Today’s Gospel has two healing stories, one wrapped inside the other, one to comment on the other. The one that is sandwiched is often omitted, like many stories of women. It is a story of a woman; we don’t know her name, unlike the man in the other story. This woman has ‘suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years.’ (Mark 5:25) According to the religious customs of that time, this meant that she was ritually unclean and so unable to join in prayer with the worshipping community. And in fact, she should not even have been there in the crowd, for her pressing against others in the throng of the crowd would have made them all unclean as well. She is more like the lepers of those times (C.f.: Mark 1:40ff), although a secret one — like people with mental health issues these days. Unlike the very young woman in the other story, she has no man who could approach Jesus for her and bring him to her. (C.f.: Mark 5:22-23) So, she is probably a widow, left to fend for herself. She had ‘spent all she had’ on doctors, ‘without being any better for it, in fact, she was getting worse.’ (Mark 5:26) Her situation has become desperate — like the young woman in the other story who is said to be ‘desperately sick.’ (Mark 5:23)

But she has not given up; she is like those Scripture refers to as the anawim, those poor ones who remain faithful to God in times of difficulty and whom God does save. ‘She had heard reports about Jesus,’ we are told, ‘and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment;’ having no one to help, she pushes her own way in. ‘For she said to herself, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” (Mark 5:27-28) Jesus ‘immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garment?” — an absurd question that prompts his disciples to say, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mark 5:30-31) It really is as St Benedict has it: ‘Our actions everywhere are in God’s sight’; ‘Our thoughts are always present to God.’ (Rule of Saint Benedict 7:13, 14) ‘But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth,’ says St Mark. (Mark 5:33. C.f.: Rule of Saint Benedict 7:10) Her prayer had been made in secret; only she knew. She models what St Matthew’s Jesus had to say about prayer: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) Or as St Mark’s Jesus put it: “Have faith in God … I tell you whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” So Jesus here says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:34) She has gone from a nobody to someone’s daughter; indeed, she is one of the truly faithful of God’s People, a true daughter of Israel (c.f.: Luke 19:9), one whom God ‘saves’ (another way of translating ‘healed’); haemorrhage or no, she is no outcast in eyes of God. (C.f.: Luke 15:20; 18:13- 14; Rule of Saint Benedict Prologue:18)

In the other story, a ‘synagogue official’ (Mark 5:22) — one of those who would have enforced the ban on the other woman’s attendance at worship — had begged Jesus to come and lay his hands on his daughter ‘to make her better and save her life.’ (Mark 5:23) His plea is urgent for his daughter is ‘at the point of death.’ (Mark 5:23) In those days, it was held that at the point of death a person’s soul is still in this world, that the underworld is still unaware of the death; thus, the urgency — he wants Jesus to come and hold back her departing soul; he is truly afraid … and he has to wait while Jesus attends to this other woman, which takes too long: “Your daughter is dead; why put the Master to any further trouble.” (Mark 5:35) Here he would give up; his faith is at the point of death, for now all that lies ahead is Death. So Jesus says to him, “Do not be afraid; only have faith.” (Mark 5:36) The situation is not unlike that when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:1ff) When told that his friend was gravely ill, Jesus stayed where he was for another two days, and during which time Lazarus died. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” says Martha to Jesus. Jesus’ delay seems to have been deliberate: “This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory and through it the Son of God will be glorified,” says Jesus to his disciples. Jesus’ delay is with this end in mind. The story here in today’s Gospel is not about some miracle. (C.f.: John 2:23-24)

As with the Lazarus’ story, it’s about ‘letting God’s glory be seen’ … that we, his disciples, might ‘believe in him.’ (John 2:11) But, to see his glory, we need to arrive at that point where we are totally powerless, bereft of anything else to depend on but our belief that the Lord can and will save us: “Courage/do not be afraid; only have faith,” says Jesus to us when all is bleak, when all we have left is to cling to him and go on with him (Mark 5:37-38. C.f.: Isaiah 50:10); “Place your hope in God alone,” as Benedict puts it. (Rule of Saint Benedict 4:41) This is the kind of faith we need, if we are to endure the desperate situations that life throws up and go on somehow to live (C.f.: Mark 4:37) — the kind of faith the woman had that enabled her to reach out to Jesus. It is a faith that goes beyond miracles, that would see Jesus merely as some kind of walking first aid dispensary to whom we turn only when the going gets tough and we ask him to fix it — the kind of faith the synagogue official had when he first approached Jesus. Miracles can and do happen, and some of them only we do see. But they are not there to fix up our world that has somehow gone wrong. (C.f.: John 6:26) They are there to let us see that God is active in our life, that he does really care for us despite seeming signs to the contrary, so that we can go on and live though we can see the full stop that is down at the end of our road. We need to come to understand the Wisdom (Psalm 51:6) found in our First Reading: ‘Do not court death by the errors of your ways, nor invite destruction through the work of your hands. For God did not make Death, he takes no pleasure in destroying the living. To exist -- for this he created all things; the creatures of the world have health in them, in them is no fatal poison, and Hades has no power over the world: for uprightness is immortal. But the godless call for Death with deed and word, counting him friend, they wear themselves out for him; with him they make a pact, worthy as they are to belong to him.’ (Wisdom 1:12-16) To live the upright life that does endure we need a faith that can believe that God had made us for life and that he will uphold us, that he will wake us even if death should overtake us. (Mark 5:39; John 11:11) To travel down the road of life (Psalm 23:4) we need to take to heart Jesus’ word to the synagogue official: “Do not be afraid; only have faith.”

By Dom Steele Hartmann OCSO