By Father Joseph Homick
Jesus is proclaimed today as the One who heals the sick and raises the dead (Lk. 8:41-56), but there is more to this Gospel than meets the eye. For the things that the Lord has done, though quite astonishing even if only considered in their original contexts of time and place, have a value beyond the fact of miracles once worked. This is because when we celebrate the mysteries of Christ in the Divine Liturgy, we not only remember and glorify Him for what He has done in the past, but we try to open ourselves to what He is doing, or wants to do, here and now in our own lives. And this is oftentimes every bit as miraculous as what He did when He walked the earth in the flesh.
We know these Gospel accounts quite well by now: Jesus healed the bleeding woman when she touched his garment with faith, and He raised from the dead the young maiden who was the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue official. What we need to know a little better is what these miracles have to teach us. We also need to recognize more clearly the presence of Him who still walks among us through the power and grace of his Holy Spirit, and who desires to heal and raise us up as well.
We probably can’t imagine very well what it was like for that woman to have been hemorrhaging for twelve years, spending all her money on doctors who couldn’t help her. It is true that there are many people who suffer from chronic afflictions today, but this particular case was not only a painful and exhausting condition, it was also one that rendered her ritually unclean, which meant that she was excluded from joining in the worship of God with his chosen people. So it must have seemed like a curse to her, a sign of God’s wrath, an indication that she had been rejected by Him. Yet something in her heart must have told her that no, God is compassionate and merciful; God will heal her if her prayer proves to be acceptable.
So with trembling, yet with the boldness of the desperate, she approached God Incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth, whom she believed bore within Himself the power of God to heal. She did not want to defile Him by touching his body, so she reasoned that she could find healing simply by touching the hem of his garment, and so her faith moved her to stretch out her hand. She was instantly healed as she touched his garment. As St Mark puts it: “immediately the hemorrhage ceased, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.”
This is the only case I know of in the Gospels in which someone was healed without Jesus directly willing or acting to perform the miracle. The woman’s faith was so strong that God the Father evidently intervened to heal the woman without first consulting his Son! Jesus was immediately aware, however, that power had gone forth from Him, and so he knew that someone had accessed this power by means of faith. So He asked, “Who touched me?” The disciples didn’t get it, because they pointed out that all kinds of people in the crowd were pressing against Him. What He meant was, “Who touched me with such faith that my power was drawn forth from me?” When the woman realized she was not to go unnoticed, she proclaimed to all what she had done and how she was healed.
There are several ways in which we might see ourselves in that afflicted woman. Even if we aren’t physically sick, we might feel that for various reasons our life is draining out of us, that we are exhausted and unwell, unable to find peace or healing. We may feel in a metaphorical sense that we are slowly bleeding to death, simply because life’s trials and hardships and demands take an ever-greater toll upon us. Or maybe we are stuck in some sin, like the ritual uncleanness of the woman that barred her from joining in the worship of the people of God. If we are in a state of mortal sin we are barred from the life-giving sacrament of the Holy Eucharist until we repent and receive absolution and resolve to change our lives.
Whatever our affliction may be, we know where to turn, we know to whom we can reach out to find healing and mercy. We also have some distinct advantages which that ancient righteous woman did not have. Jesus is now accessible to us at all times and places, and therefore we don’t have to work our way through a crowd in order to reach Him, so we can at least begin to “connect” with Him through faith and prayer. But the real healing will come through the sacraments. Once our sins are forgiven through confession, we can approach the Eucharistic chalice with confidence and faith and love. And then a miracle happens. If we have felt the slow bleed of a life being drained of its joy and strength, suddenly the Blood of Jesusflows into us! The power that comes forth from Him as we come to touch Him in Holy Communion is the power of his Sacrifice, his body broken and his blood poured out to take away the sins of the world. There is a ceaseless flow of Precious Blood and Living Water pouring forth mystically and sacramentally from his pierced Heart, and He invites us to come and receive mercy and healing and new life from Him, who laid down his life for us only to take it up again, glorified, able now to heal every sick, sinful, suffering human being, if only we would come to Him in faith and loving trust.
Did I say He laid down his life for us? Let me correct myself: He laid down his life for you, and He laid it down for me. This is something very important, and St Paul emphasizes this in today’s epistle (Gal. 2:16-20). He says that he lives “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” The “me” isn’t meant to be selfish or exclusive, for he means for each of us to say the same thing. He just doesn’t want us to get the impression that Christ died for the abstraction known as “humanity,” nor did He die merely for a huge anonymous mass of beings that swarm over this planet. He died for each individual “me,” whom He knows and loves personally, uniquely. That means we are faced with an inescapable truth, a dramatic confrontation with this incredibly powerful, beautiful, holy, intensely loving Person, who places Himself squarely before us, saying: “I loved you and gave myself for you; I have known and loved you since I created you in your mother’s womb; I suffered and died for you in order to take away your sins and welcome youinto Paradise, even though you continue to grieve and hurt and offend Me. I refuse, however, to take back My love, and so the saving power of my Sacrifice stands perpetually before My Father. I offer My love again to you today. Do you have anything to say to Me?”
This is where I should stop and let you reflect on this and give your personal answer, but fool that I am, I will go on talking. I think you’ll need more time than the perpetual motion of our Liturgy provides, anyway. But don’t forget to do this in your private prayer; it is indispensable for your deeper life in Christ. I often come face to face, as it were, with this mystery, since I have a large image of the face of Christ from the Shroud of Turin before which I regularly pray. He doesn’t say anything; He doesn’t have to. The serene majesty of his holy face, bearing bloodstains and other marks of his Passion, says it all: “This is how I have loved you.”
St Paul was able to understand and receive the deeply personal and all-consuming love of Jesus for two reasons, which are so inseparable as to be one. First he says that he is crucified with Christ. The Greek term (synestavromai) is in the perfect passive form, which means he has been, and remains, crucified with Christ. Another English translation is more graphic: “I have been nailed to the cross with Christ.” This is a union that demands more than faith; it demands the offering of one’s entire life, body and soul. And because of this self-offering in response to Jesus’ self-offering, we come to the next reason: “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me.” This is a union both sacramental and mystical, for it begins with baptism into Jesus’ paschal mystery, is nourished with the abiding Eucharistic presence, and is continuously extended through faith, prayer, sacrifice, and all that makes up the self-oblation of those who truly want to know the love of Jesus and respond in the fullest way possible.
I haven’t yet talked about the raising of Jairus’ daughter, but I’m already getting near the end. Just a couple things we ought to hear, and though we know them, we need to hear them again and again. When the situation seemed hopeless—and what hope can one have for physical healing when the sick loved one dies?—Jesus still encouraged them: “Do not fear; only believe, and she shall be well.” This doesn’t mean that if we have dying friends or relatives, Jesus is going to raise them from the dead as soon as they die. He will raise them on the last day—though even in our day there are some rare divine interventions like what we have heard in the Gospel. But this counsel to abandon fear and embrace faith and trust applies to countless situations in our lives, and the power of resurrection can be applied to our souls long before the time when all the dead are called forth from their graves.
God is able to work miracles in our souls, and if we let Him, He will. Sometimes it takes many years, not because it is too difficult for God or because He is busy with other things, but because it is often the case that many different elements have to be in place before the healing or inner resurrection can happen. It may be that weare busy with other things, and are not giving sufficient attention to our relationship with Him. There may be things we still have to learn, things we have to experience, certain obstacles—especially if they are related to sin—that have to be overcome, or at least vigorously renounced. A certain level of openness of heart and mind and soul may have to be attained.
But when God sees that we are ready—and once we make every effort to dispose ourselves to God’s grace and get ready—miracles begin to happen. Like the woman who felt Jesus’ power entering her, and all through her body she felt that she was healed, there will come a moment when divine grace enters us in such a way that we realize that we have been healed, that something unmistakable, undeniable, has happened. We will sense that we have crossed a line, taken a step, entered into a new level of spiritual life, never to return to where we were before. It will be like rising from the dead. In the midst of our spiritual emptiness or the groggy half-sleep of our struggling souls, and as if a response to our cries to God in raw, naked faith, we will hear the gentle but powerful voice: “Child, arise!”
Then we will know Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. It will no longer be we who live, but it will be Christ who lives in us. If we accept to be nailed to the Cross with Him, He will raise us up. In this life the mysteries of his Cross and his Resurrection co-exist in our souls, one or another manifesting predominantly as the Lord chooses. It the next life it is all Resurrection, though we will never forget that this is the fruit of the Precious Cross.
So let us reach out to the Lord in our need, through faith, prayer, Confession and Communion, so that his power, the power of his love poured out as Precious Blood, will flow into us, healing us, raising up our souls, so that He lives in us and we in Him. And we will know it; we will feel it; and we will never look back.