You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s all I could think when I read the lectionary passage for the day I was scheduled to guest preach at my church. The heading for Mark 5:21–43 reads, “Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman.” I would be preaching that day in a headscarf. I’m bald from chemo for breast cancer.
I tell a friend that my mantra through all of this has been, “Right now, it’s like this.” It reminds me that everything—fear, pain, uncertainty, even hope and joy—is temporary. Because life keeps happening, things keep changing.
My friend’s mantra was, “Things never turn out as I plan.”
In Mark’s passage, Jesus is becoming a big deal. A crowd has gathered on the beach, and among them is Jairus, whose daughter is on the verge of death. He pleads with Jesus to come and heal his child. Jesus agrees to go. Right now, it’s like this. Praise God!
But things never go as we plan. Enter a woman who has come to Jesus for healing. She has been sick for twelve years. That’s 4,380 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to worry about when she probably has little money or appetite. That’s a very long time to be sick. To wait. To go to this doctor. Then that one. To hope. To despair.
It took months for me to get all of my answers. I couldn’t know what stage I had until surgery. I had to choose lumpectomy or mastectomy without knowing how bad it really was. I had to wait to hear if this was genetic (I have a daughter), or if it had spread into my lymph nodes or other parts of my body. As the news came trickling in, it was all best-case scenario. My lump was the smallest it could be. It hadn’t spread. It was not genetic. And then there was just one test left, the test that would tell me if I needed to have chemo or not.
Jairus is still waiting. His daughter is dying, and here comes this woman who slows Jesus down. Can you imagine his impatience? His frustration? And yet, he stands. He waits.
Somehow, I already knew I would have to have chemo. My oncologist told me I was right. My tumor’s cells were aggressive, making it likely that they would give me a second cancer somewhere else. Chemo would kill those stray cells before they killed me.
While the cancer itself didn’t make me feel sick, the treatments are another story. I have been knocked out, sliced open, poisoned. To heal will take space and time, because as we all know, it’s easier to tear something apart than it is to knit something together. Imagine a child building a tall tower. In toddles a younger sibling, and bam! there goes all of that hard work. To heal, I will have to seek out the very things that will help my body and spirit slowly knit themselves back together. Forest bathing, yoga, meditation, and maybe prayer to the One who appears to have sent this passage my way. (I say maybe, because if I believe this, then don’t I also have to believe that this One graced me with my period on the morning of my first chemo treatment?)
In it, the woman and Jairus also realize that healing is an active process. Both go to the beach seeking the holy one. The woman reaches out to touch his robe, and she is healed. For Jairus, even though he’s done everything a good father could do, things don’t go as he planned. People arrive and tell him it’s too late. His daughter is dead.
We can pray, do everything we can think of to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and happy; illness, pain, and even death still happen.
Why? I don’t know.
Right now, I’m bald. I have two chemo treatments left.
Chemo kills cancer cells, but it also kills the cells in your nose and mouth, so food loses its taste. If I am in this room eating, flavor is in the next room, watching tv.
Plus, when we are sick, our appetite is often the first thing to go. That might be why food is the very thing that Jesus calls for after he authors the happy ending to Jairus’ story. Patient Jairus, who has indeed learned that things do not go as we planned. He thought his daughter was dead, and yet here is Jesus, entering the house filled with wailing.
“Get up!” Jesus commands. The girl does, and our story ends with Jesus telling them to give her something to eat. Nourish the mending body, feed her return to life
Cover image by Katarzyna Grabowska.