Trinity 4 (Proper 8) 1 July 2012
Wisd 1.13-15;2.23-24; 2 Cor 8.7-15; Mark 5.21-43
One of the most rapid and miraculous changes in recent years has been the technologising of medicine. Intricate surgical procedures are carried out by surgeons in one country operating on a patient in another by means of computers and robotic instruments. Or, less dramatically, a brother popping in to a local hospital for a quick overnight stay but, in the course of that, having a piece of major surgery carried out and being able to leave the next day on his own two feet, a bit wobbly perhaps and feeling a little battered but what should we expect?
Yet, as we know only too well from the bitter disputes over healthcare reform, not all is gain. It is not insignificant that psychiatric medicine has fallen well behind, for the mind and emotions do not respond so well to technological wizardry. This reminds us that we are not machines but persons - and not just persons in the sense of another genus like beavers or rabbits but persons made in the divine image. That is to say, there is at the heart of every human being the unique gift of the creator: a gift that calls for acknowledgment and attention if each of us is to grow into full and true maturity.
To speak of banks here might seem somewhat tangential but it is clear that there is a parallel difficulty. Developing systems that can cope with immense numbers of transactions at all hours of day and night - in order to maximise competition across the global village - results in an ever increasing distance from the individual customer. The operators of the systems are well aware of their opposite numbers but less and less aware of those whom their computerised transactions are designed to serve. Then it can begin to seem necessary to strengthen the systems with some deception, some lying, some manipulation of facts.
At first sight the curiously intertwined encounters in today’s Gospel seem altogether remote. This is a world so utterly different from our own: can this still speak to us? Yet we are quickly aware that Mark is crafting every moment, shaping these human stories in order to nudge towards yet more understanding of the light and grace that comes to us in the mystery of the Incarnate Son. First comes the emergency call: the young daughter of the synagogue leader, Jairus, is perilously close to death. Jesus responds and goes with him but, rather like traffic jams forming around the scenes of accidents on the motorway, a crowd appears from nowhere, pressing in on them and delaying progress. Among them is the un-named woman with the chronic haemorrhage. Her emergence on the scene has all the characteristics of an unconnected interruption. Her condition is chronic, not acute. Yet, in coming up behind Jesus and touching him - or rather, not Jesus but his clothing, - she is healed. Jesus does not let this go. To the astonishment of all around, he wants to know who touched him. It does seem ridiculous: in such a crowd you cannot avoid casual contact. However, it is not the casual contact that concerns him but this particular woman. Jesus needs to make what has happened, silently and mysteriously, public. He says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well!” Now, some of St Mark’s handiwork begins to appear and all underlined with his characteristic euthus ‘immediately’. Jairus, we remember, said to Jesus, My daughter is at the point of death. Jesus here claims this anonymous woman as his daughter: Daughter, your faith has made you well - as if to drive home the point made at the end of Chapter 3, “whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Yes, and daughter too! It also conveys another message: this is a woman whose condition had removed her to the margin of society. Jesus sets her in a relationship as intimate as that of Jairus’ daughter and, at a stroke, challenges all those who would still push her aside.
Now, of course, as a result of the interruption, the worst has happened and the little girl has died. Jesus, however, presses on. Once at the house, there is a dramatic stand-off - between those who can see what has happened and are clear that nothing more can be done and the girl’s parents and Jesus, accompanied by Peter and James and John. Jesus’ authority is enough to send the doubters outside. Taking those who have begun to perceive the kingdom breaking in and the new shape of human life that goes with it, Jesus goes in, takes the girl by the hand and tells her to get up. At this point we learn she is just twelve years old, coincidentally, surely, connecting her with the woman with the chronic haemorrhage. Of course, this is not coincidence but authorial craft. For the whole of this little girl’s life, the woman has suffered a living death, rejected and helpless. By contrast, all the promise of life in Jairus’ daughter has suddenly been taken away as life is snatched from her. Jesus embraces both women, the mature woman and the young girl, bringing both of them into intimacy of relationship with him. Both are now his daughters, his children. Both now share something of his life.
This is something much more - and much more important - than all the technological advances in modern medicine. This is healing of a different order. This is a key moment in the progressive Gospel revelation that life is not what we have now; life, full human life, is the life that comes to us as gift and grace in Jesus Christ - a life that, because of the distortions of sin and death we can only know partially and fleetingly this side of the grave. Here we are reminded of our Mattins reading, “God created us for incorruption and made us in the image of his own eternity but through the devil’s envy death entered the world and those who belong to his company experience it.” (Wisdom 2.23)
As systems and technologies become more and more sophisticated and powerful, so it becomes harder to keep our attention fixed on the source of true life and hope and healing. All too easily, we find ourselves experiencing the devil’s company and tasting death rather than life. The business of Chapter, the contortions of the General Synod - and everything else - so easily become the devil’s playground. In such a world, what will it be for us to have the faith of a Father, willing to go to extreme lengths for the sake of his daughter? Or to have the courage and trust of that anonymous woman who, risking the wrath of the crowd could dare to do nothing more dramatic than touch Jesus’ clothing? There is nothing to do but let ourselves fall into the hands of the God who is the protector of all who trust in him, asking that he may indeed increase and multiply upon us his mercy.