Three ministers were on a train returning from a conference they been to together. The closing session had been about the dangers of temptation, and so in the spirit of mutual support they decided to share their weaknesses with each other so that they could become mutually accountable. They all agreed that it was a good idea, but who should go first? There was a moment of awkward silence, until flushed with embarrassment, one of them blurted out, ‘I have a problem with alcohol, and when things become stressful in secret I drink far more than I ought…’ The tension broken, the second spoke up, ‘I haven’t told this to anyone before, but I struggle with wrong thoughts about women, especially the pretty ones in the congregation. If they knew what I was really thinking as I preached!…’ Both turned to the third to see what he would say. Looking at them with a guilty smile on his face, their colleague confessed, ‘I have a problem with gossip…’
Last night in housegroup we looked at the stories of Jarius rushing to Jesus to get help for his dying daughter and an anonymous woman who has struggled with bleeding for twelve years, and has been unable to find anyone who could stop it (this story can be found in Mark 5:21-43, I say story not stories as they are interwoven by Mark as they illuminate each other). These are two gut wrenching tales of people caught in unbearable situations, worth taking time to meditate on.
The story of the woman particularly struck me as we talked. She is desperate for help, not only is her condition a medical problem, but it is also a social one; such bleeding made her ‘ritually unclean’ in Jewish eyes. She would have been shunned, avoided, and no doubt spent her life trying to be unseen to avoid public shame. And so she comes to Jesus, not looking for a meeting, or to ask him for help, but simply to sneak up to him, trying to remain invisible in the crowd, and touch his cloak, hoping that this would help her. And it does, her faith in him makes her well.
But the story does not end there. Jesus realises what has happened. He could have let the incident pass, but he doesn’t. He forces her to unveil herself, ‘who touched me?’
This is not an act of retribution, but recognition that for our faith to be complete it has to be public. Our sins, weakness and doubts if kept private can isolate us from each other and God, causing us to hold back. If we bring them into the open, not only are we open to Jesus’ mercy and healing, but also we are allowing the church to help, offering support when needed, and bringing those who have separated themselves from them back into the family.
Article for church newsletter, 20.02.11