Death, healing and wholeness

By Rev Margaret Middleton

The Healing Touch

This morning our reading bring us face to face with death, healing and wholeness. Difficult subjects to talk about at any time and often difficult to hear. In our modern western society, death has been sanitised as far as possible. One writer this week described us as “an extremely grief-phobic culture”. So, to keep it arm’s length, death has become big business.  Women’s health is another profitably sanitized matter in our world, but by and large women’s health is also kept at arm’s length.

So let’s turn now to our reflections on these timeless themes as we heard in the readings from the Gospel of Mark. Here the writer gives us two carefully entwined stories to consider – a skilful technique used by the writer from time to time to give emphasis and tease out complexity. In chapter 5 we are told of two cases of healing. Both of un-named females – one a grown woman and the other a child, girl on the cusp of adulthood. 

Readings:

Lamentations 3:22-33
Mark 5:21-43

There are some possible implications of the holiness code – the woman risks Jesus becoming being ritually unclean because of her bleeding and Jairus, while the father of the child, as a ruler of the synagogue would have been responsible for seeing that requirements for ritual purity were maintained both in the woman’s case and in the case of his own daughter’s death.
The use of the number 12 is important. Think of the 12 sons of Jacob, the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 12 disciples of Jesus and other occurrences of 12 in the Scriptures. This clearly indicates this is a very Jewish story, suggesting that in Jesus, there is a renewal of the whole. The deliberate placing of the number 12 in both the un-named females’ stories gives a sense in which they (and therefore all of us un-named ones) have a role to play in the unfolding of the greater story, because once healed, the two women, young and older, can rejoin the community. Specifically, they can marry and contribute to the next generation.
 
Such rules seem harsh to us. But current New Testament scholars remind us to take care when referring to the holiness codes of Judaism. The code’s purpose was 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, he critiqued the application of its rules.
And before being critical, we need to be mindful of how often modern western societies are less than compassionate in administering health or social acceptance ‘codes’!  Think of the problems that Australian women in poverty have in accessing adequate health care and hygiene products which often magnifies their marginalisation. This problem is magnified in many impoverished countries of the world where girls are excluded from school or even their home when menstruating along with other women in the village. In some Australian indigenous communities that was usual practice until fairly recently. Think too of women in developing countries today that suffer from obstetric fistulas that leave them literally outside the community.
 
While Jesus was not necessarily defiled by his contact with the two females in need of healing, there was always the potential – yet that did not stop Jesus from offering healing. Jesus made those in need of healing his priority. Do we? Do we call out injustices in the medical system such as those I have just named and many others that women face?
 
The woman who had been haemorrhaging for twelve years was described as having endured much, spent all that she had – to no avail, and then having heard Jesus the healer was in town, took a great risk to herself and to him. She came to him in the crowd believing that by simply touching the outer garment of his clothing she would be made well.  This un-named woman had made her healing her greatest priority and desire. No wonder that Jesus declared that her faith had made her well!
 
What could that mean for us?  I think her story reminds us that we are to be wholehearted seekers for health and wholeness.  To be in need of healing is to be vulnerable, to be open to life as well as death and suffering. To be in need of healing will often mean we are, for a time, dependent on others – on family, friends, strangers and experts – and most of all upon God for guidance, for wisdom and strength. For those of us who are fiercely independent, this is no easy task. And we will need to pray for grace to be a receiver rather than a giver.
 
Then, on the other side of healing, do we simply return to life as we once knew it or live with gratitude and in solidarity with those who still suffer? Will we treasure the gift of healing or go on as if nothing has happened?
 
That brings us to the father of the young girl and the unfolding story. What can he teach us?  On the one hand we can feel helpless as we watch a loved one face serious illness. Or like the father we can take action: like him, we petition, we advocate.  Being a companion calls upon us to support, help as best we can and encourage, to be there for the other.
 
While prayer is obvious, it is not always easy, especially when medical knowledge suggests that healing is not likely. But we pray. We pray because we want our loved one not to suffer. Recently Iain and I watched again the movie Shadowlands based on the book ‘A Grief Observed’ by C.S.Lewis, that great prolific Christian writer of the Narnia series and defender of Christianity.  In the book, Lewis reflects on the effect facing the death of his beloved wife Joy had on him. How he had prayed and prayed earnestly. He writes that it seemed his prayers for her healing from the cancer that was ravaging her body were falling on the deaf ears. Eventually, he realised that his prayers had not changed God, rather they had changed him. He was able to let go of his beloved Joy, realising that the love they both shared would not die and that the love of God which surrounded them would, in the end, receive his beloved wife into God’s eternal joy. He had received the gift of peace, of being able to stay present in the moment and to be her travelling companion to the end of her journey.
 
The young girl and the woman of Mark’s story received what they hoped for from Jesus. But what about those situations in which healing for us does not seem to happen, or certainly not in the way we expected and wanted?  
I think we need to be open to the knowledge that our prayers may be answered in unexpected ways as they were for Lewis.
I have seen such a miracle in my own family.
I have sat with those who have found relationship repair as they lie dying to find great joy in the midst of grief.
I have seen those who would not accept help finally surrender, and delight in being tenderly cared for.
 
In the scripture for today, there are also implications for us as a church community both here in TUC and the wider church.
Are we persistent in prayer for those who are ill among us?
Do we advocate for those whose illnesses and disabilities put them on the fringe of society or who are shunned because they made a poor choice that has resulted in lifelong addiction or illness?
Recently, I spoke of my belief that the church itself needs to seek healing and wholeness in its attitudes and teaching in regard to domestic violence and the queer community.
 
Finally, we cannot leave Jesus himself out of our reflections. Let me remind you that the same Jesus who healed the woman and the girl with power and love, did not use this same power to avoid the agony of the cross and death for himself. He chose to love 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, with your grace and wisdom and love us into wholeness and holiness. Amen.
 
Sources
Dr Alison Kershaw,  Lay Minister Walpole Parish W.A.
www.companionsontheway.com/post/healing-as-wholeness-and-holiness   with reference to ‘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)
www.johntsquires.com
Richard Rohr Daily Meditations, week commencing 24 June, 2024 
www. cac.org/daily-meditations

Photo of Rev Margaret Middleton

Written by Rev Margaret Middleton

The Rev Margaret Middleton is a retired Uniting Church minister. She occasionally provides supply ministry in the wider church but leads worship in TUC regularly. 

Margaret also supports our work by leading several groups of people seeking to grow and deepen their faith. She is a member of the Karralika outreach team and serves as an elder within the church.

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