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We sang a song this morning about the reckless love of God. This reckless love of God calls us to a reckless faith. The reckless love of God calls us to a reckless faith that doesn’t stop believing/trusting/resting in Jesus no matter how much circumstances seem to indicate the futility of such faith. When the majority reject him. When the waves are breaking over the bow of the boat threatening to swamp us. When the way ahead is not at all clear. When we are faced with an incurable illness. When we are faced with death.
“Keep on believing,” says Jesus, and calls us daughter, son.
In this case daughter or little girl. A term of endearment. Talitha. Same root in Aramaic as the word for lamb. Get up little lamb. Words this dear daughter would have heard every morning of her life, before she sprang out of bed to begin her day with a family who loved her, before desperation set in. These are desperate times. The good news is that we needn’t fear desperate times. We’re all going to know desperate times. I was reading an article about a writer named Clare Messud. She was speaking out about fakery and falsehood in fiction, against escapism. Good fiction speaks to the human condition and has something to teach us about the human condition. This is why it resonates so. The article was entitled “Life is Damage – A Conversation With Clare Messud,” which came from this quote: “Life is damage. Isn’t this true? An infant is born in its unique, idiosyncratic perfection, trailing clouds of glory, as Wordsworth put it, and life will batter like a relentless storm against that perfect being.” Life will batter like a relentless storm, and if we haven’t yet known this, we will.
We don’t want to be about fakery, falsehood or escapism. The word of God is not about fakery, falsehood, or escapism. The Word of Life is not about fakery, falsehood or escapism. Desperate times call for what? In Jesus, we may even be bold enough to say that desperate times can be a gift. Desperate times may be the thing that makes us recognize our own inability to manage outcomes. Desperate times call for reckless faith. Someone has said of these stories that we read from the end of Mark 4 to end of Mark 5 – “Mark has taken us to the outer edge of human experience, where only God can make a difference.” The power of the sea. The power of demons. Illness. Death. How do we respond? We recall the response of the people of Jesus’ hometown in the story which follows this one. The response was “Who does he think he is?”
In our story today, we are presented with the response of reckless faith. The faith of a synagogue leader who sends for the man who has been performing acts of power in his town. Jairus is willing to take the risk on a man who has been stirring up opposition, despite what this might mean in terms of his position, his rank. Synagogue leader. A man of some prestige and authority. We tend to care about those kinds of things. We tend to care less when a child is dying.
You learn something about desperation and the lengths to which parents are willing to go in a children’s oncology ward. I don’t know the experience as a parent of being desperate on behalf of a child but I experienced it as an uncle when our nephew was being treated for leukemia. The feelings of helplessness. The urgent prayers. The parents who would go to any length just to be with their children.
“When Jesus has crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him, and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she might be made well, and live.” Jairus is desperate. Someone has said, “When you reach desperation, humility comes naturally.” C.S. Lewis said “Pain plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” This surely has something to teach us about prayer too. Jairus has fallen at Jesus’ feet and begs him repeatedly, “Lay your hands on her, so that she might be made well, and live.” Lay your hands on her, so that she might be saved, and live. There is something going on here beyond a healing. There is something going on beyond a bringing back to life. Again we are dealing here with more than a healing. Healing does not always come after all, though sometimes it does and never presumes to say why in either case. There is a deeper truth about Jesus going on here, which we read in the repetition of this phrase “be made well” “I will be made well” and “your faith has made you well.” The verb is Sozo and it means more than being cured. It’s often translated “save” in our Bible and speaks to the truth that at times is expressed by two words – “Jesus Saves.” (we might mock this too as in the goalie t-shirt). This word for saved speaks of healing, rescuing, preserving, delivering, making whole. Do we believe in new life? Are we desperate enough to come to Jesus often and meaningfully and plead “Give me new life?” “Give us new life?”
Jairus falls at Jesus feet and pleads with him. “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him. We don’t know what Jairus knew about Jesus. We don’t know what Jairus believed about Jesus. Understanding Jesus’ identity is important, and the life of discipleship is one of coming to an ever deeper heart understanding of what kind of King Jesus is. It starts though with faith. Trusting. Obeying. Following. Going “all in” on Jesus, though such faith is never a gamble. An audacious faith that keeps on believing when we don’t have all the answers; when the way ahead is murky. An audacious faith that has us continually throwing ourselves down at Jesus’ feet, pleading repeatedly.
Speaking of audacious faith, Jesus is about to be interrupted. It’s amazing how much of Jesus’ ministry happened in the interruptions. People sometimes say to me, “Sorry for bothering you.” I learned a great response to this from a friend some years ago – “You’re never bothering me.” Henri Nouwen quoted some wisdom he heard from a professor at one point – “I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted; then I realized that the interruptions were my work.” “Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had, and she was no better, but rather grew worse.” This is no knock on the medical profession. It’s a mark of this woman’s desperation. Constant bleeding would have left her ritually unclean, as every woman was ritually unclean during menstruation (and someone has commented this is what happens when men make the rules, I will leave that with you). Others would need to avoid touching her, a bed where she had slept, a chair where she had sat. She couldn’t take part in any religious ritual. She was cut off in every way and without hope.
She had heard about Jesus. “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” If I but touch his clothes, I will be saved, healed, restored, forgiven, delivered, made whole. Read v29-30. “Who touched my clothes?” asks Jesus. The disciples do not acquit themselves very well here. What are you talking about? Look at this crowd! “He looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling.” Why such fear? Awe and wonder in Jesus’ presence? Disapproval from this teacher at what she had done? She couldn’t go around touching people after all. Disapproval from the crowd who might find out that an unclean woman had been in their midst, jostling them and so on. How many others had she touched? Why is Jesus so insistent on making this woman’s healing public knowledge? Someone has put it like this: “What she has done needs to be exposed in the crowd, not because it was wrong, but because it was right. The crowd has not become unclean by her touch; instead, she has become clean by touching Jesus. The crowd needs to know that… This woman’s humiliation has been public knowledge; her healing must be public knowledge as well. Her public confession in the crowd and a pronouncement of full healing by Jesus facilitates a healing far beyond the physical problem. It has a social and spiritual dimension as well.”
Jesus calls her “Daughter.” It’s a term of acceptance and endearment. This woman who has been cut off from relationship has been restored to relationship. “Your faith has made you well.” Your faith has saved you, delivered you, healed you, restored you. Her faith was the conduit through which Jesus’ saving power flowed. “Go in peace.” Literally “Go into or towards peace.” And be healed of your disease. Hopelessness is turned into wholeness.
Speaking of hopeless – “While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’”
Do not fear. Keep on believing. Even death has been overcome. What have we to fear? There’s an Emily Dickinson poem #32 that goes like this:
It was too late for man, But early yet for God; Creation impotent to help, But prayer remained our side.
How excellent the heaven, When earth cannot be had; How hospitable, then, the face Of our old neighbour, God!
How hospitable then, the face of our old neighbour God. Jesus comes to the house and the professional mourners laugh when he says “She’s but sleeping.” We remember the language used by Paul about those who have fallen asleep in Christ and we can laugh or get behind this man who is now saying “Talitha cum” or “Little girl, get up.” We can get behind this man who brings new life. “And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this, they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.”
Don’t tell anyone about this. New life. A prelude to a resurrection that will come later in the story. It was too late for man, but early yet for God. “And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen…” New life and care. Give her something to eat. Jairus’ daughter begins to participate in the new life that will come about in Jesus’ resurrection, just as followers of Christ begin to participate in the new life that is to come when all things are renewed. Don’t stop believing. Keep on trusting. This Jesus has authority over every illness. It doesn’t mean don’t follow public health guidelines or the advice of medical professionals. It does mean that no matter what our circumstances, even in the face of death itself, the last word belongs to Jesus who calls us daughter, son, Talitha, little lamb – inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
This is our risen Jesus. Thanks be to God for God’s indescribable gift!