Gospel of Mark, Hope, Lent, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Rheumatoid Disease

Desperate enough to hope (Mark 5:21-43)

Have you ever been desperate enough to hope?

When my mother was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, with multiple metastases, I had a hard time imagining any outcome other than the terminal results the doctor forecasted. She didn’t have much fight in her, didn’t want to spend what seemed to remain of her life in the hospital, or recovering from more surgery, and she opted for palliative care.

It was hard to know how to pray. The course of her illness seemed almost predictable; the fact of her death took on inevitability.

Jairus did not affirm the inevitable.

Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, came forward. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded with him, “My daughter is about to die. Please, come and place your hands on her so that she can be healed and live.” (Mark 4:22-23, CEB)

There’s a fine line between a confident hope and the other kind.

A woman was there who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors, and had spent everything she had without getting any better. In fact, she had gotten worse. (Mark 5:25-26)

It’s been almost ten years since I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I felt pretty desperate that spring, terrified of what was to come, frantic about the stiffness and swelling and pain that rendered ordinary tasks nearly impossible, forcing me to choose between chopping broccoli and writing the sermon that paid for the broccoli. I couldn’t hold a pen in my hand to write a check, so I certainly couldn’t start and finish a knitting project. I stopped playing the piano, because I needed what capacity my hands had to wash my hair and drive the car.

Because she had heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his clothes. She was thinking, If I can just touch his clothes, I’ll be healed. (Mark 5:27-28)

If someone had told me about a guy coming through town with miraculous healing powers, I might have gone looking for him, because it is not exaggerating to say I felt that desperate, desperate enough I wished I could hope for some kind of divine intervention, desperate for some supernatural power to exert itself.

I wished I could hope.

Jesus responded, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.” (Mark 5:34)

My mother was so passive in the face of illness, so receptive to her mortality as an alternative to inconveniencing everyone around her, so fearful of getting to the age her mother had been when a series of small strokes changed her personality, so determined to control as many things as she possibly could until she could not control anything at all.

So, when my illness came, I didn’t pray for physical healing. I approached my illness as I saw my mother approach hers, praying for serenity, putting myself in God’s care, but not asking for *too* much. Note I said above I “might” have gone looking for the healer. I don’t know who I am protecting with that kind of passivity. God? Myself?

I’ve gotten used to living with limitations, so it wouldn’t be accurate to describe me as desperate, as long as health insurance and prescription assistance keep paying for the unbelievably expensive medication I receive every six weeks. At most I pray, “Lord, I wouldn’t mind feeling better.” God knows, there are plenty of people with more to bear than I, and for them, I pray, and I believe. I have Jairus’s part down.

So I wonder how it would feel to go out into the street, to press through the crowd, to do it believing with the most desperate kind of hope that touching God’s garment would make it all go away, would loosen the stiff joints, and reduce the swelling, and alleviate the fatigue, and take away the pain I don’t much allow myself to acknowledge. I wonder how it would feel to ask for healing for myself. I wonder what it would feel like to believe it’s possible for me.

I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

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