The Woman with the Pre-existing Condition

Friday, July 26, 2013 — Week of Proper 11, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 976)

Psalms 40, 54 (morning) // 51 (evening)

1 Samuel 31:1-13

Acts 15:12-21

Mark 5:21-43

I recently heard someone describe a health care event that took place in eastern Tennessee. Doctors, nurses, and dentists were offering free health care over a three-day period. People came from other states and stood in line for hours, either in the rain or sheltered in barns or animal stalls along the way. The people in line had no other access to health care, even though most of them were employed. They neither qualified for Medicaid nor received health insurance through their employers.

The description of this health care event came from a man named Wendell Potter. He worked for twenty years as a health insurance executive, and he witnessed this event near his hometown. This contemporary crowd seeking health care access spurred a sort of conversion for him. Potter told his interviewer, “I was not able, from that point on, for them to be out of my mind. They were always on my mind after that, and that was why I ultimately decided to leave my job.”

Perhaps the crowd from today’s gospel, and especially the woman suffering with hemorrhages, can have the same effect on us. As we hear more and more stories about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), we can let the people from today’s gospel live in our minds. They represent the many people who struggle for access to health and wholeness. In the midst of technological glitches, delays in implementation, and critiques of some health insurance exchanges, these people represent the big picture.

One woman in today’s gospel steps out from the big picture and challenges us to make health care access personal. She has been suffering for twelve years, and she is getting worse. She has spent all of her money on physicians and has nothing left. (In terms of today’s health care marketplace, she may have had to pay high out-of-pocket prices rather than rates negotiated by insurers. Or, she may have exhausted her per-cause maximum benefit.)

Jesus heals this woman in a world that takes for granted that some people deserve access to healing and others do not. For example, Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, gets immediate access to Jesus. The disciples and the crowd must have cleared the way for him to speak directly to Jesus about his sick daughter and to request a house call. The woman with the hemorrhages, however, has to fight her way to Jesus. She doesn’t ask for much: not an appointment, not a personal visit, not even a personal touch. She approaches Jesus from behind and says to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”

The disciples try to see her as just one of the needy masses. When Jesus wants to know who has touched him, they simply say, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say ‘Who touched me?'” The woman comes forward to meet Jesus, and he announces that her faith has made her well. Her disease had made her not only unwell but unclean and isolated in her society, but Jesus’ power reintegrates her into the community.

As our world seeks public health solutions, we are all stepping forward in faith. In our diverse community, people may have preferred solutions that were less burdensome to employers or more equitable overall. But as we forge ahead, we should keep in mind the crowd in today’s gospel, the woman in grave need of healing, and our own place in the story. Today’s gospel offers everyone basic access to a healing touch. In a crowded and messy world, we need to figure out how to grasp at new opportunities for health and how to clear the way for others.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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