Hebrews 12:1-4; Psalm 21:26-28,30-32 (LXX); Mark 5:21-43
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12.1-2)
It just happens, I suppose, that one of my favorite stories from Mark’s gospel (the healing of the woman with an issue of blood and the raising of Jairus’ daughter) is paired with these verses from Hebrews 12, which I know by heart. Hearing either would take me back to the context in which these passages of Scripture first came alive for me: my days as a college student in southern California. Nothing was more important then than being a disciple of Jesus, and studying Scripture and praying with friends was the focus of my life.
Twenty years later, work and family demand my attention and energy. Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t look the same. But I am grateful for the way these passages have stuck with me; over the years the cloud of witnesses has grown, as I have come to know more about the lives of the saints, and my appreciation for the complexity of Jesus’ interaction with the woman with an issue of blood has deepened.
In some ways, everything has changed. In others, everything remains the same. I may be twenty years older, but I stand in as great a need of that cloud of witnesses, and as entangled by sin as I was at twenty. Of course, it doesn’t look the same: I have no difficulty these days staying away from fraternity parties and all the temptations involved. But the sinful inclinations persist like the issue of blood: I still stand in as great a need of healing as I ever did. Perhaps in some ways, my need is greater, though the lapses in judgement that led me straight into temptation are fewer and farther between. It takes time for the issue of blood to drain away the woman’s resources, while she seeks remedies that do not cure her.
Her experience might be better expressed by a few lines of the psalm not included in today’s responsorial:
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax,
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
thou dost lay me in the dust of death.
And it is into that context that the words of the end of the psalm and the encouragement to persevere are spoken. Not for the content or the strong, but for those ‘poured out like water’, for the desperate and the afflicted. For all those in need of healing, Jesus ‘endured the cross, despising the shame’; and he sits at the right hand of the throne of God having accomplished her salvation and mine:
Yea, to him shall all the proud of the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and he who cannot keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
men shall tell of the Lord to the
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
that he has wrought it.
(Ps 21. 30-31)