Dear Church in Quarantine:
Hunkered down in our underground bunker on Applegarden Road, when I’m not showing off my Nerf basketball skills to the kids or getting beat at the boardgame of the week Sequence, I’m dipping into the Gospel of Mark. As the COVID-19 virus is spreads across our land and people practice social distancing, I’m reading about how the news of Jesus’ healing power spread so rapidly across Galilee, forcing Jesus to seek some social distance from the crushing crowds!
“[The healed man] went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but isolated himself in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere” (2:45; see also 1:28; 4:1).
In this moment when the entire world is focused on a deadly virus threatening our physical health, its interesting to be reminded how much of Jesus ministry was about healing people from various physical and spiritual diseases.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has quickly become a household name; he’s the go-to expert on infectious disease who is being looked to for sage wisdom and expertise on how to combat this coronavirus. When we are physically ill, we do well to turn to the experts and heed their medical counsel and prescriptions.
As a pastor—a kind of physician of the soul—I can only dream of a moment when the entire world will stand transfixed and glued to the television news all day long to hear Dr. Jesus’ daily briefings giving sage wisdom on how to combat the deadly disease of the soul we call ‘Sin’ that has already affected 100% of the world’s population. This Virus has spawned all kinds of mutant viruses leading to such ailments as depression, addiction, anger, relational conflict, selfishness, pride, inequality and oppression, murder and suicide—just to name a few strands. Well, until that day comes, how can this pandemic lead us to the feet of Jesus and stir up greater dependence on Him for our total wellbeing?
We can gain timely insight from one healing encounter in Mark 5:24-34. Here we meet a woman who has been suffering from “bleeding” for 12 years. Her physical condition unfortunately resulted in her also being socially isolated and excluded from the religious community. She’s clearly demoralized and distraught after years of seeking help to no avail: “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse” (5:26). Yet, full of faith and emotionally desperate, she fights through the crowds in hopes of a personal encounter with Jesus:
“When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering” (5:27-29).
Personal suffering has a way of forcing us out of our spiritual slumber and getting us to think more seriously about our faith. I think many people have a secondhand faith, sort of a back pocket faith we inherited but ignore until some personal emergency or global pandemic makes us stop and ask, “Where is God in all of this?”
In this story, we see Jesus walking amidst a crowd of people, most of whom are oblivious of His presence. Yet, one woman moves out of the crowd and into a holy, life-changing encounter with Jesus. Many find themselves in the Christian crowd today as well, believing in God but only from a safe distance. Maybe they attend services on Christmas and Easter. Maybe they pray when they get into a jam. But the woman in this story shows us a different kind of faith—an active faith that moves toward, reaches out, gets a grip and holds on tight to God.
The COVID-19 outbreak is revealing the quality of our faith, and revealing where we truly place our hope and trust. Hopefully through this pandemic, many hearts will be moved out of the crowd of spiritual slumberers, causing people to reach out for a more personal connection with God.
What kind of faith gets Jesus’ attention? What “grips” his heart? What kind of faith and prayer releases Heaven’s healing and power? Let’s read on:
“At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5:30-34).
His disciples are right: Many people are still brushing up against Jesus today as they go about their business. Only those who pursue Him and really get a grip are assured of experiencing his transforming power.
This is a moment for people of faith to step out from the crowd of casual church goers and fair-weather faith habits, and to move toward Jesus with a more active faith—reaching out and grabbing hold of him through prayer and good deeds, trusting in his healing power and presence in our midst.
This is also a moment to pray for people to come back to Christ or to open themselves to faith in Jesus for the first time. God is the master at bringing good out of bad circumstances.
So, read the story again on your own, and ask yourselves: Who are you in the story? The crowds? The disciples? The woman?
Back to the bunker for some more Nerf basketball and boardgames!
Grace and peace,