Now the crowds were pressing up against Jesus as the word of his healing of Jarius’(a patron of the synagogue) daughter spread. There was a woman in the crowd who came up behind him and touched his cloak. She was immediately healed of the bleeding condition that had plagued her for twelve years. According to Mark, when Jesus felt some of his power leach out, he turned to ask, “Who touched my clothes?” It took some courage and a little while for the woman to answer him; then falling at his feet, she told what had happened. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be healed from your suffering.”(Matthew 9:20-2, Mark 5:25-9, Luke 8:43-8)
Bleeding sounds like a female problem, but after so many years she also must also suffer at the very least anemia, exhaustion, and an inability to do many things. Another disease Jesus healed was leprosy. A man with leprosy approached Jesus, knelt and said, “If you are willing you can make me clean.” And Jesus replied, “I am willing. Be clean.” And he was immediately healed. (Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-2, Luke 5:12-3)
Leprosy was not just another sickness; lepers were shunned from fear of contagion and impurity in the New Testament days and would be today as well, but there are now treatments for leprosy if it is caught early enough. It’s a bacteria-caused disease, officially Hansen’s disease, affecting the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract and peripheral nerves. Secondary infections cause the tissue loss in fingers and toes that become shortened and deformed. Sickness and deformity combine in leprosy making it a horrific disease to have. There was virtually no life for a leper, not in society or in the family.
Another illness detailed in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew(8:14-5) and Luke(4:38) were high fevers suffered by Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. In Luke’s version Jesus bent over the woman and rebuked the fever; it left her. Fever with maybe chills, semi-consciousness, an inability to do anything else, plus whatever other symptoms of disease are present—again it is difficult to live any sort of regular life with a disease of this nature.
It’s no wonder that Jesus’ reputation as a healer brought out the crowds. They brought all the sick they knew into his presence. As soon as the word went out that Jesus was coming, the people brought the sick and disabled, knowing by word of mouth that all one had to do was to touch his cloak and the person would be healed immediately.(Matthew 14:36)
Healing of the sick is the third type of healings Jesus offered his followers and the crowds that pressed around him. We have already discussed healings of demon-possession and of physical disabilities; today we are focused on fevers, leprosy, bleeding and other forms of illness.
Sickness takes us out of normal life and makes it difficult for us to contribute to life and to others, to do our work, to gather and prepare food—just the basics of life. Looking metaphorically at illness we can see it as anything that takes us from the life we were created to have, be it caused by a bacterium or have unknown causes, we can’t participate in our life in the smallest way or certainly not live to the fullest.
Illness Isolates us. First it undermines our ability to be active as the body marshals its forces against the invading virus or bacterium. Further other people stay away from us from fear of contagion, fear of “catching” such a condition themselves. Just as with a fear of “catching” a disability like lameness or blindness from being around such people, many are afraid of being with someone who is sick, not wishing to think of the consequences in their lives of having the same illness. People often find out who their true friends are when they suffer from a difficult sickness, or are in deep grief or when some other tragedy has befallen them. Many people avoid others in these conditions.
Suffering from a difficult illness takes all our resources, consumes our time and depletes us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. “Why me, Lord?” becomes the cry. We can prolong the agony of an illness by resisting its prominence in our lives. Illness is not unlike demon-possession in that it takes us totally out of our lives into some kind of hell; some virus or bacteria, instead of a “demon,” has compromised our lives. So Jesus’ healing becomes essential along with any medicines we can take to remedy the illness. Medicines can heal the physical part of an illness, but who can heal the emotional, mental and spiritual toll?
I know that healing prayers are not always answered, at least not to the extent that we would expect. And therein lies the problem. We expect healing to come in a certain form, to wipe out the illness or other condition that we are suffering, to let us get back to “normal.”
When prayers are seemingly unanswered, we need to step back, not in disappointment and anger, but in order to see what has been given, what blessings were sent, maybe to see the Lord’s presence in the small things of life, rather than insisting on our way as the only outcome that will answer our prayers. If we can focus on what healing was offered(although not what we wanted), we can see the Lord’s caring for us and be affirmed that he did care, he does care.
In stepping back from our situation we are seeing more with God’s eyes than our very human ones. We give up our expectations in order to see what is really there. And God is always there.