The two miracles performed in today’s extract from St Mark’s Gospel both involve women, one a little girl and the other a mature woman suffering from a haemorrhage. Actually, there are only four healings of women recorded in the Gospel, these two together with Peter’s Mother in Law and the woman bent double, The first three of these miracles are recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels and the last only in St Luke.
Altogether there are thirty-seven miracles recorded in the Gospels and you might think that the fact that only four of these directly concern women must mean that Jesus did not regard them very highly. But actually, there are some other things to take into account.
The first of these is the milieu in which the Gospels were written. Women in the culture of Palestine had a subservient role and were not much taken into account. The man was the head of the household and it was he who had the important place in society. If you are to look at other literature of the period you would see that women are largely absent or play only a very minor role.
We note too that the Gospel accounts were all written by men and although it has often been observed that St Luke appears to be very favourable to women we may well conclude that the other authors were not very different from their contemporaries in their consideration of women.
However, when you look at the Gospels as a whole you will soon notice that there are a remarkable number of women recorded in them. And several of these women play very important roles. Besides the crucial part played by Mary the Mother of Jesus, we see other women at the forefront of the Gospel story. These include Mary Magdalene, the Woman at the Well, the Syrophoenician Woman, and, of course, Martha and Mary who appear several times. As well as many others.
We recall some of these other women such as the Widow of Nain, the woman taken in adultery, the widow who put her small coin in the treasury as well as the several women who anointed Jesus. So, by no means can it ever be suggested that Jesus shunned women or regarded them in any sort of subservient capacity.
It is also worth noting the case of the Woman with the Haemorrhage included in today’s Gospel text. Here we have a classic feminine problem which most men would have found embarrassing and would have normally tried to ignore. Even the woman herself is embarrassed and convinces herself that all she has to do it to touch Jesus’ garment to find healing. However, Jesus instantly recognises the woman’s presence and realises the extent of her illness. He shows absolutely no hint of embarrassment and immediately brings her healing.
In this incident we see something unique in the literature of the period. We see Jesus handling a purely feminine problem in a highly sensitive way and we realise that his action is, in the context of the time, something quite exceptional.
From all this we observe, therefore, that women are very much involved with Jesus as he carries out his three years of public ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem. They are just as believing as his Apostles and in some cases even more so, as for example in the case of Mary Magdalene who was the first witness to the resurrection.
As Jesus travelled around Palestine the main aspects of his ministry were teaching and healing and we see both of these as we study the Gospel texts. However, today in this extract from Mark the focus is most definitely on healing.
Even today we find ourselves turning to Jesus for both of these things. We turn to him to learn more about his teaching and to discover the truths of the Gospel. And we also turn to him for healing and other related things such as divine protection.
Many people’s lives are blighted by ill health. We are surrounded by those who suffer from cancer or other illnesses that bring them pain and suffering and impair their quality of life. Sometimes these illnesses lead to despair and anguish and today in the newspapers we read of those who want to travel to some clinic in Switzerland where they can put an end to their lives and, as they sometimes say, die with dignity.
In actual fact, there is no dignity to be found in such a decision. What becomes clear is that they are experiencing hopelessness and lack of faith. While we have great sympathy with people in such circumstances we see that their decision comes ultimately from despair and from a lack of trust in the promises of God.
The desire for the healing of a loved one or for ourselves is a frequent element of our daily prayers. We ask God earnestly to heal those we pray for or at least to alleviate their suffering. However, we know that these prayers do not always seem to be answered, at least not at face value. Oftentimes the person’s illness takes its course and they eventually die.
But we Christian’s do not consider this as a rejection by God of our prayers. We Christians pray for healing but we also understand that healing is something that works on different levels. We understand that the very deepest form of healing is salvation itself.
I recently spent a month in hospital on an orthopaedic ward. It was a very educational time for me and one of the things I observed was the great optimism of the patients and their concern to boost each other up at every opportunity. Every time someone was taken for an operation or a procedure it was thumbs up all around the ward. I often heard quiet words of encouragement and advice given by one patient to another. The atmosphere was entirely positive, even though some of the patients had lost limbs or found themselves severely crippled as the result of accidents at work or on motorcycles.
We Christians understand very well that the deepest healing of all is salvation itself. And salvation means, after our work here on this earth is done, that we are drawn into the embrace of God himself and welcomed into our true destiny which is to live with him and the blessed in heaven.
There is no greater healing than this. Our loved ones will miss us and mourn our passing, but they will realise that our sufferings had a purpose and that we are now in the arms of our Divine Saviour and enjoying the bliss of life eternal.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket