Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 1, 2012
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43
The focus of today’s primary reading (Mark 5:21-43) is on the interplay of faith, community, and healing. We will all eventually be in search of healing: whether it is David grieving for his intimate friend (2 Samuel: 1:1-27), dealing with life threatening or chronic illness, or issues of depression, anxiety, or meaning. By definition, the quest for healing emerges from experiences of pain, uncertainty, and limitation. But, as philosopher Alfred North Whitehead asserts, the limitations – as undesirable as they may be – are also the source of opportunities for growth. The concrete world of health and illness is not static but can become the pathway to experiencing new possibilities for spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational transformation. Even those who do not receive physical cures may still experience divine healings, involving connection, inspiration, insight and peace despite the limitations of life. In a spirit-energized world, there are no dead ends; rocky roads may lead to new horizons. Today’s gospel stories challenge us to claim our agency as God’s healing partners – for ourselves and others – amid the obvious limitations of life.
This Sunday provides the opportunity to explore the healings of Jesus as if for the first time. Jesus was a healer, but his healing ministry then – and now – has been eclipsed by a variety of factors: otherworldly spirituality, mind-body dualism, emphasis on the afterlife, and denigration of physical body. The modern world relegated the healings of Jesus to the theological sidelines as a vestige of an archaic world view or representative of supernatural causes that undermine the predictability of the natural world. Perhaps, more problematic for most mainstream Christians have been the dramatic approaches of television healers whose programs give the impression that everyone who comes on stage is cured. Staged theatrics often hide the reality that many people leave healing services still struggling with ailments of body, mind, and spirit.
In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Jesus’ healing ministry. This has arisen through a creative confluence of science, medicine, and spirituality which has enabled us to recognize the faith factor in health and illness, the intimate connection of mind and body, and the relationship between religious practices and physical, emotional, and relational well-being. For many persons, Jesus’ healings – and the healing ministry of the church – are no longer seen as supernatural interventions or arbitrary acts of God but the result of deeper laws of nature, reflected in quantum leaps of energy and power within the dynamic interdependence of life. From this perspective, prayer radiates across the universe and creates a healthy field of force around those for whom we pray that enables God’s aim at healing to be more effective or powerful. A healing partnership exists that embraces the dynamic call and response of God and humankind.
The Mark passage is a handful for any homiletic adventurer. The narratives are interesting and the characters worth getting to know. The passages call for a good deal of imagination and empathy to get into the skin of the characters. These passages may also challenge preachers to stretch their understandings of healing and curing. We can’t take these healings literally – or at face value – nor can we follow Rudolf Bultmann’s demythologizing or the modern denigration of these narratives as purely spiritual stories. They are about whole persons – body, mind, and spirit. God is equally concerned with bodies as with spirits. Anything that threatens overall and long-term well-being is a challenge to God’s vision of Shalom.
The story of the woman with the flow of blood is a theological and experiential gold mine. First, it invites us to ponder our religious and cultural understandings of disease. All disease is meaningful and contextual. In first century Judaism, women with uncontrollable bleeding were considered unclean. The town gossips would have defined her as a sinner, who was in some way morally responsible for her illness. Her illness not only alienated her from her husband, if she had one, and polite society, but also from God, whose stern hand of punishment had been visited upon her. Second, she had a chronic illness – 12 years – that many persons can identify with today. Chronic illness, like Chinese water torture, can wear away our hope and optimism. Each day, like the one before and the one to follow, begins and ends with infirmity, which limits our physical and spiritual adventures. Sometimes pain and frustration become the defining realities of our lives. Third, her chronic illness impoverished her. In a time prior to social safety nets, even the modest ones we enjoy in the USA, “she had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.” Many contemporary people can relate to the pain and inconvenience of chronic illness, but also to the financial burdens. (Medical expenses are the primary cause of bankruptcy.)
She was a courageous woman. With fear and trembling, she goes in search of the healer. She may have had to convince herself that the quest was worth it and that he would not judge or reject her because of her illness. As she sought out the healer, she may have had to remind herself that she was a child of God despite her health condition. As she walked toward the healer, she may have endured quizzical stares, not to mention snide remarks, jeers, and looks of annoyance. Still she pushes her way through the crowd, and touches Jesus, releasing the energy that created the universe, the energy of love that flowed from the healer from Nazareth.
A power flows from Jesus that transforms her life: while Jesus proclaims “your faith has made you well,” this intimate healing (Jesus calls her “daughter”) requires both her faith and the release of God’s healing energy. This is truly a call and response: but, this time she calls and God responds energetically to heal her body, mind, spirit, and relationships. Healing – and curing – are never unilateral but emerge from a dynamic synergy of divine intentionality and human openness, and spiritual and community practices, which connect with the primordial and ever-present divine energies of love.
Virtually every one of Jesus’ healings involved a synergy of divine and human initiative. This is still the case today: divine healing encourages human agency as a means to enhance God’s ability to bring healing to us and those we love.
The healing of Jairus’ daughter is also multidimensional in its theological as well as personal concerns. The story initially begs the question: Is the girl asleep or dead? I take the position that she was asleep. I believe Jesus may have more accurately diagnosed the situation than the crowd; moreover raising the girl from a coma portrays a naturalistic healing closer to what we might expect in terms of an answer to our own prayers. God works within the world of cause and effect to bring forth the possibility of healing and wholeness. God must also contend with the realities and limitations of concrete existence, but God sees possibilities where we see dead ends.
Nevertheless, there is something miraculous in the story – it is an act of power, grounded in the faith a community whose presence provides an energetic healing circle. Faith can be the difference between life and death: had Jesus followed the crowd’s nay saying, Jairus’ daughter would have died. Instead, Jesus creates a circle of affirmation and healing. Only believers are invited into this healing circle.
Sometimes inclusion requires exclusion and affirmation implies negation. Think a moment: if you were in a difficult life situation and found yourself at a tipping point, who would you want with you – people who believe you can succeed or those who are certain you will be a failure?
Who are the members of your healing circle?
Our own healing circles can create an environment for transformation that embraces whole communities and whole persons. Without imitating the drama of television healers, today’s congregations can be laboratories for naturalistic healing and the teaching of healing practices such as meditative prayer, reiki healing touch, laying on of hands, intercessory and petitionary prayer, and hospitality. God seeks our abundant life and healing practices can open the door for energetic manifestations of God’s love in our lives. (For more on Christian healing, see Bruce Epperly, God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus; Bruce Epperly, Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice; Bruce and Katherine Epperly, Reiki Healing Touch and the Way of Jesus; Morton Kelsey, Healing and Christianity; Ruth Allen, The Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Reiki; Tilda Norberg and Robert Webber, Stretch Out Your Hand; Abigail Evans, Healing Liturgies for the Seasons of Life. )
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary, Ponderings on a Faith Journey, and, Patheos.com. He may be reached at email@example.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats.