Mark 5:21-34 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat[a] to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Since I got home from my travels in December, most of my Irish ministry has been the kind that is hard to explain in other parts of the world. Because so many secondary schools (read: Middle/High School) here were started and/or are funded by the Catholic Church, their educational ethos requires that they devote at least one day every year to the personal and spiritual development of their students. Through Alpha Youth and Scripture Union, I’ve had the privilege of being able to speak on these retreats, some in schools, some at retreat centres like Ovoca Manor, and be paid to talk to students about Jesus.
As a communicator, you’re always trying out new things to see what connects with students across various age groups and in the midst of their fast changing culture. There is one talk in particular that has become central to my ministry and I’m still surprised at how deeply it connects … because it’s a reflection on the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
To be fair, when I start the story, students start to tune out.
God creates the world. The boredom begins to set in.
God creates humanity in his image. Students absentmindedly look around the room.
The Garden of Eden. Eyes begin to close.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Those who are still paying attention roll their eyes.
A talking snake. A few chuckles.
'Adam and Eve eat from the tree and this strange thing happens. Something that has never happened before. Shame enters into the world. Adam and Eve don’t need to be told. They feel something, they feel different. They feel it in their gut. Something has shifted. And they run into the woods and make clothes for themselves. Nakedness and vulnerability are no longer an option. Their shame drives them into hiding … and we’ve all been hiding ever since.'
Now we’re talking. There’s something so powerful about the origin of shame in the human story and in every life since. It’s a destructive, disconnecting force that teaches us to hide, to pretend and to run. Students may not buy into 6-day creation, a literal Adam and Eve or talking snake … but they know shame. Shame is, to borrow a phrase from Dexter, our dark passenger on life’s journey and is profoundly felt during adolescence.
In this week’s Gospel reading, shame is the unnamed character who walks with the woman that Jesus heals. According to the Mosaic Law, a woman with a prolonged bleeding disorder would be considered perpetually unclean and would contaminate everything that she touched. The seat she sat on, the food she made, the people she hugged were all temporarily tarnished by her and, while they might be able to wash their uncleanness away, she could not. She was the source of it.
Tragically, this is how shame feels. That we have this contagious secret, this hidden brokenness that touches everything we do. It damages our relationships, stains our friendships and pollutes our workplaces. It’s the opposite of Midas’ touch but brings about the same results: it disconnects us from the people that we love.
She took a great risk to get this close to Jesus. She may have had to disguise herself in order to move through the crowd or she may have been anonymous after 12 years spent in quarantine-like isolation but, either way, as she moved, she defiled everyone she touched. And, if she was successful, she would defile the Messiah too. Beautifully, what came to pass was the exact opposite. As she reached out and grabbed the edge of his cloak, her bleeding stopped … but her shame continued as she sought to make her escape.
As she snuck away, she heard a voice call out, ‘Who touched me?’ and she knew. She knew it was her.
When shame rules us, we think every question and accusation is about us. And occasionally, we’re right.
What I love about Jesus is that his healing is holistic. It’s not enough for him to heal her physical body, he wants to heal her emotional self as well.
Luke tells the story like this:
46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
When she saw that she could not ‘remain hidden’, she came forward and told her story.
His power is what heals her body.
His presence is what heals her heart.
Jesus is not just for the crowd. He is also (or perhaps, particularly) for the ashamed who self-consciously creep toward him through the crowd and seek an answer that is beyond words.
He is for those who, like Adam and Eve, are hiding in the woods.
He is for those who, like you and I, craft costumes to hide ourselves from each other.
He is for those who have forgotten how to be naked and vulnerable.
He is for those who know that shame feels like privately bleeding.
He is for those who shame seeks to keep hidden but Jesus invites to tell their story.
This is the paradoxical invitation of Jesus: that our deepest fear of telling our story will also bring us what we most desire — to be freed from it.