If you were given a pop quiz in which you had to identify which gospel this text came from, there would be multiple clues to help you know it was Mark. Here are four of them.
You are all now prepared for a pop quiz on identifying the Gospel of Mark. Immediately. Don’t tell anyone. Oops, too late: the throngs are here. And sandwich or intercalated form.
This is where the English majors among us are having a good time, pulling the text apart, holding up different pieces to shine like jewels in the sun. Look at this! Look at that! So satisfying. There’s so much to dig into here.
That’s all well and good, but now what do we do with this text? What does it have to say to us here and now?
Here are some questions that I want to explore in this text.
You know—the little questions.
Two females experience life-changing healing—life-restoring healing—in this passage. The woman has been bleeding for 12 years. According to Jewish law, she has been unclean that whole time, which means no one can touch her, she can’t fully participate in her family life or her community. She is cut off and in a sense already dead. Except she refuses to die. Through her own determination and agency and faith, she takes action to effect her own healing. She believes. All the doctors couldn’t cure her, but touching Jesus’ cloak did. And notice what Jesus says to her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Daughter—like the daughter of Jairus, the other person in need of healing in this passage. But also daughter as affirmation that she is fully a member of God’s family. “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” She has to believe it. She has to want it. And she has to take action—ask for it, make it happen. This is not a passive healing. When Jesus asks who touched him, she flings herself at his feet and tells him everything. She takes that burden that she has been carrying for 12 years and confesses it, lays it at his feet, gets rid of it. And Jesus says, “Yes, it’s gone. You did that.” How powerful is that?
Which may explain why no one else in the crowd walking with Jesus experiences their own healing. They are present more as spectators, thronging Jesus, pressing in on him, but not taking action. This woman understands that her journey of healing is not a spectator sport. It is a contact sport.
In the previous chapter of Mark, Jesus and the disciples are out on the Sea of Galilee when a great storm arises and starts to swamp the boat. The disciples are frantic and terrified, while Jesus is serenely asleep on a cushion in the stern, apparently oblivious to the danger. The disciples wake him up and say, “We’re dying here—don’t you care?” So he stills the storm. And then he says, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40.)
In that story and in this one, we see the emphasis on faith as opposed to fear. This woman does a bold and fearless thing out of faith in her own healing. Similarly, when the news comes that the young girl has died, Jesus says to the parents, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5:36.) Fear and faith are the two key components.
Fear, faith, and taking action. The people in the crowd around Jesus are with him and they too are touching him. The disciples even say, “What do you mean ‘Who touched you?’ You’re surrounded by people—everyone is touching you.” But nothing happens to those other people. They are passive spectators. They have come to watch, to be amazed, as if Jesus is performing party tricks, or perhaps they have come to mock, as the mourners do. But they are not prepared to set their fears aside, reach out to him in faith, and ask for healing. The woman seeks her own healing. Jairus seeks healing for his daughter. They don’t just walk in the crowd with Jesus. They don’t get in a boat with Jesus and let him fall asleep in the stern. They fling themselves at his feet and ask him for help.
One way of describing our faith journey is to say we follow in the path of Jesus. Well, that’s what the crowd does in this passage. It’s not just about knowing that Jesus is present in our lives; it’s about engaging that holy presence—asking, taking action, confessing, praying, flinging ourselves at Jesus’ feet, and believing that there will be a response.
Do not fear, only believe. So easy to say. So hard sometimes to do.
The question I posed earlier was Who gets healed, who doesn’t, and why? The ones who engage Jesus, who ask, who take action—they are the ones who experience healing.
And here again are the other questions I wanted to explore: What are we carrying around in our lives that is killing us—that is draining our life’s blood and separating us from the family of God? And how is our faith a part of getting a new life free of those burdens?
The first task is even to define and acknowledge what the exact burden is. Sometimes we have carried it for so long that we forget there’s any other way to live. This woman knew what her burden was, and she recognized that it was literally draining her life’s blood. For some of us it might be an addiction, or a toxic relationship. For some it may be old tapes playing in our heads from parents, teachers, or others telling us we are not enough; we are bad in some way. For some it may be guilt about something you’ve done or some way that you are that you don’t want others to know about. For some it may be a grief they can’t let go of.
So define the burden you carry, whatever it is. Name it. See it. Touch Jesus’ cloak and actively ask for healing. Lay the burden at Jesus’ feet and let it go. Ask Jesus for the new life you seek. And then show up for it. Be open to possibilities.
I mentioned earlier that when Jesus went to heal the girl who had died, he put outside of the room all those who mocked and laughed at him. He didn’t need their energy in that space. Which gives us permission to do the same. The people in your life who put you down, who don’t support your hopes and dreams, who make you feel stupid or less than … get them out of your space. Surround yourself with people who love you as you are and will speak truth to you in love.
What is the new life the woman and girl get to live? We don’t find out. They get to write those stories themselves. What is the new life you could live? You get to write that story. You and Jesus.
So many people just need to be seen and heard, to be loved exactly as they are. That in itself is a gift of life. In our Bible study group on Monday evenings, Roland often references Paul Tillich saying “You are accepted.” You are accepted. That’s what Jesus in essence says to this woman. He sees her, gives her credit for her faith and agency in her own healing, and affirms everything about her, sending her off with a blessing.
What would it be like for you to be fully seen and heard and accepted, just as you are? On this Pride Sunday we remember that too many LGBTQ people have spent years or even decades hiding their true selves because others might reject them, discard them, push them to the margins. Parents have done this with their own children. Churches are still doing it. We’ve all heard the stories. And yet, LGBTQ people have refused to be ignored, and have advocated for their own worth. Some of them have walked away from the church, and who can blame them when it spews such vitriol and soul-damaging hate? But Jesus doesn’t turn them away. Jesus is still walking with them, loving them, affirming them, saying “Child of God, you are accepted.”
When our lives are transformed, we have to spread the good news. Jesus may say, “Don’t tell anybody,” but there is no secret about this messiah. Seek the life you want. Lay the old one at Jesus’ feet. Hear those words, “Child of God, your faith has made you well.” Or as Tillich says, “You are accepted.” Just as you are. Spread the good news. Amen.