Brief synopsis of the readings: In the Old Testament Book of Wisdom (that Catholics accept and Jews and Protestants don’t) we are told that death was not God’s doing but that we are made imperishable, in God’s image. In Mark’s Gospel (here I am using the longer reading) Jesus was told by a man named Jairus that is daughter was seriously ill and in need of Jesus. During this conversation a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for the past twelve years approached Jesus. She had spent all her money on various doctors with no success. Seeing Jesus she decided that if she could touch his cloak she would be healed. She touched Jesus’ garment and was instantly healed. For his part Jesus felt power leaving him and demanded to know who touched him. His disciples told him that there were so many people around that it was impossible to single out one person but this woman fell at his feet and identified herself. He praised her faith and indicated that her faith healed her. During this time Jairus was told that his daughter had died and there was no point in wasting Jesus’ time on this. But Jesus took Peter, James, and John and went to Jairus’ house where the girl laid. Jesus commanded her to get up and she came back to life.
For the past few months I’ve served as a docent at a military memorial here in San Diego, and a few weeks ago I had a conversation with a retired soldier that I thought of as I read this Gospel. This soldier recounted hearing the retirement speech of his commanding officer. Most of these speeches follow a set pattern: It’s been an honor leading you, I pray you show the same respect to my successor, etc. This speech certainly covered these topics, but he went on to tell them about a need to believe in a Higher Power. I’m paraphrasing this but he said something to this effect: “Unless you believe you serve a Power greater than yourself you’re never going to be a good leader. You may make good decisions and you may be liked but if the course you choose is guided by your rudder you’re never going to certain of your direction and in times of great distress you will never fully be able to trust yourself. But if you believe that there is a power greater than yourself whose rudder is trustworthy you will be a better leader.”
It may be a stretch to think about this in the context of the woman with the hemorrhage but bear with me. For Jews of Jesus’ time (and Orthodox Jews today) a woman who is experiencing her period is considered unclean from the first day of her period through the seventh day after her last day. But if a woman experiences what we today call “spotting” she is also unclean. During this time she may not touch another person, even her husband. The woman in today’s Gospel has experienced for twelve years. Though her body could replace the blood, because of her isolation she is literally bleeding to death. She has become an untouchable, and many people of her time saw this as a curse from God. And despite all that she has done, she is not able to heal from this. All of her decisions have come to naught.
And as we look at today’s world, we can see that we are bleeding to death. We live in a world where decisions are made all the time, when we choose how to steer the rudder. Here in the United States gun violence, the stubborn ignorance of some to follow the simple guidance the medical community, and the determination to put faith in insane conspiracies over simple facts has led to countless deaths untold suffering. And it has led to severe bleeding that makes us all weak.
Like the woman in the Gospel we need to do more that wait for healing. We need the courage to not only to grab Jesus’ robe, we need the courage to elbow our way through the crowd to get there. You see, she came up behind him through the crowd, a crowd that likely knew she was untouchable and didn’t belong there.
To think once again of the commanding officer I spoke of earlier. We need to understand that our best way to peace and healing lies in a radical belief that only God can steer the rudder. Instead of seeking embarrassment or revenge on those who disagree with us, we need to seek healing.
Do you have a family member who lives in constant fear and feels that only he can protect himself and his family? Maybe those fears need to be heard and understood, if not fully believed. How about a neighbor who is convinced that smart people are really just “the elite” who don’t care about him and his family. Treating him like he’s stupid only feeds his beliefs.
Let me suggest something: In 1994 South Africa ended the policy of apartheid (white rule) to the surprise of many of us. Many white people feared this would lead to unimaginable revenge coming from the black majority. But through the courageous intervention of Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela another course was charted. The started and encouraged Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.
These were far from perfect and South Africa today is far from completely healed, but these commissions set the tone for the next step. The human rudder would have been concerned with power and its exercise. But they chose God’s rudder that allowed all sides to be heard.
Our path forward isn’t easy but it wouldn’t be worth much if it were. Had Jesus approached with bleeding woman and offered healing it wouldn’t have meant as much to her. And I like to think that her grabbing healing from Jesus’ garment caused some of those around her to see her with a new respect.
In the end there is nothing more Godly than truth and reconciliation. And there is nothing less Godly than revenge and embarrassment. Let’s stop bleeding to death.