Last month, Claire and I took a trip to the state of Washington to Mount Rainier National Park. The first time you see Mount Rainier, what strikes you is just how mammoth it is! Reflecting back on seeing that mountain, I started thinking about what Jesus says in Matthew 21:21, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.” As I think of that mountain, I find myself wondering if I have enough faith to do that. How audacious would it be for me to stand at the base of that huge mountain and say, “Throw yourself into the Pacific Ocean!” Do I really believe that I could have done it?
We are going to be talking about two examples of extraordinary faith this morning. The first example was of a man whose daughter was so sick she was on the verge of death. The second was a woman who was also very sick and had nothing to lose but to try touching the hem of Jesus’ robe. What is the nature of their faith and what does this teach us about our faith. What we will see is that faith is not just our ability to work up enough trust; it also requires relationship with Jesus and that is what Jesus teaches here. Let’s read Mark 5:21-34.
I. The setting for this story is seen in verses 21-24.
Jesus now returns to the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, likely near Capernaum, and a large crowd eagerly gathers around him as soon as he gets on the shore. At this point, Mark focuses on Jairus and his urgent appeal to Jesus. Jairus may well have had contact with Jesus before since as the synagogue ruler he was responsible for the supervision of the building and arranging the services. He requests that Jesus come and lay hands on his daughter. What is unusual is his absolute faith and confidence that if Jesus would come, his daughter’s life would be saved. Jesus went with him as the large crowd followed pressing all around him.
All of these details prepare us as readers for what is about to happen. For the story of the radical healing of Jairus’ daughter is then interrupted by the story of the woman who lived with a hemorrhage for 12 years. The healing of the woman is a hint of how Jesus will handle a deathly sick girl. These healings are more than just healings; these are lessons on faith.
II. The sick woman displays some incredible faith and hope in verses 24-29.
The woman who quietly touched Jesus had experienced a flow of blood for 12 years. She had consulted many doctors, had endured a variety of treatments and had spent all her money in a desperate attempt to get well.
What is important for us to understand is that her overall situation was awful. This woman was in a constant state of being unclean and would thus would be generally shunned by people since contact with her made others unclean. She must have been physically exhausted, socially alienated and very miserable. Yet she had heard of the healing power of Jesus and she decided to act.
Now think of this: in spite of her being ceremonially unclean, she entered the huge crowd behind him and reached out to touch the hem of his garment. This action probably reflects the popular belief that the dignity and power of a person are transferred to what that person is wearing. So her touch combined some faith with some sort of magical superstitions which were widespread in that day. She may also have heard that others had touched Jesus and had been made well. Mark 3:10 says that many pressed close to Jesus just to touch his cloak and be healed. At the moment this woman touched Jesus she could feel the blood stop flowing!
This example of such simple but intense faith should again challenge us in our faith. However, does having such strong faith mean that God will fix all of our problems? Do we believe that Claire will be completely cured? I pray for it every day. Does that mean she will be? Not necessarily because I know that not all of God’s children are going to be healed. Neal Plantinga writes, “If the children of God were always saved from floods like believing Noah and his family; if every time somebody pointed a gun at a Christian, the gun just turned to salami; if we really had a money-back guarantee against hatred, disease and the acts of terrorists, then of course we wouldn’t have to worry about church growth. Our churches would fill with people attracted to the faith for secondary reasons. These are people who want an insurance agent, not a church. For security, they want Colin Powell, not God.” We should have such intense and radical faith but realize that God is God and will do what he chooses and will do what is ultimately best for us.
At the very moment of her healing, Jesus knew that “power” had gone from him. Jesus possessed the power of God as the representative of the Father. The healing of the woman occurred when God decided to give her his own power that was in Jesus. By an act of sovereign will, God decided to honor the woman’s faith in spite of the fact that it was tinged heavily with ideas that bordered on magic.
Jesus’ question of who touched him must have seemed a bit ridiculous to the disciples since he was being jostled and touched by dozens in that throng of persons. Moreover, they were on a mission to assist a girl who was dying! Delay could be fatal to this little girl! They must have thought, “Jesus! Let’s go!” They clearly had no clue of what had just taken place with this woman. Now certainly not every person who touched Jesus received Jesus’ power. No, it was the woman’s personal faith in Jesus that released God’s power. Jesus, therefore, could not allow the woman to just vanish into the crowd still with ideas that were tinged with superstition and magic. So he stopped and looked intently on the surrounding people in order to see who had touched him with the expectation of healing.
Once again, let’s pause and ask if we view God with superstitious power or with faith? Later tradition about this healing adds even more superstition to the story. In Greek tradition, the woman was given the name Bernice, while in Latin tradition she received the name Veronica. Eusebius states that the woman was from Caesarea Philippi and that a statue of the woman kneeling was erected by the door of her home, her hands outstretched before her, entreating one who is said to be Jesus. At the base of the column was said to grow a strange kind of herb which possessed medicinal powers resulting in even more superstitious healings. However, the woman had experienced healing because of a personal encounter with Jesus, not because of some superstitious beliefs.
At times we sometimes drift toward superstition when asking for God’s help. We may think, “If I’m good enough, pray enough or go to church enough...” Or we may think that if we do the right thing somehow or say the right combination of words, God will do what we ask. Jesus makes it clear that faith and personal relationship with Jesus is what is needed.
With awe, and only partial understanding of what had just happened, the woman comes to him and declares the whole truth to Jesus. This indicates both courage and gratitude more than simply that she was afraid. Jesus’ insistence that the woman identify herself, together with his correction of any wrong ideas she may have had, reveals the very core of her healing. Commentator William Lane writes, “It was the grasp of her faith rather than of her hand that secured the healing she sought. Her touch had brought together two elements – faith and the person of Jesus – and that had made it effective.”
The final words, “Go in peace” are a traditional blessing, but there is much more here. The peace she left with signified more than the release from her wretched existence. It was the profound experience of well-being or shalom with God through Jesus. When Jesus declares “Be free from your suffering” he confirms that her healing was permanent and also is giving God’s peace-filled benediction to her faith. This story is a call from Mark to his readers for radical faith!
So what will it be for us: religious superstition or radical faith? God does not reward superstitious works but he does reward radical faith. Dale Matthews tells of a woman named Barbara who was 31-years-old and a mother of three children. And she was staring at possible thyroid cancer. One Sunday, as Barbara she was praying in church, this story of the woman with a hemorrhage kept coming into her mind. Barbara said, “The woman wanted to be healed but she didn’t want to bother Jesus, so she approached him in a crowd and touched his robe. Of course, Jesus knew what happened and praised the woman for her faith. I wanted to be like that woman.”
As Barbara prepared to go up to the altar for Communion, she suddenly thought, “I could be like her.” An Episcopalian, Barbara viewed the priest who was presiding at the Holy Eucharist as a “stand-in’ for Jesus during the service. She decided she would touch the priest’s robe when he gave her the Communion wafer. Barbara said, “I touched his robe, and he couldn’t have known that I did, though he did know about my cancer. He did something in that moment that I had never seen him do before: he put down the Communion wafers and came over to me; laying both hands on my head, he prayed for my healing.” After receiving the Communion wine, Barbara stood up at the altar. She related later, “I was so overwhelmed with God’s love that I knew I was healed. My healing wasn’t physical at that point, but my heart was healed. I wasn’t anxious or afraid or doubtful or sad at all. I had complete trust in God and his love, something he knew I needed far more than any other kind of healing at that moment.”
A few weeks after her healing at the altar rail, Barbara’s surgery revealed that the lump was indeed thyroid cancer. She went through treatments then, and six months later for a recurrence. Somehow the medical treatments, too, seemed to be directly from God: “I felt that God had simply completed a healing he had started at the altar at church.” Today, Barbara is healthy and leads a full and prayerful life.
That is an example of radical faith! What is there in your life that needs the power of Jesus? Do you have faith that Jesus can heal whatever it is? Do you have the relationship with Jesus that makes it possible?