[Audio can be found here.]
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years, and she had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse, and hearing about Jesus, and coming up behind him in the crowd, she touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." (Mark 5:25-34)
It's summer, it's hot, and for at least some of us, life has slowed down a bit. I suspect that many of you out there see summer as an excellent time to catch up on your reading. Whether it be out on the patio with a glass of lemonade, poolside with sunglasses and a floppy hat, or wedged between window and tray table on an airplane taking you somewhere for vacation, summer is the time that we all seek out a good story. And no matter what the genre, we gravitate toward stories that draw us in, captivate us, surround us with interesting people and places and situations. Good storytelling is all about the details. Details about landscapes, so that readers can imagine themselves there. Details about characters, so that readers can picture them and understand them by their unique quirks. Details about situations, so that readers not only know what is going on, but feel emotionally stirred by it. You know that you are reading a good story when you lose all track of time, when you find that you are paying no attention to the world around you, and when you are totally absorbed in the world of the story.
I hate to disappoint you. The writer of the Gospel of Mark is not one of these types of storytellers.
Mark doesn't bother us with lots of details, and doesn't give us a whole lot in the way of character descriptions or settings. Mark is short, sweet, and to the point. Sort of like all of those bad action movies that flood theaters during the summer months, Mark's gospel moves quickly from one episode to another, telling the bare bones of the story, rushing from action to action without spending much time on narration, interpretation, or explanation.
He begins his account of the woman in today's gospel with a rushed run-on sentence: And there was a woman - having a flow of blood for twelve years, having suffered under many physicians and having spent all that she had, and nothing having helped, but rather becoming worse, having heard about Jesus, coming by the back of the crowd...she touched his cloak. He rushes through the pesky but necessary details of her backstory, and brings us to the climax of the story in the very first sentence: she touched Jesus' cloak.
Mark gives us no details about what happened when she touched the cloak, what it felt like, what part of the cloak she touched, whether she touched just the cloak or managed to touch Jesus in the process, whether the rest of the crowd parted for her or whether she had to push through, whether she got a handful of fabric or only a slight brush of the fingertips. No, none of those details, because they aren't the important details. Mark tells it simply: she touched his cloak and she was healed.
Mark doesn't linger on this woman or her experience of healing. He quickly shifts the focus to Jesus, who stops and wonders aloud “Who touched me?” Jesus knows that something has taken place, so he stops to address it. He doesn't get distracted by the practical details like his disciples do - “Jesus, we're in a huge crowd and we've all gotten our toes stepped on and shoulders bumped along the walk, seriously, you're asking who touched you?”
Jesus, like the woman, is absorbed in the plain truth of the moment. He knows that someone has touched him; she knows that she has been healed. This binds them together, and it takes nothing more than Jesus scanning the crowd to draw this woman out into the open, falling at his feet.. Again, Mark doesn't tell us much about the way things transpire; whether this woman came forward voluntarily or whether someone nudged her forward. He simply tells us that she came to Jesus and told him the whole truth. And in response, Jesus gives her the whole truth of his ministry, in one simple statement: Your faith has saved you, go in peace, be healed of your disease.
If you've ever watched a courtroom drama, you've probably heard someone swear that they will “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” And as I look back at this story, at the way Mark has chosen to tell it, I realize that Mark is himself telling “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” He's not bothering us with details that might get in the way of telling the truth, he's not distracting us with details that make the truth fuzzy or unclear. He is simply telling us the truth, the matter-of-fact truth that this woman, reaching out in faith to Jesus the healer, was healed. The simple truth that Jesus is the one in whom we find healing, salvation, and peace.
I think that there is something to be learned from this woman, and from Mark's not-so-subtle writing style. The woman teaches us something about what it means for us to tell the whole truth to Jesus, and Mark teaches us something about what it means for us to tell the whole truth about Jesus.
Let's start with telling the whole truth to Jesus. We know that Jesus came to earth and entered fully into our humanity so that we might be saved. The human Jesus lived a human life: he probably stubbed his toe once or twice, or hit his thumb with a hammer. He probably had favorite foods and foods that disgusted him; he laughed and he cried; he got sweaty and sunburned on the hottest days; he might have snored. I'm not saying all of this to detract from his holiness and his divinity, but if we believe that he became truly human, it means that we believe that he entered fully into the whole range of human experiences and emotions. This means that he understands anger and fear. He understands confusion and weariness. He understands change and doubt. Because Jesus knows what it is to be human, there is nothing that we cannot bring to his feet. There is no truth about ourselves that we cannot tell him, there is no confession we make that cannot be forgiven, there is no circumstance that is outside the range of God's grace. Like this woman, we might find ourselves approaching Jesus in fear and trembling, but Jesus' only response to us is unfailing love. No matter what our turmoils, Jesus is the one who gives us peace. No matter how dire our situation, Jesus is the one who offers us salvation. No matter what our sufferings, Jesus is the one who heals our souls.
Things get harder, however, when we talk about telling the truth about Jesus...because this moves us into that scary territory called “evangelism,” a word that, at its root, has to do with sharing the good news, but a word that, to many of us, conjures up a very specific sort of image.
At the end of my very first semester at seminary, I was at Starbucks, studying for my Old Testament final exam. My textbook was sitting on the table for reference as I scanned through pages and pages of notes and flashcards. A man walked by, noticed my book, and dropped a tract on the table. “If you like that,” he said, pointing to my book, “then you'll be really interested to read this.” The irony was not lost on me that I was studying for a seminary exam with the eventual hope of being a pastor, and here, this man, was trying to convert me to Christianity.
This, in my opinion, has nothing to do with true evangelism. It has nothing to do with telling the whole truth about Jesus. He wanted to convert me, but never intended to tell me any sort of good news except, perhaps, the “good news” that believing in Jesus would keep me out of hell, which is a pretty narrow sort of good news. But today's gospel tells us that the good news is much bigger, that Jesus heals us, saves us, and brings us peace.
We don't know what happened to that woman after Jesus and the crowds continued along the way. I'm just guessing here, but it seems to me that she would have returned to her family and village, telling everyone what had just happened to her. The Bible is full of stories of people who, upon being healed by Jesus, run off and tell everyone that they see about their interaction with the person of Jesus. They experience Jesus and run to tell the world about that experience, because they are so moved, so excited, so amazed that they can't keep their mouths shut.
This, my friends, is what true evangelism is about - telling the story of what Jesus has done in our lives. We are called to share, very simply, what we ourselves know about Jesus based on our own face-to-face interactions with him. We are called to tell the stories of the times that we have pushed through the crowd to see him. We are called to tell the stories of the times we have brushed the hem of his garment. We are called to tell the stories of how he has saved us and healed us and given us peace. We are called to tell the stories of how he has done miraculous things in our lives, even when the rest of the world laughed in his – or our – faces. We are called to share the simple truth we heard in Lamentations: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”
And if we take our cues from Mark, we don't have to worry about being elaborate or articulate storytellers. The power of our stories doesn't come from exquisite storytelling, it comes from the our honesty and exuberance. Our stories of Jesus are our gifts to the world, and Paul in Corinthians tells us that it is the eagerness of our gifts that makes them acceptable. So whether you are an elaborate storyteller or a simple truth-teller like Mark, we are called to share the good news that Jesus heals, that he saves, that he gives us peace.
I want you to take a moment and think about what your story of Jesus is. I want you to think like Mark, in short sentences, in simple truths, in necessary details. What would your story be? I can guarantee that your story of Jesus is different than the person sitting next to you. We have all experienced Jesus in many and various ways in our lives.
And yet, all of our stories are bound together by the good news that Jesus came to earth to live, to die, and to rise again, that we might have abundant life. Our stories are bound together at the cross, where life and salvation were won for us, where the powers of sin and death were defeated.
For the foundation of all of our stories of faith is the person of Christ, who we meet again and again as we come to the table, as we hear every week the story of our salvation, as we come to Christ, even in fear and trembling, to hear him say to us: “Your faith has saved you. I have healed you. Go in peace, and share the good news.”