For two weeks now on our southern border, children as young as infants have been separated from their mothers. We have seen pictures of children caged, sleeping on floors with only space blankets. While many question how this can be happening, other commentators have offered that it’s “like going to summer camp” where they’re better off than with their parents [Laura Ingrahm], or that the children are “child actors reading off scripts” [Ann Coulter]. All sense of the Bible’s particular concern with women, orphans and resident aliens aside, most people can agree it has been difficult to watch. There is a palpable sense of desperation playing out right before our eyes.
Then breaking news interrupts all of this with a targeted attack on a newspaper office, the Capital Gazette, in Annapolis, our state capital. A 38-year-old white male blocked the rear entrance of the building, blasted his way through the front lobby, killed five and wounded several others before being apprehended. Having narrowly survived a targeted shooting in my church office in Ellicott City six years ago, a host of feelings from sadness to anger to fear rushed back to the surface knowing what the survivors at the Gazette and their families must be going through and will for days, weeks, months and years ahead. Again, a palpable sense of desperation is playing out right before our eyes, and in news rooms across the country asking themselves who will be next.
It is against this backdrop that in Mark 5:21-43 we get a story of crisis for two women, one a twelve-year-old girl, daughter of a prominent leader of the community, dying at home; the other, a woman who has had a flow of blood for twelve years, spent all her money on doctors to no avail, only to be worse off than ever. The father of the girl pleads with Jesus for help. The woman with the flow of blood for twelve years uses what little strength she has left to push through a crowd of people around Jesus on his way to the leader of the synagogue’s house with urgency. Her goal is to simply try to touch him or the hem of his garment. The desperation of the father and the woman in the story is no less palpable than that on our southern border, in Annapolis, and across the country.
Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time and scores of other books on the intersection of faith and life, offers this take on the woman with a flow of blood for twelve years – the length of time the girl who is dying has been alive. It is about the woman, but it can be about any one on the border or in Annapolis, or, indeed, any one of us at any given time. While pondering L’Engle’s poem we might consider who this woman is in our world today:
Storm By Madeleine L’Engle
When I pushed through the crowd,
jostled, bumped, elbowed by the curious
who wanted to see what everyone else
was so excited about,
all I could think of was my pain
and that perhaps if I could touch him,
this man they said worked miracles,
cured diseases, even those as foul as mine,
I might find relief. I was tired from hurting,
exhausted, revolted by my body,
unfit for any man, and yet not let loose
from desire and need. I wanted to rest,
to sleep without pain or filthiness or torment.
I don’t really know why I thought he could help me
when all the doctors with all their knowledge
had left me still drained and bereft of all that makes
a woman’s life worth living. Well: I had seen him
with some children, and his laughter was quick and merry
and reminded me of when I was young and well,
though he looked tired; and he was as old as I am.
There was that leper –
but lepers have been cured before-
No, it wasn’t the leper,
or the man cured of palsy,
or any of the other stories of miracles,
or at any rate that was the least of it;
I had been promised miracles too often.
I saw him ahead of me in the crowd,
and there was something in his glance
and in the way his hand rested briefly
on the matted head of a small boy
who was getting in everybody’s way,
and I knew that if only I could get to him,
not to bother him, you understand, not to interrupt,
or to ask him for anything, not even his attention,
just to get to him and touch him….
I didn’t think he’d mind, and he needn’t even know.
I pushed through the crowd
and it seemed they were deliberately
trying to keep me from him.
I stumbled and fell and someone stepped
on my hand and I cried out
and nobody heard. I crawled to my feet
and pushed on and at last I was close,
so close that I could reach out
and touch with my fingers the hem of his garment.
Have you ever been near when lightning struck?
I was, once, when I was very small
and a summer storm came without warning
and lightning split the tree under which I had
been playing and I was flung right across
the courtyard. That’s how it was.
Only this time I was not the child
but the tree
and the lightning filled me.
He asked, “Who touched me?”
and people dragged me away, roughly,
and the men around him were angry at me.
“Who touched me?” he asked.
“I did, Lord,” I said, so that he might have the lightning back
which I had taken from him when I touched his garment’s hem.
He only looked at me and then I knew
that only he and I knew about the lightning.
but he was not angry.
He looked at me and the lightning refilled him,
and he smiled at me
and I knew that I was healed.
Then the crowed came between us
and he moved on, taking the lightning with him,
perhaps to strike again.
Note that this woman who has been ritually impure for twelve long years, has had no social life, no place in society all this time, is just as important to Jesus as the daughter of one the most prominent leaders in town. Jesus is in a hurry to help the girl, but takes time to stop, talk with, get to know, and relieve the woman of her dis-ease, suggesting that there is an important place for people on the outside and margins of society in the realization of God’s reign on earth.
Also note the number of people who, like the doctors and others, see both this woman and the girls as lost causes and not worthy of Jesus’ time and effort. When he arrives to the home of the girl and announces that the girl is not dead but is only sleeping, we are told, “And they laughed at him.” Yet, for Jesus there are no lost causes.
Finally, we might note that despite their vastly different stations in life, the father and the woman with a flow of blood share several things in common: both come to Jesus, not he to them; both are persistent in getting to Jesus; both have absolute faith in the power of Jesus to make things right. The desperation of both the father and the woman is as palpable as anything we experience in the world about us.
Expressing our desperation and acting on it is the beginning of healing for all of us. “He was tired and emptied/ but he was not angry./ He looked at me and the lightning refilled him,/ and he smiled at me and I knew that I was healed.”