This past week I was privileged to visit three members of our church who are widows. One has been widowed for many years; one has been suffering various serious health issues since her husband died; and one is recently widowed.
This Gospel has a powerful message of hope that relates to each of their special circumstances. It is a text in which we can, at some point, all find meaningful and comforting. Two stories are intertwined and fit together perfectly. They are, however, strange bedfellows, as the expression goes. One was an outcast. The woman’s hemorrhage made her ritually unclean and she was not supposed to be in contact with the public. The other person in the story is a religious leader whose child is deathly ill.
The story becomes poignant because as Jesus makes His way through the crowd gathered around Him, Jairus, the ruler of the local synagogue, came to him. This is the first time in Mark’s Gospel a religious leader has come to Jesus for help. His daughter was critically ill and he was desperate to help her. Jesus agreed to help and as the two headed to Jairus’ home, the second story breaks in. A woman with the hemorrhage knew in her heart that if she but touched even the garment Jesus was wearing, she would be healed. She had heard of Jesus, knew He was coming, and made her way into the crowd despite her unclean state. As she touched Jesus’ clothing she was instantly healed. Then Jesus felt power go out from Him and He asked who had touched Him. The woman confessed what she had done and Jesus pronounced her healed of her disease.
As Jesus paused to help the woman, the little girl He was going to save died. Jairus was told not to bother Jesus and further—she had already died--but Jesus said, “Do not fear; only believe.” Jesus was sent to save and He used the situation to bring faith and healing.
One can imagine the father’s grief and fear on hearing the sad news. Jesus, however, calms him by calling him to believe. With Jesus there is hope even when all avenues for help seem to be lost.
When Jesus, Jairus, and the entourage arrive at the house, the mourners are already assembled. They are familiar with death, they have seen it far too often. These are most likely ‘professional mourners’—people who go to a death to morn and wail for the family of the deceased. They know the girl is dead. Jesus, though, tells them she is merely sleeping. The mourners laugh at Jesus—a very insensitive thing to do in that situation. It betrays their insincerity.
This scene sets up the remarkable aspect of the miracle. The girl is truly dead. The mourners represent common sense. They know what happens at death. Jesus’ statement to them seems totally absurd. We might even accuse Jesus of denying death.
“Do not fear;” Jesus had told Jairus, “only believe.” Jesus went in with the parents and just a few others, and spoke to the girl. “Little girl, get up!” Jesus commanded her. She rose immediately! Jesus, the Son of God, had defied death. In a resurrection story reminiscent of raising Lazarus, Jesus showed His power.
“Do not fear; only believe.” Was it the man’s faith that made possible the miracle of the child’s healing? Was it the faith of the woman who was hemorrhaging that made her well? Was it the faith of the disciples in the boat that saved them? No.
Over the past year we have lost a number of people of strong faith. They have been involved in Zion’s ministry in so many ways and have shared their faith through their involvement at Zion and in other activities. While it is hard—even devastating—to lose loved ones and friends, our consolation has been and continues to be our Lord Jesus Christ. We mourn their deaths, while we give thanks for the salvation of Jesus who has suffered and died for us. Our faith in Jesus, and our belief in the Words and truth of the Bible, remind us that those who die in faith will live forever because of Jesus. It is not our actions or by our efforts that we are saved, but it is through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross.
People in Jesus’ day were privileged to see firsthand the miracles and hear the teachings of Jesus. Still, many struggled to believe. We have the words of the Bible, the precious, holy book God has given us, for us to experience Jesus’ miracles and know His presence in our lives.
None of the persons in the Gospel were saved on the basis of their faith. The same holds true for us. The woman who was healed and the ruler of the synagogue reached out to Jesus in desperation. That’s often what we do as well. We reach out to Jesus when we are at our lowest point in life and need Him to save us or bring us through an especially difficult situation. When we find our backs up against the wall, so-to-speak, we cry out to Jesus.
Jairus was told “only believe,” not as a formula for the performance of the miracle, but as a way of calming his fear. “Believe and trust in God and have your fears relieved,” could be another way of looking at it. God will take care of the rest. The woman was told that her faith had made her well, but it was not something she had achieved, or had done to earn such a gift from Jesus. It was the power of the Holy Spirit that gave them the ability to believe Jesus could bring healing to their desperate situations.
Faith is a gift from God through the Holy Spirit that creates trust within a person to let them experience the miracle that Jesus brings. When things don’t go our way, when the healing we pray for doesn’t happen as we want, that is not the fault of our lack of faith, or of the Holy Spirit not at work within us. Healing is a gift.
Last Sunday we witnessed the baptisms of two babies—cousins. It was the faith of the parents that brought their children to receive this gift of Holy Baptism, but it was the Holy Spirit that created the faith in those parents. And it is the Holy Spirit who will be working within those two babies to create faith as their parents fulfill their baptismal promises.
The faith of the three women I visited this past week has given them the courage to go on. Faith has given them the trust and hope to know that Jesus is leading them through difficult times, and faith gives hope to someone facing surgery to know that they are in God’s hands. All will be well.
Jesus’ words of calm and reassurance to Jairus are for us as well. “Do not fear; only believe.” Whatever we may be facing in our lives we are not alone. When tough times seem to hit us between the eyes, when we lose loved ones, when things happen we cannot understand, our only recourse is to bring those things to Jesus and let Him handle it.