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|"The Power in Believing"
Sometimes it seems to me that we live in a time
when too much gets abbreviated, shortened, condensed, abridged, cut
down to size. Reader's Digest has made an
industry of condensing articles and books; and television news,
with a very limited amount of time, succeeds in giving us only the
surface of events. Going a step beyond that,
cable television has even created what is actually called "Headline
Television commercials, which have created a world in which hardly anyone is over thirty or forty years of age, would have us believe that the most important concern for women is what goes on their faces, and the most important concern for men is what grows on the tops of their heads.
In which case, I'm not doing so well.
Now, as far as I'm concerned, all of this is OK, but it doesn't go far enough. We run the risk of coming to believe that the surface of life is all that matters, and believing this can cause us to lose touch with the meaning that is beneath the surface.
Imagine what television news coverage might have been like two thousand years ago. We might have heard something like, "A traveling preacher from Nazareth fed five thousand of his followers on a hillside this afternoon."
Or we might have heard, "We understand that a traveling preacher was in the marketplace this afternoon, and he apparently healed some sick folks."
And in all of this we hear a report of an event, but we don't hear anything of the MEANING of the event. Yet, WHAT Jesus did was considerably less important than HOW he did it.
Listen to the words from the fifth chapter of the gospel according to Mark, beginning with the twenty-first verse: "When Jesus had 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 may be made well, and live.’
“So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him."
Now, to give away the story in advance, the daughter will be healed; but not soon. And in the meantime, consider some aspects of what is happening. Jairus is a VIP, a very important person, a really big deal--but he has fallen at the feet of Jesus, BEGGING for his help. Jesus does not immediately speak an answer, but does go with him.
And then, another significant event takes place. "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 not better, but rather grew worse."
We have here a description of hemophilia, a disease with which medical science has made great strides. But even today we can think of diseases which can take all the money that a person has, and yet the disease only grows worse.
The details may change, but the sufferings continue.
"She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well."
Now, stop and consider the contrast between this woman and Jairus. Jairus needed Jesus to come to his daughter to lay his hands upon her and make her well. But in this woman belief was stronger. She doesn't even CONSIDER the possibility of failure.
She says, "I will be made well." And all she needs is to touch his clothes. Is OUR faith that strong?
I think it's too easy for us to jump to conclusions here; to DOUBT that our faith carries such strength. But I would argue that it may be stronger than we think. Consider the meaning of touching Jesus clothes.
The woman believes that if she can SYMBOLICALLY make contact with Jesus, then she will be made well.
We are even further removed from Jesus physically than was that woman; but do we not make symbolic contact with him as a community every Sunday morning? And as individuals, every day in our prayers?
"Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease." The word that should grab us here is "immediately." But I think it is important to notice that she did not ASK to be healed immediately.
She simply said, "I will be made well."
When we touch the clothes of Jesus in our community worship and in our personal prayers, we too should be carrying the faith that says, "I will be made well," even though we cannot know whether the response will be immediate or delayed.
"Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?"
Now, one interpretation of this is that Jesus' power is out of control; but another interpretation, and a better one, I think, is that Jesus' power is ACCESSIBLE to us, AVAILABLE to us, in our act of BELIEVING in him.
We don't need to ask him for every little thing; all we need to do is BELIEVE in him, and his power will move through us.
"And his disciples said to him, You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, "Who touched me?"
And once again, the disciples have missed the point. Obviously, Jesus is talking about more than the crush of bodyweight; he's talking about a unique experience he has had; someone has, through her BELIEVING, established intimate contact with him.
So, he ignores his disciples. "He looked all around to see who had done it."
Now, for those of us who believe in an all-knowing God, this may be troublesome; but Jesus as God in human form also had some human limitations.
Although the healing power within him was tremendous, his human limitations on dispensing that power were obviously limited to those with whom he came into contact or those who could somehow contact him, as did the woman with the hemorrhage.
"But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth."
Fear and trembling? WHY fear and trembling? Because although she has received power from Jesus, it was a power received because of her BELIEF, and not her KNOWLEDGE. The control of that power is not with HER, but with GOD.
The fear is not of JESUS, but is the AMAZEMENT at what has happened to her. Although she wanted it, and believed that it would happen, it is still beyond her understanding.
"He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."
And it's important, once again, to notice that Jesus is not setting HIMSELF up as responsible for this healing. What has made the woman well? Her faith! Jesus does not say to her, "I heal you," but rather "Be healed."
But what I wonder at in this passage is why Jesus did not use this event as a means of TEACHING. Why could this woman NOT have been an example to the crowd of the power of faith?
"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." Oh yes. Jairus.
Who had previously asked Jesus to come and lay his hands on his daughter so that she might be made well and live.
He's been hanging around in the crowd during this previous healing, hoping that Jesus might come to his home, but apparently not being pushy about it. And now it seems that it may be too late.
"But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe."
Now, that's asking a lot. Previously, Jairus only wanted Jesus to make his daughter well; now Jesus is implying that he can bring her back to life. "Only believe." But wasn't that what healed the woman with the hemorrhage?
And wasn't Jairus present in the midst of all this? Could he not have learned something from that?
"Jesus allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly."
And now the setting has changed radically. There is no longer the crowd in the street of every variety of person and with all the hope that people were carrying within them that Jesus might have good news and healing for them. Instead, we have come to an enclosed place, where Jesus has brought only three of his disciples.
This is the home of the ruler of the synagogue. And there is no longer hope, but only agony and grieving over death.
The contrast between the street and the house is sharp. In the street, there was still a chance, there was still life. In the house, there is no longer a chance, there is no longer life. And couldn't we likewise divide the situations in our lives into those categories?
Aren't there those things about which we feel we CAN DO something, but also those over which we feel powerless?
And in the midst of all this, Jesus attempts to change the attitudes in the house.
"When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping."
And by saying that, he attempts to change the situation from one WITHOUT hope to one FILLED with hope. But is it true? Just because Jesus says so? Well, consider situations in your own lives which you considered hopeless. Were they always really hopeless, or only hopeless because you BELIEVED them to be hopeless?
And how did those in the leader's house react? "...they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was."
Not a lot of support, but it's enough. I'm reminded of some advice given on how to achieve goals in one's life: don't associate with people with negative attitudes, people who tell you that it can't be done.
"He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" 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."
And there we have two rather straightforward miracles. At least, that is what they would become if they were simply reduced to headline news. But on the other hand, if we look closely at the miracles of Jesus, we see more than healing events. We see the attitudes of the people involved, we see the strength of their beliefs, and we see how Jesus works in relationship with others and their beliefs.
And what is the strength of OUR belief? Are we like the woman who believed that if I touch even his clothes I will be made well? Or are we like the crowd at the house of the leader who laughed at Jesus when he suggested that the child was not dead but sleeping?
Whatever our attitude, I am sure that although we may, from time to time, laugh at Jesus suggesting a miracle to us, he nevertheless forgives our lack of faith, and his clothes remain forever available to our touch.
The power of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, is continually available to us, to bring us new life.
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