The various Scriptural authors present their experiences of encounter with God in a variety of ways. The author of Mark’s Gospel employed literary techniques that are unique expressions of his own experience of faith. One of those literary techniques is called the “Markan Inclusion.” In this instance, the word “Inclusion” refers to the Gospel author’s practice of bracketing an event in Jesus’ life within another similar event.
Two weeks ago, we read an instance of a Markan Inclusion. In Chapter 3 of the Gospel, the event of Jesus’ family coming to retrieve him forms brackets or parentheses around a conflict Jesus had with some scribes. The two distinct events that form the Inclusion are related to one another because both Jesus’ family and the scribes felt threatened by Jesus’ healing ministry, albeit for different reasons.
In that episode on June 10, Jesus had left behind his former life and begun a public ministry of healing and preaching. This was quite out of the ordinary for a peasant laborer from a rural town. Jesus’ family was concerned that he might bring dishonor to their family name.
The beginning of the Inclusion says, “When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’.” (Mk. 3:21) The end of the Inclusion says, “His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him.” (Mk. 3:31) In between these two statements, the conflict with the scribes occurred.
The conflict about the source of Jesus’ healing power is offered as an explanation of, and response to, the complaint by Jesus’ family. Due to their faithlessness, the scribes were unable to see God’s power at work in the healing ministry of Jesus. In a similar way, Jesus’ own family failed to understand what he was doing.
The lesson offered by the Inclusion is presented at the end of the two intertwined stories. Jesus said, “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk. 3:35) The Inclusion is structured in order to make very clear that being a child of God is not the result of the circumstances of one’s birth. For the Gospel author, the fact that one was born by chance into the Chosen People is no guarantee of a life of faith.
The lesson remains valid today. The fact that, by an accident of birth, one is born into a Christian family is no guarantee of faith. The fact that one is brought to Baptism by one’s family is no guarantee of salvation. The fact that one appears regularly at Sunday Eucharist is no guarantee of holiness. Faith, salvation, and holiness require that one responds daily to God’s invitation to live a life of grace and forgiveness. Only those who accomplish the will of God are included in God’s Kingdom. (Mk. 3:35)
The Markan Inclusion in today’s Gospel reading presents two instances of the healing ministry that was so upsetting to both Jesus’ family and his detractors in Chapter 3. These two related stories also demonstrate a further aspect of this literary device unique to Mark’s Gospel. In the twin conflicts involving Jesus’ family and the scribes in Chapter 3, Jesus’ dialogue with the scribes occupied the time that it took Jesus’ family to find him. In the two healing stories in today’s reading, the healing of the woman filled the time it would have taken Jesus to travel to Jairus’ house.
This passage of time is more than a narrative device; it has a theological significance. During Jesus’ lifetime, he was misunderstood by all, even his chosen disciples. It was not until his death that his true identity was revealed. The revelation of Divine forgiveness in the death of Jesus required the passage of time in order to be revealed and in order to be understood. Today’s reading points to one, particular aspect of understanding Jesus’ true identity.
The woman who approached Jesus seemed to have been motivated by superstition. She said to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” (Mk. 5:28) This remark reflects the attitudes that pagans held toward their various gods of health and well-being. Her attitude stands in stark contrast to Jairus, and others, who approached Jesus and made direct requests for healing.
The woman pursued Jesus with a deficient faith and a poor understanding of who he was. Nonetheless, she was healed. It is important to note the ultimate reason for the healing: it was not her superstition but rather, Jesus’ desire to lift her out of superstition. He initiated a conversation with her in order that she would develop a conscious relationship with him.
The woman healed of the twelve-year long bout of hemorrhages is a good metaphor for the chronic weakness of faith that afflicts all of us. Just as in the stories of Jesus’ family and his detractors in Chapter 3, there are no guarantees about faith. Further, a mature faith develops only over a long period of seeking and encountering Jesus. In this time-consuming project of coming to faith, we must have both hope and determination. There is always reason to hope that we will come to a mature faith but doing so requires a lifetime of determined effort.
Deficient efforts at faith are valid efforts, despite their deficiencies. The woman came to Jesus despite the fact that she harbored superstitious thoughts. Her efforts led her to a much more adequate faith.
A saving faith in Jesus is the direct result of one’s effort. By comparison, faithlessness is the unavoidable consequence of making no effort. The author of Mark’s Gospel used events from Jesus’ life as parenthetical remarks to explain wider issues about faith. There are some parenthetical remarks that ought to be taken into account about our personal faith, as well. Faith in Jesus is a gift to us from God (that we have to practice and develop every day of our lives).