What’s The Worst…

Mark 5: 21-43 – The 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for July 1, 2012

“But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.” (Mark 5:33)

What’s a “worst experience” . . . that changed your life for the better?

I ask because of Jesus’ Gospel encounter with the influential Jairus and an unknown, ill woman. As I pondered how these two people met Jesus in the twenty-three verses of Mark’s fifth chapter, the final words of a singular verse lingered:

But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. (Mark 5:33)

The. Whole. Truth.

30 years later, I still have two of the pins temporarily inserted to hold my broken bones together...

A sick woman touches Jesus’ clothes. After twelve years of misery, she’s healed. The worst ends; her living death becomes a lively future.

What was the whole truth she told Jesus?

Did she confess to being a woman, and therefore—in that hierarchical, male-dominated world—little more than property, forever a second-class citizen? But she wouldn’t need to mention her gender to Jesus, since it was as obvious as her insignificance.

Did she share the anguish of being labeled unclean? Her illness meant, according to Jewish law, she was fouled, persona non grata. After twelve long years of bleeding, she wouldn’t have to explain much to Jesus, or any Jew, for him to understand.

Did she detail the horror stories of physicians who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help, of watching her savings vanish as she paid and paid and paid? She wouldn’t need to elaborate on those futile, expensive visits because Jesus then—and you and me now—would immediately understand. At times we might read the Bible and mutter, “I don’t get it . . .” And yet, whether in ancient Palestine or a tale shared with you last week in the supermarket by a neighbor, everyone has empathy for medical mayhem and misery.

While Jesus hurried to see Jairus’ dying daughter, while crowds pressed close to praise or touch or scoff at the Nazarene, while dull-witted disciples murmured excuses, while the day’s furious heat parched throats . . . what was the whole truth shared by the woman?

Obviously, we’ll never know. But you know your whole truth . . .

What’s one of your worst experiences . . . that transformed your life in positive ways?

Once I broke my leg, thirty years ago this July.

It literally broke and rebuilt me. My shattered leg may not have a leg up on awful experiences compared to the Bible’s mercurial David confronting the death of his friend Jonathan, or (since I watched 1962’s The Miracle Worker this week) of blind and deaf Helen Keller before the teacher Anne Sullivan entered her life . . . but it was, thank you very much, awful enough.

I broke it while leading a church backpack and had to be plucked from the mountains by helicopter, flown to a hospital for emergency surgery. Pins held my bones together, the cast stretched from hip to ankle on the left leg.

In the five years before the accident, I’d let anger and fear dominate my life. Oh, I didn’t appear bad on the outside, but inside I was hemorrhaging. If you’d asked the church youth I led, or the parents of those youth, or the committee members I worked with, or the Sunday congregation listening to my sermons, I’ll bet they would’ve said:  Larry’s okay. He loves God, serves Jesus.

But I’d been through a divorce and hated myself. I seethed at my mistakes, real and imagined. I dreaded commitment in relationships. No one would EVER hurt me again; I worked hard to seem “normal.” We humans can fashion such lovely, deceitful masks . . . but they will always fail us.

I don’t believe God broke my leg as a test. I don’t believe Jairus’ daughter flirted with death to expose his faith or lack of faith. I don’t believe the woman’s calamity was a set-up so a future crowd could ooh and aah Jesus’ miracles. Bad things happen. Mortals die. Wounds bleed. Stones crack bones. S**t happens. (See, I can be polite.)

Broken me became totally dependent on friends and family. Bones were shattered. The thick shell around my soul was shattered. I couldn’t walk without a crutch, couldn’t s**t without assistance for a while and couldn’t eat without someone serving me.

One of the worst things to happen became the best. Stubbornness transformed into vulnerability. Self-loathing became self-awareness. Arrogant independence evolved into a more humble interdependence.

Unlike the anonymous woman in Mark, I didn’t heal instantly.

Still, I healed. Faith mattered. Friends helped. Surgeons and physical therapists gave support. God, who (I believe) never tests or punishes, restlessly nudged me to let others in, to let others help, to trust that while broken, I could mend.

What whole truth did the anonymous woman tell Jesus? It’s easy to assume those simple words are a literary device. Mark, ever the clever author, just wanted to show Jesus sharing a nice moment with her. But I’ll choose to believe otherwise. With a crowd crushing her, with Jairus gazing anxiously in the direction of his house and death, with the disciples sweating under the sun, I imagine Jesus let her tell her whole truth.

What’s the worst that happened to you? I hope you have people in your life that once helped or will help in your healing . . . and ALL of us, ALL of the time, need healing. And we need others who’ll lovingly listen to the whole and holy of our lives and then invite us to, “Go in peace.”

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  1. This is the best insight I have ever seen relative to this pericope. I shall shamelessly steal from you and give credit from, the pulpit tomorrow….
    Other stolen items you may like: “hapto”; to seize, to touch or TO KINDLE
    In Aramaic I am told that faith can be a verb as in “Only faith”
    I faith
    You faith
    He she or it faiths

    Thanks for your work

    1. Mickey…hey, I appreciate you letting me know you’re going to purloin a few of my thoughts! Every writer’s dream! Hope your sermon goes well.

      And thanks for your work, also.

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