Mark 5: 21-43, Pentecost 4 B, "If Only I Could Touch His Garment"

“If only I could touch his garment” is a sermon interpretation of Mark 5: 21-43.
How does such a primitive, magical, superstitious story apply to our scientific generation more than twenty centuries later? How does a story like this, of a woman who faith seems almost magical, apply to us who live in a technological age in the twenty-first century? We who have every hospital available to us, who have numerous doctors and hospitals and medical research centers around us; how does this story apply to our world today?

First and foremost, this story is not about the woman with a hemorrhage. This story is about Jesus. This story is about Jesus who is the Son of God. That the power of God lived in Jesus like in no other human before him or after him. That the power of God was in Jesus to heal, to restore, to make whole. This is a story about Jesus who had the power over the wind and the waves on Lake Galilee. Today, in this story, Jesus has the power over disease. In the story for today, we also hear that Jesus has the power over death, that Jesus raised Jairus’ twelve year old daughter from death. Anyone who has power over the wind and waves, over disease, and over death must be a very, very special person. In fact, that person who has such powers must be the Son of God. The Spirit of God was on Jesus of Nazareth like on no other human being before or after.

This story isn’t only about the woman. More importantly, this story is about Jesus, saying that he is the Son of God. That the power of God was on Jesus like on no other human being before or after.

Yes, the story is also about this woman…lets call her Maggie.

There are three qualities in Maggie that I really want to talk about. The first is this: Maggie wanted to be healed. She wanted to be made whole. She wanted to be healthy, sane, and good.

You may not have realized it as we read this Biblical story that Maggie was very much in much in contrast to the crowd. What did the crowd want from Jesus? Did the crowd want healing? No. What did the crowd want? To see a religious superstar. They wanted to rub shoulders with Jesus. They wanted to get his autograph. They wanted to chat with the superstar, so they could go and tell their friends who they had met. They wanted to listen to Jesus so they could brag about it. The crowd wasn’t coming to be healed by Jesus. The crowd wasn’t coming that day to have their lives made whole. They were coming just to rub shoulders with Jesus and hoped that they would see one of his miracles first hand so they could entertain their friends with a good story about Jesus the healer.

This still happens today in the life of the church. It is still possible for great numbers of people to come to church and hear stories about Jesus. To rub shoulders with Jesus. To see their friends at church. To have their kids influenced by the youth ministries of the church. But not necessarily coming to find healing for their own lives. It is possible for us to come to church today, not for the purpose of coming to have Christ make our lives whole. I mean, we really don’t see our need for healing, do we? We think, “Things are pretty good in my life. I don’t need to be healed. I just came to church today. It is what I do on Sunday mornings. That’s all. I don’t need to be healed.”

What I like about Maggie is that she saw that she needed to be healed. She was aware of the disease in her stomach. She was aware of the inner anxiety within herself. She was aware that she did not have her life all together. So Maggie came to Jesus that day with no façade. She came asking for Jesus Christ to heal her.

Hopefully, we would learn that from Maggie. That we would come wanting and looking to be healed by Jesus.

One time Jesus said, “Only the people who know that they are sick want to see a doctor.” And only those people who are spiritually sick really want to see Jesus.

The second thing that I liked about Maggie is that she told Jesus the whole truth about herself. She told Jesus the whole truth about herself, her rejection for twelve years, her search for doctors, her poverty, her feelings of guilt for what she had done wrong but wasn’t quite sure what it was. We are invited to do the same with Jesus: to tell Jesus the whole truth about ourselves. The details. The particulars. The minutiae.

The third thing that I like about Maggie is her great faith. Hers was a deep faith in the power of Jesus to make her whole. Hers was a simple faith, superstitious, even magical. She said, “If only I touch the hem of his garment, I will be healed.” It was her deep faith that helped heal her. Her deep faith was a major contributor to her healing.

Her healing was not the cause of her faith.

You know, it is the opposite for many people. Such people think, “Lord, show me a miracle. God, if you heal me or my loved one, then I will really believe in you.” No, no, no, no, no. Not with Maggie. Maggie had that basic faith and as a result of that basic faith, God healed her.

What was the object of Maggie’s faith?

Was her faith in her own abilities to solve her problem? No. She had been sick for too long to have faith in her own abilities.

Was her faith in her own self confidence? No. She didn’t have much.

Was her faith a faith in faith? No. That is the placebo effect, to have faith in faith.

Was her faith in positive thinking? No. Today, if you watch programs on religious television stations, you see a lot of faith in positive thinking. “You gotta have the power of positive thinking to get ahead in this world. If you think positively, life will go better for you.”

Hundreds of times in the New Testament where the Bible talks about faith in Christ. “Faith in Christ” is a technical phrase that is repeated again and again in the New Testament, some 345 times. Again and again. Faith IN CHRIST. In the New Testament, it is always faith IN CHRIST. It is never faith in faith or faith in possibility thinking or faith in self confidence.

Further, I don’t want to be misunderstood. Just because a person believes in the power of Christ, that does not mean that a person will be healed of one’s diseases. Right now, someone may be saying to themselves, “If I really believed like Maggie, I too would be healed. I would be healed of this cancer. I would be healed of this inner torment.  My husband would be healed. My marriage would be healed. If I only believed like Maggie, then I would experience healing in my life.”

That isn’t the point of the story. That is NOT what the story is about.

Just because you have deep faith, that does not mean that you will inevitably experience healing. It just doesn’t work that way. I know all these devout Christians with the deepest of faith who died. Like we all do. My friend Norm Carlsen, one of the the most pious devout men I have ever known, lived with and died of lung cancer. Things are done according to the mystery of the will of God and these things are often done beyond our comprehension. 

Today’s gospel lesson is a wonderful story about two people. It is a story about Jesus who calmed the wind and the waves. Who healed Maggie. Who raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. And then we hear that wonderful story about Maggie and that she was so honest about her needs.

Today, this story is an invitation for you and me to have this simple faith in Christ, the power of God. This story is an invitation to call upon Christ, the power of God, for all our needs. Amen.

Rev. Edward Markquart’s sermon was edited by MD