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Trinity 3 – Eucharist – 28.vi.

2009
(Lamentations 3.22-33; 2 Corinthians 8.7-15; Mark 5.21-43)

When you read the Bible in general - and the New Testament in particular -
it’s useful to remember that there are four Gospels… Four books which tell
us about the ministry of Jesus; his life, death and Resurrection; his teachings,
his prayer and the miracles he worked which were seen as signs of the
coming Kingdom of God. The Gospels are not biographies as such. Only
Matthew and Luke tell us about the birth of Jesus - and they don’t agree on
all the details. St. Mark’s Gospel is much shorter than the other three - and a
good place to start if you want to re-acquaint yourself with the content of the
Bible. And St. John’s Gospel is quite different from those that bear the
names of Matthew, Mark and Luke - it reveals the marks of long-considered
reflection; while it tells the story of Jesus, it goes further than the others in
relating the life of Jesus to the author’s understanding of God and his
purpose.

I tell you this as a reminder… We need to keep going back to Scripture, and
we need to understand something of the basics of how the Bible came into
being. But also I’m saying this now because the story we have in our reading
for the Gospel today is told almost exactly the same way by Matthew, Mark
and Luke. It’s not in St. John’s Gospel. And that’s understandable because
generally John is dated rather later than the other three Gospels and was
written down in a community separate from those where the stories in the
other three Gospels had been collected. Generally it’s reckoned that St.
Mark’s is the earliest of the three Gospels. Matthew and Luke are not

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completely separate compositions. They seem to have had Mark’s writings
to hand as they wrote their own Gospels. And they had material of their
own. The extras which Matthew put in are known by Biblical scholars as M,
Luke’s extra bits are known as L, and the bits which Matthew and Luke
share, but which Mark doesn’t contain are known as Q (for Quelle - or
“source,” the source shared by Matthew and Luke). That’s just a rough guide
- and not everyone would agree with these basics - but it’s good enough, and
you don’t have to remember it all now.

But at least remember that Matthew, Mark and Luke follow the same pattern
in telling the story of Jesus - and all of them tell today’s story of the healing
of the woman with a haemorrhage and the raising of Jairus’s daughter. If my
rough guide to the Gospels is correct, and Mark’s Gospel is the oldest of the
three, known as well to Matthew and Luke, what is especially interesting
about this story is that Mark (the earliest) tells it in its fullest form. Matthew,
particularly, is more sketchy with the details. Only Mark tells us that Jesus
took Peter, James and John into the home of Jairus. And it’s Mark who
draws out most fully the healing of the woman with the haemorrhage. In the
midst of the crush from the crowd as she reaches out to touch Jesus’ cloak,
Jesus knows something has happened. So many people must have been
pushing and shoving. But Jesus feels something as she touches him: “power
had gone forth from him,” Mark tells us. And he looks around to see who
had touched him. He calls her to come forward. It was probably the last
thing that the woman wanted. Hers is an embarrassing illness (the sort that
would get her into a Channel Four programme). All she wants is to be
healed. So much the better if there’s a crowd. She can reach out to Jesus, be
healed and then slip away without anyone knowing.

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Only, it’s not to be so. Jesus knows that someone seeking healing has
reached out to him. And, as he tells her, it’s faith which has brought her to
do this. For Mark, writing his Gospel, this is something which needs to be
set down - the Gospel is literally “Good News,” and the healing of the
woman is not something to be kept under wraps. So Jesus calls to her to
come forward. The quick cure which she’d sought by pushing her hand
towards Jesus needs to be seen as real healing - healing which is real
because of the one who grants it and because of the faith of the one who
receives it.

Is it just a quick cure that the woman wants? The fact is that she’s suffered
this terrible disability for twelve years. Because she’s a woman living in the
society of her day, and because the illness involves blood which was taboo
in her religion and culture, it has made her an outcast. She’s tried all the
medical remedies - and all her money has been spent on anyone who could
offer her a cure. Only now - in fear and trembling - does she finally find true
healing.

Mark gives us all the detail, I think, because these two stories of Jesus’
healing miracles capture what he wants to say in writing his Gospel. That
there is hope to be found in Christ - and that faith is real even when we are at
our lowest, when we might be ready to give up. The woman “came in fear
and trembling,” Mark tells us. And Jesus raises up Jairus’s daughter when
everyone else says it’s not worth trying because she’s already dead. But still
Jesus goes to her. When Mark tells us that Jesus takes only Peter, James and
John, he’s not limiting the number of witnesses to the miracle. He’s saying,
this is their story - I have it from them - and that’s why it can be believed.

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We need faith in the midst of so much that can deny the fullness of life to
people who know their own desperate plight - we need faith for the sake of
people who suffer. It’s 10 years since the death of Cardinal Basil Hume,
former Archbishop of Westminster, and a book has just been published
reflecting on his legacy. One moving section tells how he was affected by
the sickness and starvation he encountered on a visit to Ethiopia. I want to
end by reading that account - and I invite you to think what it means to you
as you’ve heard the story today of Jesus’ healing miracles and as you reflect
on what it means to come together now and prepare to go to the altar to
receive Christ’s gift to us of his Body and Blood:

“This small boy came up to me and gripped my hand. With his other
hand he pointed to his mouth. That was his way of telling me he was
very hungry. I said to the interpreter: „Tell the little boy that I‟ve come
here to go home and make certain that food is sent to him.‟ He went
on doing this, but he also got hold of my hand and rubbed it against
his cheek. I couldn‟t understand that, but for the whole hour I was in
that camp that little boy wouldn‟t let go of my hand, and from time to
time rubbed it on his cheek. He was very, very hungry … I remember
speaking with that boy and asking him through the interpreter: „Why
are you looking so sad?‟ and he answered very simply in his own
language: „I am hungry.‟ I could see in that face the suffering Christ,
and I realised just what a terrible scourge physical hunger is. But
also there was an echo from the Cross which Our Lord spoke when
he said: „I thirst‟, and how he thirsts for us and wants us… Then,
when the visit was ended and I had to go elsewhere, the little boy
stood – I can see him now – feet astride, his hands on his waist, and
looked at me almost with reproach. I could see in his face, „Why are
you leaving me behind?‟ I felt awful because there was no way I
could take that little boy and bring him back to England.

“I realised that when you‟re lost and are very hungry, and you are
abandoned, you have a craving for two things: for food and for drink
and for love … It was the next day when I was celebrating Mass that
I understood as I‟ve never understood before, the secret of Holy
Communion. Our Lord, realising how much we need love, how much

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we need to be fed by him, had this marvellous way of doing it: by
giving himself to us. When I visited Ethiopia … I saw clearly how
when people are abandoned and dying of hunger they crave for love
and for life … I have never forgotten that incident and to this day
wonder whether that child is still alive. I remember when I boarded
the helicopter he stood and looked reproachfully. An abandoned,
starving 10-year-old child … A little boy who taught me in a
wonderful way something very important about going to Holy
Communion. I have often wondered since what happened to him.”