One of the most beautiful Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament was covered in this year’s first lesson. “He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”[i] Who of us is not bound in some way in this life? Who of us has not been captive through false paradigms and the philosophies of men? Who of us has not had our hearts broken in one way or another at one time or another? The Lord Jesus Christ has come for each of us to heal us fully and completely. And as he says in Ether: “…my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me.”[ii]
From an outside look, this lesson may seem like stories of people in a distant time, in a faraway place and untouchable from our place in life, but it is instead a lesson that can touch us very specifically and very personally to the very core.
What is a miracle? Webster’s defines it as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.”[iii] Our Bible dictionary expounds it further: “Miracles should not be regarded as deviations from the ordinary course of nature so much as manifestations of divine or spiritual power. Some lower law was in each case superceded by the action of a higher.”[iv]
Most all of us believe in miracles. Most all of us have seen miracles. The world tries to explain them away like Laman and Lemuel tried to explain away their interactions with the divine and with Nephi’s own faith: “Now, he [Nephi] says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness…”[v]
Satan himself does not want us to believe in miracles or signs or wonders. Within a relatively short time after the great sign to the Nephites marking the birth of the Savior (a day, a night and a day wherein there was no darkness) “…the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen—Imagining up some vain thing in their hearts, that it was wrought by men and by the power of the devil, to lead away and deceive the hearts of the people; and thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people again, insomuch that he did blind their eyes and lead them away to believe that the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and a vain thing.”[vi]
As we shall see in the readings this week, the Lord was going about performing miracles and what He required of men and women was for each to believe.
The Healing at Gadara and the Atonement
A key point that is connected in a remarkable way to one of the healings in this week’s readings is rarely discussed. The man beset by a legion of devils in the country of the Gadarenes is described in Mark 5:5 as in the tombs night and day “crying and cutting himself with stones”, and Luke adds this telling detail, he “ware no clothes.” Later when he is healed, he is described as “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed.” (Luke 8:35)
In scripture, it is often the case that to be naked is to have your sins, vulnerabilities and weaknesses exposed. To be naked is to be unprotected and far from the atonement. This is clear from 2 Nephi 9:14 (emphasis added), “Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.”
The atonement is to take us from our current position, divided from our home and our Father, back to being at-one with Him, taken into his embrace again.
It is this at-oneness that is emphasized in the idea of being clothed. We hear this plea in Nephi’s Psalm: “O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? … Wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness” (2 Nephi 4:31,33). Encircled in the robes of his righteousness is a place of shelter, as well as a place of love. Here we are protected from our enemies, Satan and his legions, those who seek our lives and our souls. Here our sins our covered by the protection of the atonement in the arms of his love.
Hugh Nibley points out, “This idea of being embraced is very strong in the Book of Mormon as an expression of the atonement,”[vii] and cites other scriptures emphasizing the point. “Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you” (Alma 5:33). In 2 Nephi 1:15 it says, “But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” Nibley notes, “You can’t be closer to a person than when you embrace.”[viii] That embrace is to be folded in the robes of his righteousness.
Nibley further explains that in Arabic culture, “When a person is running away, he runs to the tent of any great sheikh he can find. He goes in and kneels down before the sheikh and says, “I am thy suppliant.” The sheikh is then obligated to put his caftan over his katef which is the same as shoulder–to put the hem of his garment over his shoulder and say, ‘Ahlan wa-sahlan wa-marhaban. ‘This is your tent, this is your family.’…He says, ‘We’ll make a place for you.’ Then the lord or the chief is under obligation to defend you against the enemies that are chasing you. You are now under his protection, and he will protect you.”[ix]
This idea of having our sins and vulnerability enfolded in the Savior’s robes is seen again when John the Baptist is rebuking the Pharisees and Sadducees, warning them “If ye receive not me, ye receive not him of whom I am sent to bear record; and for your sins ye have no cloak.” (JST Matthew 3:34 emphasis added). The protective nature of these robes of the atonement which cover our nakedness is also echoed in the plea to put on “the whole armor of God.”
Healing on the Way to Healing
With this background, the story of the woman who had suffered with an issue of blood for twelve years takes on more meaning. Jesus had been informed by one of the rulers of the synagogue in Capernaum that his daughter is in great need of Him: “My little daughter lieth at the point of death, I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.”[x] This story and setting is so compelling it doesn’t seem like the scene could be any more powerful, but alas, it is. On the way to the home of Jairus many people followed him, perhaps to be there to witness a miracle, perhaps because it was hard not to follow the Master.
As he was thronged by the crowd, “a certain woman, which had an issue of blood [or a hemorrhage] twelve years, and had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, when she had heard of Jesus came in the press behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be made whole. And straightway [or immediately] the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.” What joy and happiness must have filled her soul at that moment! Her faith was so great, based, as we understand it, on just hearing of Jesus and his healing powers. She was healed, as it were, by the “robes of his righteousness.”
At that very moment of her healing, “Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? And his disciples said unto him, Thos seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing.”[xi]
The woman was considered socially unclean. She was bold to have pressed through the crowd because of her condition. And now the Master stopped to find who had touched Him. She knew that He was looking for her and her alone. “But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth.” She, knowing that she had been healed, was willing to confess the miracle before the crowd although it appears from her fear that she thought she would be mocked, ridiculed or reprimanded. “And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.”[xii] What sweetness! What magnificence! The Lord turned and gave credit to this poor woman for the critical part she had played in the bringing about this miracle.
Should we not all try to touch ‘but the hem of his garment’ and be healed of our afflictions and maladies? The pattern seems to be that the Lord is willing to heal us if we are willing to reach out to touch him and if we exercise true faith. It is the atoning power that the robe represents which heals the woman–that same robe which covers our nakedness of sin and vulnerability. It is the robe of healing for all that has wounded us in mortality.
The Little Lamb
At this very moment when the woman has been given comfort by the Lord and the crowd had been looking upon her, people have come from Jairus’s house to tell of sad news: “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any futher?” It seems like this would be the final word. Death is the closed door upon mortality. Death is the cold grave from whence there is no return. Death is the sure thing for all mortals. And yet, “As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe.”[xiii] What comfort this sweet sentence gives! How many times in our lives must we remember these very words: Be not afraid, only believe! We must learn to trust the Lord and know that these words—this admonition—is absolutely true and fruitful.
As Jesus entered the home where the little 12-year-old girl lay dead, the people were already gathered and mourning and weeping and wailing at the loss. Into the room came the one who would later say, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”[xiv] As he looked upon them Jesus said, “Why make ye this ado, and weep? The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn [or ridiculed him]. But when he had put them all out, he taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with him [Peter, James and John], and entereth in where the damsel was lying. And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel [or little one, or ‘little lamb’], I say unto thee, arise. And straightway [or immediately] the damsel arose and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment.”[xv]
Jesus showed forth these miracles because the people had faith, not that the miracles would be proof of His power and therefore the people would then have faith.
Elijah Fordham in our Dispensation
One story bears repeating at the end of this lesson. When the Prophet Joseph Smith finally was allowed to escape from the Liberty Jail in Western Missouri on April 6, 1839, he and his companions quickly made their way across the state to join with the scattered, refugee saints in Illinois. By July 22 hundreds were sick with malaria and the ague. Joseph Smith the Prophet arose from his bed of sickness and began to give healing blessing to hundreds of Saints along the shores of the Mississippi on the Illinois side. He went across the river to Iowa and there met with a number of the saints who were also ill.
Wilford Woodruff recorded: “The next place they visited was the home of Elijah Fordham, who was supposed to be about breathing his last. . . . The Prophet of God walked up to the dying man and took hold of his right hand and spoke to him; but Brother Fordham was unable to speak, his eyes were set in his head like glass, and he seemed entirely unconscious of all around him. . . . Joseph asked him if he had faith to be healed. He answered, ‘I fear it is too late; if you had come sooner I think I would have been healed.’ The Prophet said ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ?’ He answered in a feeble voice, ‘I do.’ Joseph then stood erect, still holding his hand in silence several moments; then he spoke in a very loud voice, saying, ‘Brother Fordham, I command you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to arise from this bed and be made whole.’ . . .
“It seemed as though the house shook to its very foundations. Brother Fordham arose from his bed, and was immediately made whole. His feet were bound in poultices which he kicked off; then putting on his clothes he ate a bowl of bread and milk and followed the Prophet into the street.”
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ healed the woman with the issue of blood. Faith in Jesus Christ raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Faith in Jesus Christ raised Elijah Fordham from his bed of near death. And it is faith the Lord Jesus Christ that heals us and makes us whole today.