One of my favorite healing stories occurs in Mark’s gospel. It’s an interruption story, really—Jesus is on his way to heal the dying daughter of the synagogue’s ruler, Jairus. She’s a clearly beloved child, just twelve years old. Jairus comes to Jesus and prostrates himself, begging for her healing, calling her “my little daughter.” Whatever it was Jesus had thought he was going to do that day changes; Mark says simply, “So he went with him.”
A woman suffering from hemorrhages approaches Jesus in the crowd that presses against him. Having decided that simply touching his clothes will make her well, she violates the purity taboos (Jesus will be made ritually unclean by her touch, even on his clothing). When she touches him, two things occur at once: she is healed and knows it, and Jesus senses power flowing out of him and stops to find out where that power went.
He stops—spare a moment of pity for poor, distracted Jairus, who, having found Jesus, is trying to lead him to his home as quickly as possible. When Jairus went to find Jesus, his daughter was at the point of death; who knows how long it took him to get to Jesus. But Jesus stops, intent on finding out who touched him, a request even his own disciples find ludicrous in view of the crowd pressing around him.
I doubt that Jesus needed to be told who touched him. If he could sense power going from him, he could figure out where it went. The question then isn’t for his sake, but for the sake of the woman. She comes, in fear and trembling, the text says, and like Jairus falls before him, telling him “the whole truth”—and I wonder how long that took.
Jesus has all the time in the world, regardless of the hand-wringing Jairus, who cannot know that Jesus will soon raise his daughter from the dead. He listens, and then tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
This at first seems like an odd statement; after all, the woman has already felt the healing power, and Jesus knew power had gone from him. I think about the ritual uncleanness of this woman, who for twelve years has been shunned, certainly by the community and possibly by her own family. Bleeding was shameful; furthermore, Luke’s account says she’s spent all her money on doctors and was without resources (Luke 8:43). Beyond the physical healing, what mental and spiritual healing must this woman have needed? Jesus offers that as well, calling her Daughter, bringing her back into the covenant community.
While cancer is no longer a disease of which we must not speak, something shameful, it does tend to isolate us from those who have no experience of the disease. We may not be overtly shunned—although a friend speaks of seeing someone she knew cross the street to avoid meeting her. Sometimes more than physical healing is required; we need someone to tell us we are well in every way that matters, to undo the damage of feeling an outcast. Sometimes, all it takes is one word.