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Monday, March 9, 2015

Today’s Reading | Mark 5:21–43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” He went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and 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.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (NRSV)

It is impossible for me to read these familiar scriptures without returning to my childhood and my first experience with serious illness. In 1961 at fifty-nine years of age, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (“PD”), a neurodegenerative brain disorder. At the same time, Oral Roberts, pioneer televangelist, was attracting a vast viewership from his Tulsa, Oklahoma, headquarters, just fifty miles south of my hometown. The terms faith healer and seed faith were used to describe Oral Roberts, and I sometimes watched as thousands of sick people would stand in line so that he could pray for their healing.

As a preteen I was frightened and, I am ashamed to say, embarrassed.  Why had this happened to a faithful Christian and loving father? Being familiar with the text in Mark, especially the passages regarding the woman’s healing, I trusted that with enough faith my father could be cured. Didn’t the Bible tell me so? (Do you remember singing the song as a child?). Wasn’t Oral Roberts the current-day evidence?

These many years later Christian theological discourse on faith healing is easily found in literature and television.  It generally runs a continuum of “open-but-cautious” to outright denial. Scholars reference that the healing in the Gospels was needed as a sign to prove Jesus’ divinity and to foster belief in him. Consistent with Christian theological evolution, my own beliefs evolved—not because I am a theological scholar, but based on my own life experience and a biblical foundation. I still read these scriptures and find comfort in them just as I did when a preteen. There were many faith lessons learned and a strength gained from my family’s experience dealing with the disease as it progressed. Utilizing medical advances, my determined father lived another twenty years with the disease. He lived to rock his grandchildren and play T-ball as they grew.

For the family and congregation who provided a faith foundation, for the gift of the Bible to guide me always, I give you thanks. Amen.

Written by Marilee Hopkins, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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