Hebrews 12:1-4; Mark 5:21-43
Today we are presented with two characters who are among the easiest in the entire gospel of Mark to sympathize with. The first is Jairus, the father of a dying twelve year-old girl; the second, an unnamed woman plagued with continuous menstrual bleeding. Who cannot sympathize with a man helplessly watching as life ebbs from the body of his daughter, or a woman left broke from futile medical treatments whose perpetual state of uncleanness condemns her to live out her life suffering and isolated from her family, friends, and society at large?
Yet for all that the evangelist doesn’t want to evoke sympathy; rather, his intention is to draw us into the action, to see ourselves in the stories and characters. This is an effective technique not only for contemplating and better understanding the actions of Christ and those around him but ourselves as well.
These characters make this easier because their stories resonate across time. We’ve all known people whose children have suffered life-threatening illnesses or who have gone from doctor to doctor with no relief of their suffering. We may be those people! What did we do? Being believers we prayed, asking God for relief. Certainly Jairus and the woman prayed; however, neither had gotten the answer they wanted. The question is, what would our reaction be to that?
If we’re honest with ourselves we must admit that sometimes when our prayers are not answered as we want, we’re tempted to stop praying; to be angry at or resentful toward God. While this is perfectly normal the honesty works both ways; that is, if we’re going to question God’s motives then we must question our own by asking if our image of God is as a Father or as an instrument to be used (CCC §2734)? That is, are we praying “Thy will be done” or “My will be done”?
Consider Jairus. Mark calls him a “synagogue official” and in his gospel they are no friends of Christ. Even if he was a disciple, the scandal of association might have kept him away. No matter; his love for his daughter eclipsed everything. Even if his prayer at the feet of our Lord was tinged with ambivalence or fear, Jesus rewarded him for overcoming it and trusting in God’s providence rather than his own understanding.
Next, consider the woman by the side of the road. She was afraid to approach our Lord, perhaps because of her impurity. Nevertheless, her desperation and frustration drove her to find Jesus, if only to touch his garment. While her immediate healing implied faith on her part, Jesus wanted her faith expressed. Even so, he doesn’t demand, only asks, “Who touched me?” Now think about her response. She could have hidden or run away; instead, she approached him and confessed all. Only then did he say that her faith cured her.
The letter to the Hebrews exhorts us to “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:1-2). This is much easier said than done when we are suffering but the key lies in the next phrase of that verse: “while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). The important thing is not that Jairus and the woman understood or were unafraid; they may have understood nothing and been completely afraid. The important thing is that they persevered, they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus. They allowed faith to be their guide and in so doing went beyond their understanding, beyond their fear.
That is the boldness of faith, founded on divine love and rewarded with transformation of the heart (CCC §2739). It is true that both women in today’s gospel story were healed, and that is a reward in itself, but the true reward given to Jairus and the woman was transformation of the heart. This transformation causes us to seek only what pleases the Father, and it’s why St. Josemaria Escriva urged us to begin our prayers of petition with the words, If it pleases you, Lord…. He knew, as the Catechism teaches, that “If our prayer is resolutely united with that of Jesus, in trust and boldness as children, we obtain all that we ask in his name, even more than any particular thing: the Holy Spirit himself, who contains all gifts” (CCC §2741).