Hope and Healing

“And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her hemorrhage stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?”’ He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing hat had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’”

Mark 5:24b-34

“Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.”

Thus beginneth our meditation on health care, ancient and modern.

Here we have a woman whose entire existence has been severely disrupted for twelve years by uncontrollable bleeding.

She has gone from one doctor to another and used up all her money in search of a cure, but in spite of undergoing many painful treatments, her bleeding malady has only gotten worse.

Not only has her exhausting quest for a remedy left her virtually penniless—her condition is also a social curse—anyone who comes into contact with her runs the risk of violating the ritual purity code as outlined in Leviticus which declares that when a woman is having a discharge of blood, she is to be considered unclean—and whoever touches anything she lies or sits on is unclean.

Her illness has stigmatized her as an untouchable, a social pariah.

This woman is presented as nameless which underscores her lack of status—she is without funds, power, or influence and her medical prospects are bleak indeed.

But her most serious infirmity is not her hemorrhaging as bad as that is—her most debilitating affliction is hopelessness.

Because to lose all hope is to feel more dead than alive.

This is why Kierkegaard referred to despair, the state of hopelessness, as “the sickness unto death.”

To be in the deathly grip of hopelessness is to be caught in an insidious tangle in which one is unable to supply for oneself the one thing that one desperately needs, namely, hope.

When someone is mired in hopelessness, to tell them to cheer up and look on the bright side of things is worse than useless—such advice almost always intensifies the misery of the sufferer and his sense of being a hopeless case because, like the frog who wanted to be changed back into a prince, he would if he could.

In such a state, a new sense of hope can only come from something or someone beyond oneself.

So this despairing woman in our story who has run out of options has evidently heard rumors circulating in her village about this itinerant rabbi and his reputation as a healer that has awakened in her the first, tentative stirrings of new hope.

And when she joins the throng of people following at the heels of Jesus, and quite a motley group it is, she feels something in the air, some hum of hopefulness in the crowd, that causes her own fragile sense of hope to suddenly blossom and soar—for there’s something about this rabbi, his manner, the way he moves and speaks, the way he looks at people, that arouses hope even in those who feel most hopeless.

And so this woman who had been so smothered by shame and dishonor that she was barely breathing, is suddenly seized by the notion that if she can just touch his clothes, she will be healed.

She’s too shy and nervous to approach Jesus directly, so she sneaks up behind him and touches his garment whereupon, the text says, “Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.”

Later on Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

But Jesus might just as well have said, “Daughter, your hope has made you well.”

Because we can assume this woman’s healing actually begins when the reports she hears about Jesus back in the village make her curious and generate in her the first tender shoots of hopefulness.

And then when she goes out to see and hear this teacher for herself, her hope suddenly grows by leaps and bounds—and Jesus’ comment suggests that it is her newfound hopefulness that accounts for her healing.

For the rebirth of hope can have a tremendous rejuvenating effect on the spirit, mind, and body.

The recovery of hope can revitalize body and soul.

It can dramatically enhance every aspect of our functioning.

It would seem every healing episode in Jesus’ ministry recounted in the gospels involves a life-changing recovery of hope.

I do not believe Jesus was a magician—that he magically replaced missing limbs or instantly cured liver disease or cancer or the effects of strokes.

It’s been suggested that what Jesus healed was not disease, the organic and biological malfunctioning of the body, but illness which is the stigma, demoralization, and hopelessness associated with the disease.

And, of course, to heal the illness of hopelessness and social humiliation can then have a powerful therapeutic effect on the body’s natural capacity for healing—for example, in today’s story one can suppose that there was an intimate connection between this woman’s hopelessness and her hemorrhaging, that the curing of the first might well have been instrumental in curing the physical problem.

Whether we have suffered from the extreme state of complete hopelessness or not, we certainly know what it is to have our sense of hope repeatedly bruised and diminished, to have our sense of hope dwindle and flicker.

Truth be told, we need to have our sense of hope continually replenished and restored.

One of the most unrecognized and unappreciated miracles of our lives, of your life and mine, is how in the course of a week our hope is renewed by a thousand and one sources—the ways in which our hope is constantly renewed by life’s little surprises and pleasures—a two minute conversation, someone’s remarkably generous and thoughtful response, the solace and stimulation of music, the opportunity to be helpful, an hour of undisturbed reading, some unexpected incident that opens our eyes to just how blessed we are, etc., etc.

And need I add that when we are privileged to be the bringer of hope to someone else, our own hopefulness rises exponentially?

From the standpoint of faith, everything that renews and sustains our hope is gift and grace—from the standpoint of faith, everything that restores and bolsters our sense of hope comes from God the source of all life.

A certain woman, reflecting on her grueling treatment for breast cancer, said it seemed as though at least one thing happened every day that made her feel joyful.

Aly Colon had a younger brother who was developmentally disabled and had been placed by his parents in the state hospital at Porterville, California—when he was a graduate student at Stanford, as he tells it,

“I continued the family tradition of visiting Carlos. I thought I was doing him a favor. Actually, I was doing myself one. That became evident on one particular visit. At the time I felt depressed. I enjoyed the University. I studied with first rate professors and stimulating classmates. But I felt empty. My studies were to end in a few months, and my job prospects seemed slim. The gray skies and rain that dogged me on the drive to Porterville didn’t help.

At the hospital, someone brought Carlos to a waiting room that held a few chairs and a box of used toys. Carlos, then 21, still looked like a teenager. When he saw me, Carlos beamed and hugged me. His long arms squeezed me so tightly I could hardly breathe.

When I didn’t respond with my usual enthusiasm, he cradled my head with his hands and drew my face close to his. Then he gently bumped our noses and foreheads together a few times, one of his ways of showing affection. His huge smile seemed ready to swallow my face whole.

I started laughing. So did he. And I remembered a scripture: whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.

I had long thought I was doing that when I came to see Carlos. In fact he had been doing it for me. When I was feeling at my ‘least,’ my brother lifted me up. His love reminds me not that I am my brother’s keeper, but that he is mine.”

The sources of our hope are many and varied but they are always gift and grace.

The woman in our gospel story, the woman who was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, the man with the disabled brother, and perhaps at certain times we ourselves might find the words of Psalm 30 a fitting prayer of praise:

O Lord my God, I cried out to you,
and you restored me to health.
You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead;
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave…….
You have turned my wailing into dancing;
you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever. Amen.

The Rev. Robert Dwight
4 Pentecost
Christ Episcopal Church
Dayton, Ohio
6/28/09