While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well. When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district. — Matthew 9:18-26 NRSV
I think that of all the stories in the Bible, this one, or actually these two, are probably my favorites. They are repeated in both Mark and Luke, but this one seems like the Reader’s Digest version, a condensation that hits the high spots and leaves out a lot of details, unlike the stories in both Mark and Luke. Still, the three of them all feature the same kind of “sandwich” format — Jesus is going to heal a child, is stopped by the touch of an older woman followed by her healing, then he continues on to his destination not to heal a child but to raise her from the dead. In a sense, two women were physically raised from the dead that day, one from true physical death and one from a kind of cultural death that resulted from not only from illness but also isolation and invisibility caused by cultural norms and practices.
I was just thinking about the story when I realized that I was usually drawn to the elder woman, the one who was healed by the faith that if only she touched a tassel on Jesus’ clothes, she would be freed from the illness that had plagued her life for twelve years. Oddly (or perhaps not so oddly), twelve years was the same number the young girl had lived on this earth. I usually see myself in the woman, not because of her faith but more because of her age and her less-than-visible ailment. I wish I could say I had a quarter of her faith, but the truth is that only sometimes can I even come close. Still, I look at her and feel not just compassion but connection. She is my sister, perhaps moreso because in her I see some of my own struggles.
Today, though, my thoughts went to the girl-child who began and ended the scripture passage. I think too of the “rest of the story” in the other recountings. This girl was a child of promise, as all children are. She had already beaten the odds many times by surviving to the age of twelve, the very threshold of womanhood and the beginning of her life as wife, mother and probably grandmother. That was her promise, and now she lay sick unto death with something the physicians could not cure. Her father had the faith that Jesus could heal her if only he would come to her bedside since she could not come to him. The delay with the hemorrhaging woman must have been agonizing to him, risking the life of his precious daughter to cure some unknown woman of something that still allowed her to walk around, had been with her for years without being imminently fatal and surely could have waited a few hours if not a day or so for a cure. But Jesus chose to stop and the father had no choice but to wait.
I wonder about what the girl-child was thinking as she waited for her papa to return to her. Surely no matter how close to death she was, she would wait for someone who had loved and protected her all her life to return to her and make her better. Kids have faith that their parents can do that; I know I thought mine could. I trusted that they could take the pain in my legs away, which they did with hot water and leg rubs, both of them sitting up with me until the cramps subsided and they could put me to bed and then return to their interrupted slumbers themselves. Maybe the girl-child didn’t have faith that Jesus could heal her but I bet my bottom dollar she had faith her daddy could.
Two women, two stories, two cures, two lives turned completely around by the God-given power of one man, the presence of God and the faith that Jesus could do what human beings could not do and cure what they could not. I have to ask myself what can I learn from the story that I haven’t learned before? Where is my faith, in my papa or in my Parent/Brother/Guide? Of what do I need to be healed, a physical ailment, an emotional breakdown, a spiritual desert? For what am I looking, a cure or a healing? They are different things– one removes a disease or difficulty while the other removes the need to fear it or let it define me. Cures are wonderful things but healings are priceless.
Today I can see myself as both women at various times in my life. Their stories become mine and I learn from both of them. I can ask for what I need and I can have faith to believe that even the unasked will be answered in some way, even if not exactly the way I would want it to be. The person I reach out to touch might be the one who helps to heal something in me, and the one I pray for might be the one who again proves to me that prayers can change lives.
Pretty powerful lessons for a morning’s thoughts and eight short verses of what amounts to a Reader’s Digest version of a story. It makes me want to examine my life to see where the cures and the healings are. Am I one of the walking wounded or am I lying there waiting for someone else to bring me help? Most of all, in whom and in what do I put my faith?
I think it’s going to be an interesting contemplation for the rest of today — and beyond.