I haven’t given up on reading the Bible. It’s just not the only thing I read anymore. It’s been a lifelong challenge to study the Bible and bang my head against the pages until I see something I didn’t see before. It’s never been more challenging to wrestle with those words than it is now. I see life differently. Everything is not as black and white as we’ve been lead to believe. Life is full of nuance and mystery that refuses to be explained away easily. Science has taught us so much, but so much remains a mystery. It’s the stuff of religion, romance, imagination, and fate.
I’m reading the Gospel lesson for tomorrow curious as to what approach a preacher friend would take on it but also scratching my head and wondering what, if anything, this means to me. Go ahead and read it if you like, Mark 5:21-43. I’ll wait…
So if you’d like to think that Jesus was just a prophet, a revolutionary figure, a reformer, or even a charlatan, here comes these passages that declare without pretense that he was more than what you take him for. We can debate whether these things happened literally or were the embellishments of people writing to make a theological statement, but we would miss the point of what these passages are supposed to teach us about who Jesus was and who we are.
There are plenty of people making money selling the latest greatest whatever in religion. Miracle handkerchiefs, annointed oil, holy water, seeds of faith, multi-millon dollar sanctuaries, fantastic programs, mega-star personalities, and on and on. In this passage both Jairus and the woman believed that touching Jesus was enough to heal. Touch is a powerful human experience in and of itself without any special magic.
In college I learned what to do and what not to do when it comes to caring for the ill and dying. In what was supposed to be a practical how-to of pastoral care, the only thing I remember from that class was the professor said when making pastoral visits to the sick 1) never sit on the bed, 2) read a scripture, 3) have prayer, and 4) never stay more than a few minutes. Seriously. While I was job shadowing a hospice chaplain the next semester, I learned that he broke every rule. He told me how important it was to touch people, especially the dying. So many terminally ill and shut ins, go days and weeks without anyone touching them in a meaningful and compassionate way. I watched him sit on the bedside and hold hands, rub shoulders, kiss foreheads, even cry and pray with people, and we almost always stayed until the time was right to leave.
There was nothing magical, super spiritual, or clinically effective about what he did, but it made such a difference in those lives. I never saw one of them jump out of bed miraculously healed either. They all died. Everyone of them, but I like to think their spirits were healed, which was so much more effective than a ceremonial pastoral blessing.
Before we write sermons and build churches around the “touch of Jesus,” he said in the passage that it wasn’t touching him that made them whole. Lots of people were touching him and pushing him around, but none of them were miraculously healed. He told the woman who touched him that it was her faith that made her whole. When Jairus found out his daughter had died, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; only believe.”
I don’t know how to adequately describe faith. It’s not about “believing” the right things. It’s about hope and trust in what can be. I readily admit that there are people in my life who have much more faith than I do. I’m a skeptic by default. I reason everything out and try to figure things out for myself, but there are people I know who just hope against hope for no other reason than it’s all they have. I need people like that around me, because all too often we encounter situations and crises that are beyond our ability to cope with or fix. We have to make a choice. Either we resign ourselves to be victims of circumstance, lie down, and take it, or we declare with every ounce of our being that we refuse to accept reality as it’s presented to us. We hold onto faith.
The law of odds says that more times than not miracles are rare. If they happened routinely, they wouldn’t be considered miraculous. It’s the exception for a devestating illness to suddenly disappear… for young girls on death’s door to get up and walk. Even for those who experience miraculous turns of fate, they too eventually died. All of them. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t have faith.
I’ve never been so angry as to visit terminally ill people who were visited by a faith healer or a preacher selling indulgences. It makes my blood boil to think of the people who’ve been told, “if you only had faith, God would heal you.” I’ve buried plenty of men and women of great faith. Life happens and so does death. No snake oil salesmen can change that.
I take away from these encounters with Jesus that there is something in us that we have the abilitiy to tap into that allows us to transcend our circumstances. There is divinity in us. It’s in our cosmic DNA. There are traces of timelessness in us that defies death, disease, and adversity. I do believe that people can discover faith that enables them to tap into the incredible potential of our bodies to heal themselves, but more importantly they can realize that they are more than flesh and blood and bones. They are spirit, and death and disease can never kill them.
People who look
for the secret of long life
wind up dead.
Their bodies are the focus of their lives
and the source of their death,
because they think a healthy body
is all there is to life.
Lao Tzu used to say
a man who truly understood life
could walk through the jungle
or across a battlefield
without armor, totally unarmed.
Wild animals and weapons couldn’t kill him.
I know, I know:
what the hell does that mean?
“Well, he couldn’t be killed,”
Lao Tzu said,
“because his body
wasn’t where he kept his death.”
~ Tao Te Ching, adapted by Ron Hogan