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Healing as Wholeness and Holiness

The gospel account of the two intertwined healing stories as told by Mark (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 8 (Ordinary 13) Mark 5:21-43.) invites us to reflect on what healing might mean to us. I want to explore healing as a movement towards wholeness and holiness much more than about a mere reversal of physical symptoms. Suffering from illness or injury is about physical symptoms, but also the psychological and spiritual meaning of our suffering, and about our social belonging and participation in community. So surely healing is also physical, psycho-spiritual, and social. Healing is about the individual and also their family and community. That is, healing  is multifaceted and pervasive.

You may wish to read what I wrote three years ago on this text.



So let us begin our explorations with the gospel story we have been given this week. This story about healing in Mark is about two stories of healing entwined. Mark’s gospel does this ‘sandwiching’(or intercalation)  from time to time and it provides emphasis and also teases out complexity. What the two cases of healing have in common is that they are both about un-named females – one a grown woman and the other a child on the verge of adulthood; the number twelve is significant to both; and there are some possible implications of the holiness code as the woman risks being ritually unclean because of her bleeding and Jairus, the father of the child, as a ruler of the synagogue would have been  responsible for seeing that the requirements for ritual purity were maintained.

 

The number twelve has resonances with the 12 sons of Jacob, the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 12 disciples of Jesus and many other occurrences of 12 in the Scriptures. This alerts us to this being a very Jewish story and suggesting that in Jesus there is a renewal of the whole. Also maybe placing the number twelve in both the un-named females stories there is a sense in which they (and therefore all of us un-named ones) having a role to play in the unfolding of the great story because once healed the two women, young and older, can marry and contribute to the next generation.

 

We need to be careful when referring to the holiness codes of Judaism because we can so easily slip into inferring that the rules were superstitious or pedantic. The code was intended to maintain health and holiness and help people interpret the best way of responding to everyday complexities. Jesus himself did not disregard the code although at times critiqued the application of the code. We also need to humbly be aware of the ways in which we as modern western societies also fail to administer health and holiness or social acceptance ‘codes’ with subtlety or compassion! Think of the problems that poor women have in accessing adequate health care and hygiene products which can magnify their marginalisation. Think of women in developing countries today that suffer from obstetric fistulas and other ‘women’s’ health problems that leave them outside of the community. While Jesus was not necessarily defiled by his contact with the two females in need of healing there was the potential – and Jesus did not let that stop him from offering healing. Jesus made those in need of healing his priority.

 

What might this story and our reflections suggest about what is required of us when we are seeking healing? The woman who had been haemorrhaging for twelve years was described as having endured much, and having spent all that she had - but not getting any better, and then having heard of Jesus came to him in the crowd believing that simply touching the outer garment of his clothing would make her well. This un-named woman had made her own healing her greatest priority and desire. Well might Jesus have declared that her faith had made her well.

 

How does that translate for us? I think we are reminded that we are to be whole hearted seekers for health and wholeness and holiness, prioritising our need and desire and suffering. To be in need of healing is to be vulnerable and to be open to life as well as death and suffering. To be in need of healing will often mean we are for a season dependent on others – on family, friends, strangers and experts – and most of all upon God. Illness or injury shakes our confidence and trust in self and leads us to dig deep into desire, need, and dependence.

 

And on the other side of healing we are not to simply return to life as we once knew it but to live with gratitude, humility and intentionality, and in solidarity with those who still suffer. Not to waste the gift. Sometimes our physical condition will leave us with daily reminders of our vulnerability and changed state. Sometimes we have to be more intentional about remembering the miracle of healing.

 

And what does seeking healing require of us as companions? Like the father of the dying girl we urgently seek out whatever we think might help the ones we love, we petition, we hold onto the hope of rescue and recovery, we advocate, we keep watch, we place ourselves at the service of those in need. Sometimes being a companion is about busyness and long hours of active caring. At other times being a companion requires a more subtle and less defined waiting and watching with. Being a loving companion to the sick and suffering is to share in the space of hope and fear, struggle and trust, risking excitement and joy but also distress and loss. Being a companion calls upon us to support, help and encourage. And being a faithful companion is always about praying for and with the one who suffers. While prayer is obvious it is not always easy, especially when worldly knowledge suggests that healing is not likely. To be a person of prayer is not to ignore worldly knowledge but not to be bound by it, to reach into a deeper broader possible world through love and desire for wholeness. To be a faithful companion is to risk failure – the failure of love to magic away all suffering – but to love so well that our possible failure is a small price to pay for the possible wellbeing of the one we love. And to know that at some level love cannot ever truly fail.

 

And what does being a community called to seek healing mean? (What, if anything, did Covid teach us?) Let us not lose any wisdom or compassion that we learnt. That we make wellness a priority, that we provide the necessary care and support for those who suffer, that we find ways of connecting with the ill and injured even when physical isolation might be necessary for a time. For a while we applauded our health workers at the end of each day. We spent money and changed our behaviours to prevent rather than having to treat illness. We saw clearly for a time that health is a community issue not simple about individual members who suffer.

And what sense do we make of those situations in which healing does not seem to happen, or certainly not in the way we expected and wanted? When we understand healing to be multifaceted we can see that sometimes, despite no physical reprieve, that there has been healing. I have certainly been with those who have found relationship repair as they lie dying and that there was great joy in the midst of grief. I have seen those who would not accept help finally surrender and almost purr with the delight of being tenderly cared for. And certainly physical suffering and vulnerability can teach the most rigid heart and mind to lean into God and those that love. And every time we suffer we can practice dying so that when we do we can be a little more trusting and gently give ourselves over to the process of letting go and transitioning out of here.

 

And for us as companions when we do not see the healing we have desired? We have an opportunity to grow in courage and compassion and stay present to what really is happening; to being open to surprising gifts and consolations; to being taught how to wait, to desire, to suffer with, to give and receive; to see more clearly what is truly important; and to give ourselves and our loved ones back into the hands of God.

 

The same Jesus who healed the woman and the girl with power and love did not use his healing power to avoid the harrowing of the cross and death for himself but loved us even unto and through death so we can know that there is no experience that places us outside of the circle of God’s love.

 

Even so, come Lord Jesus the Christ, come heal us of all that divides us, of all that burdens us, of all that saps us of joy and love and faith. Come love us into wholeness and holiness.


This is my work influenced by all that I have read and years as a counsellor and hospital chaplain. This week I am indebted to the scholarly work of John T Squires: An Informed Faith

'On 'twelve' in the stories of the bleeding woman and the dying child (Mark 5, Pentecost 5B)

and 'On not stereotyping Judaism when reading the Gospels (Mark 5, Pentecost 5B)


And I owe a debt of inspiration to Rev Eric Fistler and Rev Robb McCoy at

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