Faith to Heal audio (4MB)
If you were here last week you may remember that I asked whether you have trouble believing that God still intervenes in the world in a miraculous way. Well, a similar question arises today. Not whether you believe that God can answer your prayers, rather do you believe that he will answer your prayers?
Do you wonder whether God will listen to you because you’re not sure if you’ve been good enough? Do you think to yourself, “I haven’t really been good enough lately to ask him that.” Or do you sometimes make deals with God and then find that you’ve broken the agreement you had so you think you’ve blown it. Well let me suggest that it all comes back in the end to what you think faith is. What is it that faith in God hangs on? Is it something in ourselves? Does God look at us and decide whether we have enough faith before answering? Or is it something else.
In our reading today we find the account of two quite different people who had faith in Jesus. But we find the account cleverly interwoven by Mark so that as we go through it we see a number of contrasts and a number of similarities.
The first person we meet is one of the synagogue rulers. Here at last is a leader of the Jews who’s willing to accept Jesus for who he is. Mind you he is in a desperate situation. Perhaps he might not have been so accepting of Jesus if he hadn’t been so desperate, but notice that there’s nothing in the passage to indicate any sort of rebuke by Jesus of his association with the other Jewish leaders who were plotting to kill him at this very moment. God sometimes uses these moments of desperation to provoke faith in those who otherwise wouldn’t have had anything to do with God. And when that happens God accepts us, no matter what our attitude of heart might have been before that point. Mind you, even then we have to trust God, just as this synagogue ruler did, even when things get tough.
Well, this man comes to Jesus and falls at his feet to beg him to come and heal his daughter who’s dying. Here’s a man whose love for his daughter is so great that he’ll even demean himself with this public display of humility before this upstart young preacher. But it isn’t just a show of humility. Rather it’s an acknowledgement of, in fact a sign of faith in, Jesus’ ability to heal. His daughter’s at the point of death, but he trusts that Jesus can pull her back from the brink.
And such is his faith that Jesus responds and goes with him.
But as they’re going along, surrounded by a great crowd of spectators, a woman worms her way in among the people and gets close enough to touch his cloak. Now this woman is the complete opposite of the synagogue ruler. In fact the contrast is almost overwhelming. While he has every quality that would make him a ‘suitable’ person for Jesus to minister to, she has few. Think about it for a moment. First of all he’s a man and she’s a woman. Jewish rabbis didn’t think much of women in those days and certainly wouldn’t have spent time on them. He was a synagogue ruler - highly respected in the community. In fact notice how we’re reminded of his position throughout this account. He’s repeatedly referred to as the Leader of the synagogue. That’s about as high as you could get in the Jewish culture. By contrast she was an outcast. The fact that she had this bleeding meant that she was unclean - not able to worship with God’s people - shunned by upright citizens - no doubt considered by many to be under the judgement of God. And she’d been this way for 12 years.
Imagine that you’d been an outcast in your own community for the past 12 years. You can almost imagine her sneaking along with head bent and a shawl pulled down over her face so people wouldn’t notice her or recognise her. And on top of that, or perhaps because of that, she was poor. All her money had been spent trying to find a cure and instead of getting better she grew worse. One can guess that the synagogue ruler on the other hand would have been fairly well off. Wealth was a sign of God’s blessing and that would have been an important part of deciding who should be made an elder in the synagogue.
So we have these two contrasting people coming to Jesus with very similar needs. She has a seemingly incurable condition. He has a daughter who’s at the point of death.
But while their needs are similar there’s again a contrast in the way they approach Jesus. When you think about the differences between the two, this latter contrast isn’t particularly surprising. He comes openly to Jesus asking him publicly to come and heal his daughter. She comes secretly, almost sneakily. He wants Jesus to come and lay hands on his daughter. All she wants is to touch his cloak.
And here’s the amazing thing: when she does it she’s healed. She immediately feels the healing effect in her body. I wonder do you ever have that sense of a prayer being answered even as you pray it? Well that’s what happens here. The bleeding stops instantly.
But notice that the woman’s approach is not enough. She can’t just sneak up and steal a healing. Jesus demands an openness on her part. He realises that power has gone out from him so he stops, turns around and says “Who touched my clothes?” Well, you’d be pretty scared if you were in the front row wouldn’t you? How could you help but touch his clothes! And now he was cross about it for some reason. But it isn’t just anyone he’s looking for. It’s the woman. And she knows it. So Jesus waits. He wants the woman to come and acknowledge the healing that’s taken place; but more importantly, he wants her to have her faith acknowledged.
This is actually part of his ministry to her. Her healing needs to be completed by having it acknowledged, made public. Her faith needs to be acknowledged publicly. There’s always been something significant about the public expression of people’s faith in God. This is why public baptism is the sacrament of membership in the church. It’s why in the orthodox churches where infant baptism has been the practice, we’ve also had a ceremony of confirmation, so that those who are of an age to decide can make a public confession of faith. So their faith in God can be witnessed by others in the congregation. So that in acknowledging their faith, their faith can be strengthened.
Have you noticed how that’s true of yourself? That as you stand up for what you believe, your belief actually gets strengthened? This isn’t just the power of positive thinking. Rather it’s the nature of faith: that as faith is expressed it grows.
But there’s perhaps another reason for Jesus stopping to seek out this woman. That’s so that her witness to Jesus’ healing power can be heard by Jairus. At this moment he needs to be reminded that Jesus has the power to heal. His faith is about to receive its greatest test. It’s important to see this. The woman might have been healed and gone away happy and no more might have been said about it, but then she would have been the only one affected. But her faith had far greater potential for good than just her own healing. It’s good, isn’t it, to hear about God’s work in other people’s lives because when that happens it strengthens our own faith in God.
One of the reasons we always have that slide in the notices for Community News is to give you an opportunity to tell us when God has done good things in your life. Because then we’ll all be encouraged by what the Lord has done for you.
Well, that may have been part of Jesus’ reason here, because even as he’s speaking some men arrive with the news that Jairus’ daughter is dead. And then they add this highly encouraging remark “Why bother the teacher any more?” Is there a hint of disdain in their question, do you think? Did they perhaps disapprove of Jairus going to Jesus for help. Well, fortunately now it was too late. They didn’t have to be embarrassed by Jesus’ involvement with them any more. Just thank him and send him on his way.
But Jesus isn’t so easily put off. He isn’t going to let Jairus’ faith wither like the seed planted among thorns that we heard about a few weeks ago. He turns to Jairus, ignoring their comment and says, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” Here’s the final contrast in this story. Jairus is anxious and afraid, while Jesus is calm and confident. No doubt Jairus has been hopping from one foot to the other while Jesus has been dealing with this woman, but Jesus knows that the delay hasn’t meant the end for the girl. His power is sufficient even to raise someone from the dead. But Jairus has to keep on believing. He mustn’t be put off by those around him who tell him it’s hopeless; who suggest that Jesus has done all he’s capable of; who suggest that Jesus is a great teacher but nothing more. Just as the disciples in the boat last week were in danger of being overwhelmed by the facts of their situation, so here Jairus has to keep trusting Jesus despite hearing that it’s all too late.
At this point we see one of the characteristic elements of this part of Mark’s gospel. Jesus tells everyone else to stay behind. This miracle isn’t going to be performed to the gallery. It’s going to be a private affair, done for the sake of those in need, not for the sake of the audience. While it was important for the woman to acknowledge her healing before the crowd, this healing would be done in private. Enough that later people would see the girl walking around, but even then they were told not to tell anyone about it.
He takes Peter, James, and John with him and they find a great hullabaloo of mourning going on at Jairus’ house. Jesus asks why all this mourning when his work isn’t yet finished. He knows that the girl’s death is only temporary, as though she was asleep. Yet no-one there apart from Jairus believes him. So he throws everyone out apart from the girl’s parents and his three disciples and goes in to where the child is. There he takes her by the hand speaks to her and she gets up. The disciples and her parents are simply amazed. How can this be? She was dead, and now he’s raised her back to life. But we shouldn’t be amazed, should we? Just as last week we saw that the nature miracles were the natural result of Jesus incarnation, so this week we realise that Jesus’ bringing this girl back to life is a mere shadow of the far greater miracle of the resurrection. Although it hasn’t yet happened at this stage of the gospel story, Jesus’ power over death is already apparent.
And notice that Jesus is ever practical. He tells them to give the girl something to eat. This is possibly to give her strength but may also be to assure the parents that she really is alive and well. She’s no ghost. She’s a living breathing person again. And he also tells them not to say anything about what has happened. As in previous cases he doesn’t want people to follow him just because he’s a wonder worker. Rather he wants them to have faith in him as the suffering servant, the son of God.
Well, lets go back to where we started. What is the right sort of faith in God? What is the key to faith? Here we find two totally different people: one prepared to be embarrassed in order to be healed, trusting implicitly that Jesus’ power is available to her; the other anxious and perhaps a bit tentative towards the end, yet hanging on in trust even against the odds.
But you know the key to faith isn’t in either of these people. The key to faith is in Jesus. His presence with them is what matters. His call is to keep trusting, to keep focusing on him rather than on outward circumstances. Yes, they have to trust him, but who they are and what they bring is of almost no importance. What matters is that Jesus can be trusted. That he embodies all the power of God over creation, over life and death.
Jesus’ words to Jairus are also words to us. Don’t be afraid, just believe. Or perhaps more accurately, stop fearing, just keep on believing. Don’t let your outward circumstances or the wet blankets or the mockers, divert you from your trust and belief in Jesus. Remember that he’s able to do far more than anything you could imagine or think. Simply rely on Jesus and on God our Father, trust him for what you need and especially continue to have faith in his saving power.
(Eph 3:20-21 NRSV) "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."