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A Welcoming Church

We did not read as our OT lesson today the Wisdom of Solomon passage, for two reasons. One, its message is jarring: – “the forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.” The suffering of billions of people down through the ages contradicts this drivel, as does Our Lord’s crucifixion.

Second, the Book of Wisdom is a noncanonical, apocryphal source. It is either not included in Bibles, or it is designated part of the Apocrypha. It was written in Greek by a first-century BC Jew, 900 years after the reign of Solomon, who was trying to explain Judaism in philosophical terms that a Greek audience might find relatable.

But Judaism, like Christianity, is precisely not philosophical. Our tradition and story and faith are not something to be understood or analyzed or parsed or explained. Christianity, like Judaism, is experienced. It is a plotline. It is a narrative of human life intertwined with God acting in the world. Which brings us to this morning’s gospel, about God as healer. Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus, and the paralytic who was brought to him on a mat, who got up and walked. He healed the centurion’s servant (Matt 8:5-13), and Peter’s mother-in-law, who was in bed with a fever.

He healed a woman crippled for 18 years, and a man on the Sabbath who had a withered hand. He healed the leper he told not to talk about it, and the ten lepers all at once, when only one went back to thank him. Jesus was a healer. Mark (6:55,56) says, “People rushed to bring the sick on mats to wherever he was, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” In today’s gospel, we have two healing accounts, one wrapped around the other.

One account is a raising from the dead: Jesus brings back to life Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter who has died. For Mark, this was Jesus’ crowning miracle, in the same way raising Lazarus was the crowning sign for John. But the account we remember best from this morning is Jesus’ healing of the woman with severe bleeding. She paid all she had to afford her treatments, including eating all sorts of herbs, and applying endless creams and ointments, trying everything the physicians suggested.

None of it worked, and she is now poor. Worse still, she was humiliated and ashamed. To the culture then, her suffering meant she was being punished by God and unclean, like the stigma today of addiction or mental illness, so she was an outcast from her community.

She suffered the added embarrassment at the time of being without a man – no husband or brother or son. Her sickness defined her; her disease was who she was; she was desperate and alone. She was destined to die that way, unknown and unremembered and unmissed.

Jesus was her last hope, She knew of Jesus’ reputation as a healer. She trusted that she had only to touch Jesus’ clothes; nothing more would be required. She came up behind Jesus, somehow got through the crowd, reached out and barely touched his cloak.

Her plan worked. Mark says, “power had gone forth from him. He looked all around to see who had done it.” Even in a large crowd, Jesus is aware; everyone who reaches out to touch him, he notices. After twelve years of suffering, the woman’s bleeding stopped. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

What can we say about healing by faith that is not appalling sentimentality? Televangelists have long used healing as part of their hustle, which has justifiably degraded its reputation. So what can we say about healing that comports both with our Christian faith, and with what we know to be true?

First, we can never do what Jesus could. We are not God, so curing is not in our toolkit, unless we are doctors. But there is a vital difference between curing and healing. And we all have the power to heal. We just need to use our healing powers.

One of those is prayer. I believe in prayer, especially prayers for the sick. Not as a cure – even prescription drugs don’t cure but only manage the condition – but as a restorative. Prayer can produce health benefits in some cases. It can bring some relief and calming; relaxation and stress reduction; anxiety reduction and lowered blood pressure.

Second, faith itself can be recuperative. When Jesus healed blind beggar Bartimaeus, he told him, “Your faith has made you well.” When Jesus cleansed the ten lepers in Luke (17:11-19), he told the one who thanked him, “your faith has made you well.” When Jesus healed this morning’s hemorrhaging woman, he told her, “your faith has made you well.”

That kind of receptivity and trust comes from knowing Jesus, and knowing through him that our God is a God of loving care. God is not just aware of all humanity; He cares about each one of us and wants us to be whole. The faith shown by so many of those Jesus healed has a kind of nobility to it. Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman and so many others all had nobility, their drive to be whole. They expected God to act, and they waited for it. Faith is partly patience. This morning’s reading from Lamentations (3:21-33) says, “O God, you are good to those who wait with patience, to every soul that seeks you. It is good to wait, even in silence for the salvation of the Lord. The Lord relents in compassion and loving kindness.”

Finally, touch. We live in a tactile world. God created us to touch, which Jesus knew all about. He healed Peter’s mother in law by taking her by the hand and lifting her up; then the fever left her. He did the same this morning with Jairus’ daughter: he took her by the hand. Our own liturgy for the sick includes a laying on of hands (BCP pg 455).

Jesus was always touching. He washed the disciples’ feet. When he blessed the little children, Mark says, “he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” Jesus was tactile.

It is certainly true that one person’s display of caring can be another’s abusive invasion of personal space, and nothing justifies making a person feel uncomfortable. But touching can also be restorative. When I visit my handicapped brother who is now in hospice, I stroke his wonderful hair, and it seems to give him a kind of peace, and peace is the ultimate wellness. Jesus knew that human touch can be therapeutic. If you want to help a suffering person heal, or at least feel better, try touching. Better yet, give them a hug. Ask permission, certainly, if you’re not sure, but then give them a hug anyway.

God be praised. Love your neighbor. Amen.