Sermon for the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
Trinity Church, Mt. Airy, NC
July 1, 2018, 8:30 AM, Proper 8B
καὶ ἠκολούθει αὐτῷ ὄχλος πολὺς καὶ συνέθλιβον αὐτόν. καὶ γυνὴ οὖσα ἐν ῥύσει αἵματος δώδεκα ἔτη καὶ πολλὰ παθοῦσα ὑπὸ πολλῶν ἰατρῶν καὶ δαπανήσασα τὰ παρʼ αὐτῆς πάντα καὶ μηδὲν ὠφεληθεῖσα ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον εἰς τὸ χεῖρον ἐλθοῦσα, ἀκούσασα περὶ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ, ἐλθοῦσα ἐν τῷ ὄχλῳ ὄπισθεν ἥψατο τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ· ἔλεγεν γὰρ ὅτι ἐὰν ἅψωμαι κἂν τῶν ἱματίων αὐτοῦ σωθήσομαι. καὶ εὐθὺς ἐξηράνθη ἡ πηγὴ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτῆς καὶ ἔγνω τῷ σώματι ὅτι ἴαται ἀπὸ τῆς μάστιγος. καὶ εὐθὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐπιγνοὺς ἐν ἑαυτῷ τὴν ἐξ αὐτοῦ δύναμιν ἐξελθοῦσαν ἐπιστραφεὶς ἐν τῷ ὄχλῳ ἔλεγεν·τίς μου ἥψατο τῶν ἱματίων; καὶ ἔλεγον αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ· βλέπεις τὸν ὄχλον συνθλίβοντά σε καὶ λέγεις· τίς μου ἥψατο; καὶ περιεβλέπετο ἰδεῖν τὴν τοῦτο ποιήσασαν. ἡ δὲ γυνὴ φοβηθεῖσα καὶ τρέμουσα, εἰδυῖα ὃ γέγονεν αὐτῇ, ἦλθεν καὶ προσέπεσεν αὐτῷ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ πᾶσαν τὴν ἀλήθειαν. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῇ· θυγάτηρ, ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε· ὕπαγε εἰς εἰρήνην καὶ ἴσθι ὑγιὴς ἀπὸ τῆς μάστιγός σου.
Now a big crowd followed him and pressed in on him. And a woman having a flow of blood for twelve years and having suffered many things under many physicians and having spent all she had and had not gotten better but, rather, had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus; so, coming up behind him in the crowd, she touched his cloak. For she had thought to herself, “If I just touch his cloak, I shall be saved.” And right away, her flow of blood stopped and she knew that she had been healed in [her] body from her disease. And right away, Jesus perceiving in himself that the power had gone out of him, turned back to the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you and [yet] you say, “Who touched me?” Still, he looked around to see who had done this. But the woman, with fear and trembling, knew what had happened to her and she prostrated herself before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be healed from your disease. (Mark 5: 24b-34)
She had nothing to lose. Once she had been able to afford medical treatment for her hemorrhages, but now she was flat broke and no better for all the money she had wasted on ineffective treatments. Respectable women didn’t go around touching strange men in public, but her claim on respectability had expired with her last drachmas. What were they going to do with her? Shun her? Chastise her? Who cared? She was penniless and unmarriageable. We don’t know whether family or friends fed or clothed her; but she had no life of her own. And her assault on the healer from Nazareth wasn’t all that intrusive, was it? She had simply touched his cloak. Anybody in the crowd could have done that. Lots of people had already touched much more than his cloak as they jostled for position next to the healer. In fact, crowds like that pushed and shoved Jesus incessantly when he was in town, hoping to get his attention, hoping to have him perform some of that wonder-working power on them.
People called Jesus “Teacher,” but the crowds didn’t turn out to have a rabbi dazzle them with feats of Torah prowess. They came for the healings. And if Jesus had any water he wanted to turn into wine or any demons he wanted to exorcise, then they were happy to see those things too. But the healings brought out the crowds. True, any Egyptian magician could probably drum up a crowd of sick folks to heal, but Jesus had a reputation. They said he could lay his hands on people with fevers and cure them. Lame men walked at his word. Blind people could see again, and deaf people could hear. Even if some dismissed him as a fraud or, even worse, as a blasphemer, why wouldn’t you go out to see for yourself what he could do, especially if you had an illness or a handicap? Face it, the teacher from Nazareth couldn’t do any worse than the priests of Asclepius or the diviners from Egypt.
Can you blame her for coming out to see Jesus, to see whether the man from Nazareth had anything to offer her? You couldn’t say she was brazen about it. She knew the teaching of the ancient scholar Jose ben Johanan that forbade men from talking with women, so she had not been disrespectful; she had not called out to him or tried to get his attention. But she had gotten close enough to touch the cloak he was wearing—not that she would touch the man himself, God forbid, but she could touch his garment. Who would know? Who would care? And besides, what did she have to lose? Something told her that if she could just do this, if she could just touch his cloak, the bleeding would stop and she would be a whole person again. She didn’t think of her healing as you might think about getting rid of a cold or a rash. So long as she bled, she was unclean, unfit for decent society. If somebody was looking after her in her illness, that person would not have touched her even in comfort. She had no life. As far as everybody was concerned, she was just a problem, an inconvenience, at best, an object of pity, and for some, an object of scorn. So this woman didn’t say to herself that she would be healed if she touched his cloak, she said to herself that she would be saved—she would be redeemed—she would be restored.
One of the surprisingly important people in my life was a woman who earned her living as of all things a clown. I never saw her practice her art, but she described her work as involving children’s parties, stage opportunities, and street scenes. For Darlene—not her real name—the laughter of children and the pleasure of the grownups that brought them to her amounted to the real compensation of her work. Darlene also battled the disease of schizophrenia day in and day out, a malady that sometimes had her confined to mental health facilities or worse when existence on the outside simply became impossible. Sometimes, Darlene would joke with me about how her task in life was to love Jesus and be crazy at the same time, but that awful, soul-destroying disease she bore so bravely was no laughing matter. Darlene ended her days in a hospital, thankfully not a jail, though she was no stranger to that kind of institution either. She died loving Jesus in the midst of a world of demons. And I think now as I thought when I heard of her death, that seldom had I known anyone as brave as Darlene. Would to God that I might end my days as honorably and well as she did. Her life and work counted for something far beyond what could be had within the walls of a mental ward. Hers was an autograph of courage.
So, I think of Darlene when I imagine the unnamed woman grabbing hold of Jesus’s cloak. When the almost comic-book ending of Mark’s story occurs and Jesus, having been pushed and shoved all day by strangers, wants to know the one time who touched his coat, that inconvenient woman comes forward and just tells him what she did. She risks his anger, risks the disapproval of the crowd, risks the very healing she has just received in order to tell him the truth. And it doesn’t detract one whit from her character when we read that she told him with fear and trembling. For my money, that fear and trembling just increases the woman’s courage. She didn’t run away. She didn’t melt into the crowd. She spoke the truth of her life: “If I just touch his cloak, I shall be saved.”
And that is exactly what happened, Jesus told her. The nameless woman wasn’t zapped by some super-hero power that Jesus carried with him like a static charge. “Your faith saved you,” he said. Her faith didn’t just heal her, didn’t just end her medical problem. Her faith saved her. Her courage to reach out and her courage to confess before all that she had reached out had made her whole. The super-hero power was in her, just as it was in Darlene, the power to risk all in hope beyond anything the rest of us can see.
And yet it is the courage of faith that Mark knows you the reader have, the absolutely illogical, unreasonable hope that God cares about the truth of your life even in your fear and trembling, even with your imperfections, even in your most awful moments. Darlene reminded me to love Jesus even when I’m crazy, and the woman on the road reminds us to reach out, to dare to believe again, to take the risk of faith. Reach out, they tell us, and be saved.
 The sages expanded Jose’s instruction אל תרבה שיחה עם האשה to cover even his own wife. See m. Abot 1.5.