I spent a good bit of time visiting people I know in the hospital this week. My godmother had some serious surgery, which she came through quite well, praise God, but it looks like she will be recovering in the hospital a bit longer than she would like. I also visited with one of our family’s long-time neighbors who has contracted a disease that the doctors aren’t sure how he got and don’t quite know what to do about. And so as I hear about the miraculous healings of Jairus’s daughter and the woman with the hemorrhages, I find myself thinking, “how nice for them.”
And I’m sure many of us have similar reactions. How often have we had to watch a loved one suffer, and think, why can’t God heal him or her? The very first words of today’s Liturgy of the Word reach out and grab us: “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.” And perhaps we already knew that. Perhaps we know that God does not intend our death or our suffering, but the really hard thing for us is that he permits it. Why is that? Why would God permit his beloved ones to suffer so much here on earth?
That’s a question for which I would love to have an answer. I think maybe it’s one of those things we will finally understand when we get to heaven and see the big picture. But for now, it can be a real stumbling block. I would suggest that today’s readings are offered to us not to make us feel bad when we don’t experience immediate healing on our terms and timetable, but instead to remind us of the many ways God does heal us.
I’d like to take a minute to talk about some of the things that unite the two stories that we have in the Gospel. First, we have the story of Jairus. And I’m struck by how impatient I would be if I were him. The story tells us that Jesus had just returned from the other side of the lake where he was for a time ministering to the Gentiles that lived there. I’m thinking that Jairus had to be waiting for him to return the whole time, watching his daughter get sicker and sicker. Then, while he and Jesus are rushing to his daughter’s side, they are detained by the whole incident of the woman with the multiple hemorrhages. If I were Jairus, I’m pretty sure my head would have exploded. But it turns out that Jesus has time enough to heal them both, and probably even Jairus as well in some ways.
So again, I think there are some aspects of the two stories that link them together. The first, perhaps strangely, is the number twelve. The woman with the hemorrhages suffered for twelve years, and Jairus’s daughter was twelve years old. This is not coincidental. The number twelve has biblical significance. When we hear twelve in Scripture, we might think of the twelve tribes of Israel, or even of the Twelve Apostles. Matthew’s account of the feeding of the multitudes mentions that there were twelve baskets of leftovers. In these contexts, the number twelve stands for a kind of universality, encompassing all people or the whole known world. The twelve tribes took up residence all over the holy land, which was the whole world for the ancients. The Twelve Apostles were meant to bring the Gospel to the whole world, and the twelve baskets were meant to feed everyone in the world. So the number twelve in the contexts of these two healings alert us to the fact that Jesus intends healing for everyone in the whole world. That’s what he came for, and that’s why he was out expelling demons at the other side of the lake, in Gentile territory, in the Gospel passages preceding today’s reading.
The stories are also linked by desperation. I’ve already spoken of how long Jairus was waiting for the healing of his daughter, and how he had to watch her get sicker and sicker. But the same was true of the woman with the hemorrhages – that’s plural by the way, not just one hemorrhage – because she had suffered for twelve long years at the hands of many doctors. For both of them, those with power have been unable to do anything, and the time for healing is now or never.
Another way the stories are linked are by un-touchability. The woman with the hemorrhages was someone that could not be touched, or the person touching her would have been ritually impure: unable to worship with the community and an outcast, just as she was. Jairus’s daughter became untouchable when she died. Anyone who touched a dead person would be similarly ritually unclean. But Jesus touches them both, because nothing can be an obstacle to his love.
The final thing that links them is faith. We might say that what brought Jairus and the woman to Jesus was desperation, as I’ve outlined earlier. But Jesus recognized their faith, and if it weren’t for faith, no miracles would have happened. That occurred in Jesus’ hometown: no miracles could be accomplished because of their lack of faith. But that’s clearly not an issue here.
And this is perhaps the most salient point of today’s Liturgy of the Word. I’ve known so many people who have been through a lot: either medically, or emotionally, or these days especially financially. And the ones who have survived have credited it to their faith. Maybe things didn’t turn out exactly the way they would have preferred. Perhaps real healing took way longer than they would have liked. But all of them would tell you that their faith made them positive that God was present with them, and helped them to know that, however things turned out, they would be okay.
I am struck by the Eucharistic imagery at the end of today’s Gospel. Jesus comes to the home of Jairus and finds his daughter asleep in death. He reaches out to her, touches her, and raises her up. Then he instructs those around her to give her something to eat. We gather for this Eucharistic banquet today and Jesus comes to us, finding us asleep in the death of our sins. Because we are dead in our sins, we can hardly reach out to touch our Lord, but he reaches out to us. He takes our hands, raises us up, and gives us something to eat.
We come to the Eucharist today with our lives in various stages of grace and various stages of death. At the Table of the Lord, we offer our lives and our suffering and our pain. We bring our faith, wherever we are on the journey, and reach out in that faith to touch the body of our Lord, taking him into our hands. We approach the Cup of Life, and whatever emptiness is in us is filled up with grace and healing love, poured out in the blood of Christ. As we go forth to glorify the Lord by our lives this day, all of our problems may very well stay with us, remaining unresolved at least to our satisfaction. But in our faith, perhaps they can be transformed, or at least maybe we can be transformed so that we can move through that suffering and pain with dignity and peace. And as we go forth into the week ahead, perhaps we can hear our Lord saying to us the same words he said to the woman with the hemorrhage: “go in peace, your faith has saved you.”