The world is full of suffering. Religion acknowledges that this is reality. Buddhists seek acceptance of their circumstances through contemplation. Hindus often do the same. Jews realize that all circumstances come from the hand of God. So, do Christians. Even Atheists can see that the world has suffering and many moral non-believers actually believe that doing something to alleviate pain and make life more pleasant is of value. If we stop thinking at this point, we might conclude that all religions are basically of the same value. However, I would say that Christianity offers something different. Jesus, the divine healer, steps into history and touches the lives of people in Israel. He is fully present as a comfort and a help. Then, through his death and resurrection, he comes to all who believe and shows a path forward to all who seek healing. He is a very present help in times of trouble. With the same heart that reached out with compassion to those in Mark 5 (below) he reaches out and touches us.
In the following passage there are various kinds of suffering and oppression. Some suffer horrendously because they are tortured in the face of evil or demonic activity. The tormented man living in the tombs of the Gerasenes is torn in two by the activity within his own mind and body, but Jesus brings peace and wholeness.
The herdsmen suffer because Jesus brings them a reality they don’t want. Their livelihood is destroyed because Jesus heals one man. Their report to their own town is full of fear, but it is not a healthy fear. Sometimes we do not like what Jesus wants to do to bring healing in our world and we ask him to depart from us.
Jairus has great emotional trauma. He is about to lose his precious daughter. His anxiety must be immeasurable. With a pounding heart he asks Jesus to bring physical healing, but Jesus only delays when another woman touches him. Was Jairus enraged? Was he downcast? We are not told exactly because the story focuses on what Jesus brings and not on how Jairus reacts. However, when all hope is lost and Jairus must have felt utterly defeated, Jesus brings an emotional healing by satisfying his longing and physically healing Jairus’ daughter.
Finally, the woman with bleeding is desperate for physical healing. She would have been both physically ill but also socially rejected. The bleeding described would have made her a social outcast. Jesus, however, accepts her. He makes her identify herself. From a faceless member of the crowd, too ashamed to show herself, Jesus gives her a story that speaks of restoration and dignity. She is made whole and she has her shame removed.
So in Mark 5 Jesus heals many things. He heals emotional trauma, he heals demonic oppression, he heals physical ailments, he heals social wounds. However, in each story where healing occurs the people come to him. In each story where people find healing, it is because they seek Jesus.
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.2 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7 And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside,12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.
14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there,clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marvelled.
21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “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.” 24 And he went with him.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked round to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But 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.41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi”, which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Jesus travels in his boat to the other side of the lake. This is the land of the Gerasenes, but other passages call it the land of the Gadarenes. This is probably just due to a variation in dialect. A demon possessed man immediately comes to meet him. The immediacy is striking to me. Did the demon drive the man to Jesus or was the man in such a desperate condition that he dragged the demons? My guess is that this is actually a confrontation. Jesus comes fully aware of who he is going to meet and the demons know who is coming to meet him. Rather than flee they come to the fight.
The passage vividly describes the man’s tormented condition. He was unbound because of his superhuman strength. He was naked and exposed to the elements. He would have been scorched by the beating sun and chilled by the rains. He was shrieking and doing himself harm by cutting. He chose to use the sharp stones as weapons on himself, but his desire would have been to relieve his own suffering. Some people want to explain these symptoms as the symptoms of a mental illness. If we can reduce the man’s condition to a medical condition, we can reduce the miracle that follows to a mere medical cure through good therapy. However, all of physical reality has spiritual roots. In fact we move in a spiritual world when we want to believe it is just physical. Jesus brings a more complete healing than we do when we make all ailments and all remedies merely physical.
The demons within the man provoke him to pronounce Jesus’ name. This was seen as gaining power over someone in the ancient world. If you named someone you controlled them. Jesus is having none of it, though. He immediately asks the demon his name and the demon is forced to answer. It is then that we find that the demon-possessed man is not possessed by a single demon but by a legion. A legion at full strength would have been 5,000 men. However, the demon may be giving the name Legion as a general term for a multitude.
Knowing that Jesus has the power and the authority to cast them out, the demons plead to be sent into pigs. Pigs are significant because Jewish farmers would not herd them. They are Gentile’s animals because they are considered unclean by Jews. So, the unclean spirits are cast into unclean animals who come to an untimely end. It would all be very amusing, but a pig today sells for $700. If 2000 pigs ran over a cliff that would cost a farmer where I live, $1400000. To lose one and a half million dollars in income because they were driven wild by demons would be upsetting. It is with this understanding that we have to see why pig farmers stirred up the people to ask Jesus to leave. They would have been distraught. Jesus’ good works just destroyed their livelihood and they would rather be selling pork than seeing Jesus.
Jesus obliges and goes back across the lake to the Jewish side. When he arrives there a synagogue ruler throws himself on the ground in the dust. He puts all his pride to one side and all of his position. He pleads with Jesus. He is desperate.
On the way to Jairus’ house another desperate figure moves through the crowd. She is ill, but on top of that, she is unclean. She has been bleeding and doctors have not been able to stem the bleeding. She had told herself the truth about Jesus. She knew that he could heal her, but she didn’t want to make a fuss. She wanted quietly to slip up next to him and just touch his garment. However, Jesus will not let the moment pass. What would Jairus have thought about Jesus stopping for this teachable moment? He may have been despairing or infuriated. The text doesn’t really tell us. Jesus’ full attention is on the woman who wanted to slip in and slip away silently. She has lived years in the shadows and Jesus wants to draw her into the light. Jesus values her. He doesn’t calculate the age of the woman and the age of Jairus’ daughter and decide that she is of less value because she has less years to live. Jesus values men and women, old and young, Jews and Gentiles all the same. He brings God’s healing to everyone equally.
The woman is told to go in peace because her faith has healed her. She believed that Jesus’ clothes might have some magic properties because of Jesus, however it is her faith that has power to heal because it is ultimately faith in Jesus. The object of a person’t faith is very important. The woman did not come to a crystal, an altar, or a sacred place – she came to a person. She came to Jesus. Then Jesus speaks peace into her life. Her soul is to experience a cessation of anxiety and rejection. The storm in her soul is to be calmed. She may sleep for the first time. She may go to the market without worrying how others will avoid her or reject her. Life has finally turned right side up. Life can finally be lived as it was meant to be lived.
And then there is Jairus. His heart must have broken when he received news that his daughter had died. I wonder whether he was mad with Jesus. I wonder if he was grief-stricken and tore his clothes. We don’t know. We can place ourselves there and imagine, but the Bible has more authority than our imagination and the Bible swiftly takes us to the story’s conclusion. We see that Jesus does care for the child and for Jairus, but he works in his own sweet timing. When all hope is lost the story has its most powerful climax. The little girl, spoken to tenderly by Jesus, rises out of bed and walks with new life. Jesus heals her of her sickness that took her life. He brings her back renewed and refreshed. People are amazed at this level of healing. They rejoice as they are overcome with amazement.
However, Jesus isn’t interested in starting a popularity cult. He is interested in personally touching the lives of those who run to him. He sees suffering hearts and he touches them with his own compassion. He makes connection through softly spoken words, gentle touch, and words of power and command. The people who seek healing are fully exposed in their weakness and their desperation, but the testimony of the change speaks all the more clearly of the power of God.
Although we have modern medicine, improved sanitation, and the number of wars between neighboring tribes across the globe may have decreased we still experience suffering in our times. Wars still exist and are as brutal and devastating as they have ever been. Relationships are still marred by fears and regrets which cripple people moving forward in life. Sickness may be held off until later in life than it did in Jesus’ time, but eventually it comes to us all. The strongest man or woman might find their days cut short by a virus or disease.
People I know suffer horribly in their marriages as they crumble around them. Spouses we trust can be led astray and start living in the shadows. A relationship we believed in that has gone sour can leave us in the depths of despair. People I know suffer from horrible sicknesses. Someone’s mobility is hampered because they keep getting infections in their legs and hip; Someone finds that they have cancer and only a few weeks to live; Someone finds that their aches and pains just won’t go away no matter what they do. People I know suffer emotionally. Fears and anxieties tell us that our future is not secure or safe. We believe that we will not be okay. Some people feel overlooked, unloved, and unwanted. Regrets paralyze some of us. What can we do?
I am prone to fears, regrets and anxiety. I have also been living with a lot of stress. On one level I am thrilled to be a father and on another it freaks me out that I have such power and influence over the life of another. I worry about my future because the government may force institutions which think like I do out of existence. I have a stomach or upper colon complaint that has been getting better, but I can’t get to go away. I have been to the doctor’s office more times this year than I have in many of my previous years. How have I sought healing? How do I seek it now?
I know that much of what I struggle with is the result of my own choices. I know that much of what I need to be healed from now is due to the past. I have lived with unhealthy patterns thinking they were normal or at least excusable. I have been conditioned by obeying teachers, parents and pastors. In many cases their input led me to good things. In some cases I adopted bad practices thinking that what I was learning was good and true. How can I tell the difference?
I have seen God heal some of deep trauma. I have felt his healing hand in my own life. My mother was mentally ill shortly after I was born. I know without a doubt that God healed her. I know that God relieves pains and aches, but does he take away cancer? Why does God seem to heal some and not others? Why do some people who seem the most faithful to God suffer from things like infertility that God miraculously heals in the Bible? Why does God lead some people out of depression, but not everyone? I think that the answer varies from individual to individual, but to the faithful God leads them to more of himself. If more of God will be experienced through the inner turmoil being taken away, God stills the storm. However, God allows a storm to continue if it teaches us to cling to him. Sometimes faithfulness in suffering is its own reward. Joni Erickson is an example of this. Paralyzed from a swimming accident she has come to peace with her paralysis. She knows now that the Joni who was paralyzed has had to turn to God more fully than the one who might have been whole. As C.S. Lewis says, “Pain is God’s megaphone.”
However, like the people in the passage it is good to seek wholeness. It is good to use our fallen state and tumultuous emotions to throw us back on God. The emotional pain and torment that we have can only be soothed eternally by God. He is the healer.
If we seek Jesus, we can accept the truth that in eternity all those things which sin has brought into this world will be healed. There will be no tears and no pain. There will be no regrets and no fears. For now we accept that all these things which we endure work together for our God. I am personally encouraged by the song which says, “Though there is pain in the night, joy comes in the morning.”
Other faiths may find some kind of inner tranquility. The truth which they communicate, though is incomplete. God wants us to find inner peace, or as Paul puts it, to be content in every circumstance. However, it is not because we release our desires or deaden our drive. It is not because we just accept the way that the world is. The power of the gospel is the power of change – it is the power of healing. The story of scripture culminates with the healing of the nations. The peace that we receive is the peace of God. He touches our lives with the offer of reconciliation. Then he changes us by taking the wounds and hurts from the past and healing them. Knowing Jesus leads to healing and needing healing leads to Jesus. The wounds lead us to him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Answer these observation questions:
- Where does Jesus go in his boat?
- Who meets him on the other side?
- How does the passage describe his condition?
- What does the man living in the tombs say?
- What does Jesus ask? What is the man’s reply?
- What animal did the spirits enter?
- What did the herdsmen request of Jesus?
- How does Jairus approach Jesus?
- What did the woman with bleeding tell herself about Jesus?
- What did Jesus tell the woman with bleeding after he had healed her?
- Upon hearing that the child was dead, what did Jesus tell Jairus?
- How did people respond to the little girl getting up?
Answer these interpretation questions:
- How are people on the Gerasenes’ side of the Sea of Galilee different from the other side of the lake (Clue: what are they farming?)?
- Why do you think some people try and explain that the man who met Jesus was not demon-possessed but had a severe mental illness?
- Do you think the man was demon-possessed, mentally ill, both or neither? Why?
- Why does Jesus ask for the demon’s name?
- How many soldiers were in a Roman legion?
- Read Matthew 8:28-34 . How is the account the same? How is it different?
- Luke 8:26-39 . How is this account the same? How is it different?
- How do you explain the similarities in the three accounts of the demon-possessed man (men)? How do you explain the differences?
- How would you describe Jairus’ attitude in how he comes to Jesus?
- How would you describe the bleeding woman’s attitude?
- Why do you think the stories of Jairus and the bleeding woman are in the Bible?
- How are the people of Jesus’ day similar in their suffering to us? How might they be different?
Answer these application questions:
- How are people in the 21st century suffering?
- In what specific ways do people who you know suffer?
- Are people today oppressed by demons? Are they possessed?
- What kinds of emotional pain do you carry with you?
- What is the source of your emotional pain? Does it follow a pattern that you can trace into your past, like the woman with the bleeding?
- Do you know anyone who was healed from physical pain?
- Why does God seem to heal some people and not to heal others?
- Some people believe that God will heal everyone of their physical illness if they have enough faith. Can that be true? Why? Why not?
- How does cultivating an eternal perspective relate to healing?
- Can you picture a life where you ‘go in peace’? What is standing in the way of God’s peace in your life?
- Other religions ask us to accept our circumstances in order to be free from suffering. How would you talk to a member of these other religions?
- Does seeking Jesus lead to healing or does seeking healing lead to Jesus? Which is ultimately more important? Why?
The post is inspired by http://thisoddhouse.org/2014/01/28/20-things-i-might-have-told-my-20-something-self/