Some of you know that I raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society by doing a bike ride every year in the fall. The goal of these rides is to raise enough money to fund research into a cure for MS.

At every event, there are riders who have been diagnosed with MS, who wear jerseys that say, “I Ride With MS.” The idea is to raise awareness of how many people in this country live with MS, and to give people an opportunity to meet those who are living with the disease and to learn about their story. In short, these jerseys create an opportunity for conversation and building relationships.

For almost everyone with MS, the initial diagnosis brings with it an enormous amount of fear, because no one can know if their illness will progress rapidly, or if it will progress slowly. Moreover, most of the people with MS understand the financial burden that is involved with the illness – money that they will be spending on tests, on doctor’s visits, or in lost income because their symptoms make it impossible to work on some days.

Some people lose a lot of money because they go to all the doctors that they can find that promise some sort of cure – even cures that are not approved by the medical community. And others take part in clinical trials, becoming guinea pigs for untested treatments and medications because they so desperately want to find a cure. Sometimes these trials go well, and other times, their issues are compounded with unexpected side-effects.

One person living with MS had a story of their own initial fear at their diagnosis, and how they prayed every day for “healing.” When they went to an older and wiser individual to speak about this fear, this person told them, “Usually, when we talk about healing, what we really mean to say is that we want to be ‘cured.’ But, healing often involves a whole lot more than just being ‘cured’ of an illness. It’s just that for most of us, ‘healing’ has become synonymous with being ‘cured.’ Are you willing to accept healing, or just a cure?”

Obviously, part of the reason that so many of us think of being healed as “being cured” is because of these stories that we find in the Gospel reading today. The entire Gospel is about miraculous cures of illness at the hands of Jesus.

The first story involves Jairus, a leader of the Synagogue, and a very wealthy and important man. He comes to Jesus, falls at his feet, and begs him to come and heal his little daughter. “Come lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

And the next sentence is very simple. It says, “So he went with him.” That is, Jesus went with Jairus, walking toward his house, where his little daughter lay sick, simply because Jairus asked him to. And as they were walking, so many people crowded around Jesus that one translation says they “thronged him.” 

Now, suddenly, Mark interrupts one story to bring us another, so we know that Mark thought this second story was important for his readers and listeners. At this point, he tells us the story of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. It seems that she had endured the ancient equivalent of Clinical Trials at the hands of physicians. She had probably been a guinea pig for all sorts of treatments at the hands of these doctors, and nothing had helped. According to the Jewish purity laws, she would have been considered unclean because of her bleeding. But more importantly, despite this, the real factor that would have made her an outcast was that she was poor. She had spent all of her money on doctors. More so than the purity laws, she would have been looked down on and dismissed for being poor. People would have ostracized her from society for both being sick and being poor. We can see that she was desperate to find a cure so that she could once again become part of the community, and spend time with those she knew.

She was so desperate that she was willing to break all of these purity laws, pushing in through the crowd of people so that she could “only touch his clothes.” She knew that if she touched his cloak, she would be made well. She risked punishment at the hands of the leaders of the people – in fact, people very much like this very important leader of the Synagogue, Jairus himself – by essentially making all the people she touched on the way to Jesus “ritually unclean.” But she pushed on, touched Jesus’ cloak. 

And was instantly cured.

It’s at this moment that Jesus stops suddenly, turns around in the crowd, and says, “Who touched me?”

I imagine there were at least a few people who immediately jumped back, lifted up their hands and said, “I’m not touching you.” “Not me.” “Huh – uh. I would never.” Even the disciples are completely confused, and practically mock Jesus with their question that amounts to “Lord, you see everyone is pressing in on you, why on earth are you asking ‘Who touched me?’ I mean, everyone is touching you.”

But the woman knew what was up. She knew that he was speaking about her, because she knew that she had been cured of her bleeding. And so, it says, she came in fear and trembling. That is, she thought that she was going to be punished for what she had done. So she tells him everything that she had done. But instead of punishing her, Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Jesus was on his way to heal the daughter of a wealthy and important leader of the people, a father who had told Jesus that “all I need is for you to lay your hands on her, and my daughter will be healed.” He had stepped out in faith; he would have known what the other leaders of the people were saying about Jesus, and what they really thought about him. But because he knew the mighty works that Jesus was doing, and because he was desperate for the healing of his daughter, he persisted. And this woman, just like the leader of the people, persisted, despite the social norms and purity laws.

If we were to stop here in the Gospel with these snippets of story, we might have a very fine motivational speech about pushing on, about persisting in the face of doubt and in the face of societal norms or opposition and just having mountains of faith. It’s almost as if you can hear the motivational speakers saying, “If you can believe it, you can achieve it!”

The trouble with that sort of thinking is that it places all the burden of our own healing squarely upon our own shoulders. That is, if these stories were intended to teach us that being cured of our ailments was only about our faith, it would mean that our God would only heal us if we didn’t waver in our belief.

Years ago, there were some faith healers who came through a church I used to belong to. These people came in, and prayed for people to be cured of illnesses, of various addictions, and other ailments. Some people were miraculously healed. And others were not. One of the people who had not been healed asked one of these people why she had not been healed, and his response to her was flippant: “You weren’t healed because you didn’t have enough faith.” 

Obviously she was devastated. It was all her fault. She didn’t believe enough. Jesus didn’t want to heal her because she had not persisted enough, not pressed in enough, not believed enough that she could be cured. It took her months of conversations with other believers for her to finally realize that sometimes God answers prayers – and other times, God simply does not do what we want. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the measure of our faith. This woman, a pillar of faith in our community, had doubted herself, and worse, had doubted the faithful heart of God, because of a careless word by someone who blamed her for God’s failure to act according to what she desired.

To return to our story, Jesus knew that someone had touched him with a deliberate purpose, with a drive to be cured, and he knew that “power had gone out from him.” The important thing is that he stopped, not to punish the woman, but to build a relationship with her. On his way to heal the daughter of a wealthy man, he stops to spend time with one of his own. He turns to her, and calls this woman, “Daughter.” He wanted to know the story behind her persistence. If Jesus didn’t care, he could have just kept walking to Jairus’ house. But instead, he stops, lets the woman tell him her story, and sends her on her way. Notice that he declared her healed in the middle of the people. That means that not only did he heal her physically, but he also restored her place in society, and restored her as a member of the community. He showed her that he cared for her beyond just her physical well-being. He wanted her to be healed and restored in all aspects of her life, this woman he calls his “Daughter.” 

If it had been about how we are to have an abundance of faith and persist in our beliefs, then this story would have stopped without Jesus turning to this woman. It would have stopped with her being healed, and the story continued on with Jairus and his daughter without this moment of Jesus speaking with the woman. Ignoring her and her story would have solidified that it is all about our own faith, and about persisting in the face of doubts and societal norms. It would have been all about us, and what we do, rather than about God, and how much God cares for each and every one of us. It would have made God into our servant, into nothing more than a lucky rabbit’s foot, or other magic talisman that one could touch to get miraculous healing. 

However, on the way to Jairus’ house, Jesus stops to speak to a poor woman, a cast out from society, to hear her story, and restore her to abundant life within her community. That is the nature of Christ. He wants to know us, and he wants what is best for us. It may have started with this woman’s persistence in pushing in toward Jesus to be healed, but it ended with a blessing of peace and reconciliation.

After this, the story continues on. On their way, people from Jairus’ house come and tell him that his daughter is already dead, and that he shouldn’t bother Jesus any longer. What’s the point after all? How can anything be done for someone who has died? It would have been a perfectly logical conclusion for Jairus to draw regarding his daughter. She’s dead. It didn’t work. There’s no point anymore. Why don’t we just stop now?

But Jesus, sensing this, tells him, “Do not fear. Only believe.” 

We, of course, know the rest of the story. How Jesus raises this little girl from the dead. He restores a little girl to life, and restores a family, to the amazement of all that witnessed it.

Again, however, the miraculous healing is not the only intent of this story. True, the miraculous healing shows us God’s power over sickness and death, but more important are the words that Jesus said: “Do not fear. Only believe.”

“Do not fear. Only believe.”

“Do. Not. Fear.”

This is not just a commandment to Jairus, the father in this story, but a commandment given to us as well. 

But, in the face of so many things in this world that can cause us to fear, this is a hard task. Our minds often spin out of control with all the possible scenarios that can cause us harm or damage. That can cause us loss of face or social standing. Things that can cause others to ostracize us. Things that can bring us to the brink of death. We fear all of these things. Even though God tells us not to. And tells us only to believe.

The woman was afraid that she would be punished for her desperate persistence in pushing forward her own agenda. And Jesus stopped to grant her peace, and restore her to health and life within her community. Jairus was afraid that nothing more could be done for his daughter, and Jesus told him not to fear, and then restored his daughter, his family, and all of them to the faithful community. 

In each case, Jesus was concerned with more than just the physical healing. He wanted them to be healed and restored to an abundant life among the people of their community. He forged a relationship with them, and restored them to a place of relationship with others. They were healed as well as cured.

To return to the person with MS that I mentioned at the beginning, the one who had received the question, “Are you willing to accept healing, or just a cure?” What was the outcome of that question, I wondered? Their response was, “I still have MS, but I am no longer afraid of the consequences of the disease, nor am I afraid of what might happen. Instead, I count my blessings every day, and praise God for each and every healthy moment. And I thank God for every moment with those I love. God has healed me. It isn’t a cure, but I understand that God is with me, God wants what is best for me, and God is in charge of everything, even in this nasty disease. For that I am forever grateful.”

This person had indeed been healed.

Just like the woman in this story, they went from being afraid of the present and the future, to doing as Jesus commanded the woman:

They went in peace, because their faith had made them well.

[This sermon was delivered at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ on June 23, 2024.]

About Michael

Mike was called to be the Vicar of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ, and started this call on February 1, 2024. Before taking a call as clergy, Mike worked in IT for almost 25 years, variously working as a back- and front-end web developer, database developer and manager, and as a business analyst. If he's not engaged in the work of the church, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride, or training for an upcoming BikeMS ride. Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts in Classical History from Seattle Pacific University, and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He attended Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022, and graduated in May of 2023. Mike was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona on January 20th, 2024, and will be ordained to the priesthood on July 27, 2024.

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