Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, Sunday 27th June 2021
Readings: Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15; Mark 5:21-43
When our need is great, and when we cannot do things for ourselves we may need to put our faith in someone. I have to put my faith in car mechanics if something goes wrong with my car. I have to trust them when they tell me what is wrong with the engine, as it is something I do not understand. Likewise with builders, plumbers and electricians we may have to put our faith in their professional knowledge when they tell us what work needs to be done. We need to be able to trust them, and so it is wise to contract one who has been recommended rather than pick a name at random.
Most of us are not medically trained and so we have to place our faith in health professionals. When suffering serious illness most are fortunate in receiving excellent, thorough and well-explained care, while others appear to fall foul of the system; they are not given answers and are batted from department to department. If you have more than one thing wrong with you, there can seem to be a lack of joined-up thinking.
Today’s gospel reading is not a good endorsement of the medical profession. St Mark says that woman with hemorrhages had spent all she had on doctors and was none the better for it. Medical care in Jesus’ time must have been very primitive as the workings of the human body were not properly understood. The Hebrew word for doctor is rofe, which is derived from ‘one who mends’ or ‘sews together’, or ‘bandager’. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder, a near contemporary of Jesus, wrote scathingly against the doctors of his time who he thought much puffed up with a sense of their own importance who covered up their lack of knowledge with elaborate words; he lamented how they were the only members of society who could commit murder with impunity!
The woman in the gospel was presumably a wealthy woman who had money to spend on physicians, though to no avail. It might be questioned whether her coming to Jesus was an act of faith or desperation; that other recourses having failed, she would try anything, even approaching this miracle-worker from Nazareth. Perhaps she had been told by friends to seek out Jesus. It is clear that Jesus did see this as an act of faith, that he felt the power draining out of him, and he said to her after he told him her story ‘my daughter, your faith has healed you.’
It has been said that the National Health Service is the closest thing we have now to a national religion. Although it may be difficult to deal with at times we have to be place our faith in health professionals, and recognise that they have our best interests at heart. We are so blessed to have a National Health Service that is free to all and that has performed so magnificently during the pandemic.
For the Christian, faith in the health service runs concurrently with faith in Jesus Christ. I once visited a parishioner in hospital prior to a heart operation when the surgeon visited. He looked at me and said “I don’t like my patients seeing priests, it makes think they’re making alternative arrangements!” We come to Jesus in prayer and ask for what we need for ourselves or for others, and we have to ask wholeheartedly in faith.
Prayer in faith commits us to do all within our own power to contribute to our own healing; we have to do what is asked of us. We must have faith in Jesus that he will bring us healing, either through cure or through our acceptance of what cannot be changed, and help us when we are weak.
The miracles do not just happen by themselves. The woman presses through the crowd to reach Jesus, determined to at least touch the hem of his garment. Had she not have had faith she would not have bothered; had she not bothered there would have been no miracle and her affliction would have continued. Had Jairus not sought out Jesus and knelt at his feet in faith and brought him to his daughter, there would have been no miracle for that family either.
The woman had suffered from her bleeding for 12 years which was the same age as the daughter of Jairus. Jesus is brought into the worst tragedy that can face any parents, the death of a child. Into that turmoil and grief, enters the calm but firm presence of Jesus who overrides the prophets of doom, who laugh at him when he says the child is not dead but sleeping; he dismisses them. The touch and the words of Jesus ‘talitha kum’, (little girl I tell you to get up ) bring healing and they restore life. When we are in the turmoil of suffering and tragedy, may we always place our faith in Jesus that he will draw us through from death to life, from suffering to healing, from chaos to calm.