religious community who stuck his neck out when he begged the radical rabbi to come into his house. With a daughter at the brink of death, I guess Jairus figured what did he have to lose! Jairus also must have had faith that this Rabbi Jesus would be able to heal his daughter. After all, the stories of Jesus healing lepers and casting out demons must have spread like wildfire in the area. Jairus believed enough in the healing power of Jesus to risk getting in trouble with the religious authorities.

What happens on the way to Jairus’ house was far more than a simply journey or interlude. The crowds were pressing in around Jesus, the disciples, and Jairus as they made their way to his house. I know that I can sometimes be overwhelmed in crowds (the white sale at Herrods in London was a nightmare for me and I sought refuge in the book section while the rest of my family dove into the crush of the crowd for this annual sales ritual). I don’t like crowds and the crush quickly overwhelms. As I place myself into the street scene with Jesus and Jairus, I immediately find myself intimidated and overwhelmed. Somewhere in the crush of the crowd though, is a woman on a desperate mission.

The unknown woman had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years. As a result of this constant bleeding, she would have been deemed ritually unclean at all times. Her life was in ruins and all of the physicians she had consulted were not able to help her. In fact, her bleeding seemed to get worse and she found herself without money… she was broke and broken! I try and imagine the courage it took this woman who was considered unclean and therefore isolated from the religious set to go into the crowd, let alone reach out and touch Jesus. Somehow, she found the courage to reach out and touch Jesus. Unlike Jairus who addressed Jesus directly and asked him to heal his daughter, this daughter of Israel couldn’t even face Jesus. She thought that perhaps if she touched his cloak that a healing miracle would happen. Afraid that she would be denied by Jesus, she came up behind him in the crush of the crowd and reached for the hem of his cloak. The instant she touched Jesus she felt the power of his healing touch and her body was immediately healed. After twelve years of bleeding and pain, she was cured! I can’t begin to imagine how overwhelmed and overjoyed she must have felt at that moment.

What is baffling to me, as it was to the disciples, was that Jesus actually noticed her touch. From a human perspective, how on earth did he know! Remembering my own time in crowds like the one at Herrods the last thing I would notice is someone lightly touching my coat. How could I possibly distinguish a touch from the crush of the crowd. Frankly it is that sort of situation that pickpockets relish. In the crush of a crowded street or underground (subway), they move about freely and steal from people in the crowd who are often oblivious to what has happened until long afterwards when they notice their wallet is missing.

However, we aren’t dealing with the Padre trying to make his way to the sanctuary of the bookstore in the crush of the holiday sale crowd at Herrods. No, we are dealing with the Son of God who felt the “power leave him” and knew immediately that someone had touched him. Immediately the woman was scared. She knew what had happened and was shocked that he had noticed her touching him in the crowded street. She also knew that if a touch of his cloak could heal her of her twelve year infirmity, that a touch of his anger could destroy her. So with fear and trembling, she fell down before him (as Jairus had earlier) and confessed what she had done. Where Jairus had fallen down before Jesus and begged for his help, this woman instead was almost begging for mercy and apologizing for her action. One person was bold in their faith and very verbal. The other was bold in their faith but very quiet and fearful.

Did Jesus treat the woman differently from Jairus? Did he scold her or threaten her or curse her for her action? No, the outsider and unclean person was treated the same as the Synagogue insider. How was she treated by Jesus? She was treated with compassion and love. Instead of a lecture, she was told, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” Go in peace and be healed! Let that sink in for a moment, dear reader… Go in peace and be healed…

As we read the rest of the story, we discover that while Jesus was in the crowded street and talking with the woman who touched him, Jairus’ daughter died. His servants came to him and said, “don’t trouble the rabbi any more, your poor daughter is dead.” What happened next was equally as amazing as what had happened moments before on the street. Jesus had compassion on Jairus and took Peter, James, and John with him into the house and brought the dead girl back to life. Two unknown women were touched by Jesus and healed. In a society where women were second class citizens, this radical rabbi told them that they mattered. He gave them their lives back. The woman with the bleeding would no longer be permanently unclean. She would be able to recover her life and her faith once more.  The young girl quite literally got her life back.

What is the common thread in these events? My heart tells me that the common thread is a healing faith. I am not talking about faith healers (Lord knows there are plenty of charlatans who do an amazing job of scamming people in this arena). I am talking about the sort of faith that believed in the healing power of Jesus. Jairus believed enough to fall down on his face before Jesus and beg him to heal his daughter. The woman believed enough to reach out anonymously and touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak.

I have walked with people who have experienced the healing power of Jesus’ love. Spiritual healing, physical healing, emotional healing, etc. are very real. There have been times when I have approached Jesus directly as Jairus did. There have been times when I have hoped against hope that spiritual healing might come even though I didn’t feel worthy of it. That was how I was recalled to ministry towards the end of my Air Force Chaplain career. I wasn’t even asking for healing… I wasn’t articulating it… but the groaning of my inward heart… the sighs too deep for words… God heard them. Just as the power flowed out from Jesus for the woman so too the healing balm of Jesus flowed out into the bruised and battered heart of this Padre.

We are called, dear reader, to have the faith of Jairus and the unknown woman. A faith that reaches out to Jesus with hope. It may not always be the miraculous healing these two experienced, but it will always be the experience of the healing love of the Lord. Reach out in faith, dear reader… reach out to him… let him embrace you with his love and mercy and forgiveness… let him set you free.

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