Monday, February 15, 2016

Encountering Jesus: two faith stories in Luke 8:39-56

“The storm is fierce and the boat is about to be swamped”
“ I want to be free from these things that have destroying my life. That hold me captive, this oppressive legion”
“Our only child is dying”
“She had been suffering for twelve years... and she’d been to every doctor she could find and no one could help her.”
Over the last few weeks as we’ve been looking at a series of four miracle stories in Luke’s gospel, we’ve encountered a large array of human suffering and sorrow.  The disciples in the midst of the storm on the lake, a man tormented by spiritual beings, and in today’s reading a father gravely concerned for his daughters life, a women who has been haemorrhaging for twelve years. I know this morning that many if not all of us come with our own stories of sorrow and suffering that could be added to that list. In the midst of the gospel stories Luke invites us to see the grace and the authority of Jesus: the authority of Jesus over nature, over the supernatural, over disease and yes even over death itself. 

The passage we had read out this morning is unique in the gospels, because it intertwines two miracle narratives. In these two we are not only shown Jesus authority but presented with examples of saving faith. Jarius and the women with the bleeding are presented to us as examples of what faith in Jesus looks like, and it takes both their stories to give us that picture.

The passage starts with Jesus coming back from the other side of the lake, and the situation that is totally. Over there the crowd had wanted him to go away, but here they are waiting for him they welcome him and are expectant. It’s easy for us to get caught up in numbers and crowds but Jesus is not fooled by numbers. I’ve mentioned before when we see crowds in Luke’s gospel will start talking about what it really means to be a follower of Jesus and in this case that faith is displayed in Jarius and the hemorrhaging women. If you follow the crowd through this narrative, they start with expectancy, then they almost get in the way of the women receiving healing, and finally when Jesus tells them that Jarius’ daughter is not dead but asleep we see them laugh at Jesus and doubt his authority and word.  Jarius and the women on the other hand show us what faith and trust in Jesus is about.

Jarius shows us a key element in faith is humility. He comes not demanding anything of Jesus but falling at his feet and humbly asking Jesus for help. The women when Jesus asks who touched him she comes trembling and falling at Jesus feet, aware that she has already been healed. Faith in Jesus, comes knowing that in the person of Jesus we can find help, healing and salvation. It is hard for us; we live in a society where self sufficiency and self reliance is valued. We want to be in control, we live in a world where we increasingly find ourselves reliant on human wisdom and science. Which I believe is a gift from God. The women at least had exhausted her medical options, and you get the feeling Jarius had as well. However it’s easy in the face of that to consign God to the gaps and If God is the God of the gaps and the gaps are getting smaller and smaller, we see faith and trust in God as being smaller and smaller in our lives.  Whenever we start to feel self sufficient we start to cease asking God, and when we cease asking God we cease receiving.  

In this narrative as in life faith isn’t an easy path. Faith takes courage> the founder of the Vinyard church movement, summed it well when he said faith is spelt R*I*S*K. The women finds herself in the crowd, for her the dilemma is that she is putting herself at great personal danger. As a woman who was bleeding she was ritually unclean and her touch would make those around her also in Jewish terms ritually unclean. That is part of what is behind her reluctance to come forward when Jesus asks who touched me. Likewise it was a risk to touch Jesus as it would have made him unclean as well. Maybe she had heard the stories of Jesus touching lepers and touching the widows dead son at Nain, or Jesus feet being cleaned by the women at Simons house and in all those instances it was Jesus touch that made people clean and healed them and made them whole. So she is willing to reach out and to touch. Faith calls us to risk to reach out and to touch. When it comes to Jarius’ daughter we see that Jesus is prepared to reach out and touch the girls dead body as well, again in Jewish thinking something that was a source of ritual uncleanliness, and in a world without disinfectant and the health measures these religious laws were also health regulations. But Jesus touch brings new life. Faith in Christ also calls us to reach out into the sorrow and the suffering in life with the hope that as Jesus is with us that our touch will bring his touch.But it takes courage and compassion it is a RISK.

Jesus is aware that power has gone out from him and so he turns and asks who touched know with the women who was healed instantly faith calls her to step forward and to tell of what the Lord has done for her. Her faith is shown in her willingness to respond to Jesus. She obeys, even when it is hard and difficult, she has to admit to when she is and how she has gone against the conventions of her day. But she shows her faith by doing that, and in taking that step forward she receives so much more. She receives an affirmation of her faith, that indeed it has healed her, Jesus healing is always holistic and know she is declared healed she is reconciled with her people, and also affirmed in their midst.

One of the things that sticks out in this narrative is timing, Jesus is on the way to pray for a girl who is close to deaths door and yet he stops to heal the women. As he has been delayed someone comes and tells Jarius that his daughter has died. Jesus response is to invite Jarius not to fear but trust and she will be healed.’ It’s a tough one, but Jesus is asking Jarius to trust him, even when it seems that the situation has ended in death. This is the kind of faith and trust that Jesus has in the father as he faces the cross that even when it ends in death, that God is able to do what he has said, in Jesus case it was the resurrection, in our case we are asked to Trust and have faith in God throughout life and to know he has promised to all who receive him and believe that we will know eternal life, beyond the grave. Jarius shows his faith by continuing with Jesus, by following him home and being willing to go against the professional mourners  who had already gathered, who knew death, to trust Jesus when he says “she is not dead she is asleep’ and to trust despite the laughter of the crowd. When we talk about faith here it is not just a person’s ability to believe it is putting their trust in Jesus In the long term.

Jesus goes in and speaks to the girl and it tells us that her spirit returns and in typical Jesus style, he is concerned for her holistically. He says to get her something to eat; after the resurrection Jesus eats with his disciples as a way of showing them he is alive and not just some sort of ghost, but also as she has been sick for a long time this is part of her recovery process. You know how it is when after an illness you regain your appetite. Unlike with the demonised man we looked at last week or with the women Jesus had just healed, he tells the girl’s parents not to tell others about what has happened, and here people have wondered why and it is seen as being  that Jesus doesn’t simply want people to flock to him as a miracle worker, but to come so they can hear his teaching. 

AS I looked at this passage I wondered if there were some things here that spoke to us about our own faith. It points to some obstacles to trusting Jesus ...I wonder how many of us find ourselves caught in the crowd, even expectant of seeing Jesus bringing his transformation into people’s lives but thinking you know Jesus has so many things to do why would he care for me? This narrative speaks to that and says Jesus has time for us and simply that Jesus cares. We know Jarius’ name because he was important in his society, we never learn the women’s name, because she was not. But here Jesus cares equally. In fact in this intertwined narrative Luke shows us how Jesus cares and ministers to men women and children.

I wonder if we find ourselves listening to the voice that says “O don’t bother the teacher”. A voice within us, like we just talked about, the voice of our society that actually actively devalues faith.

I had someone talk to me about the retirement village going over the road, and he jokingly said “o there will be losts more clients for you,” I didn’t know them that well and I hoped he was speaking about the possibility for church growth, but I couldn’t help but think he had this picture of a ministers main work being death and funerals.  As a minister in this narrative I found myself standing amidst the professional mourners. It is an element of what people look for in a pastor to help in the face of death and grief. There is a time for that.  But I wondered if having faith in Jesus doesn’t call us to be people of hope willing to hear and follow Jesus in situations that we may feel are beyond hope.

They are not because this is the hope we have.... That we can trust in the love and the authority of Jesus over all things. And that faith invites us to risk reaching out to Jesus, and to reach out with the promise that Christ goes with us into the issues and sorrows of the world around us. Faith that is willing to trust God if we see the results immediately but also to go on trusting God even through the darkest of times. A faith based on knowing who Jesus is and trusting him. Not as a magical cure all but as commentator NT Wright sums up the message that Luke would have for us today...
“In whatever problem or suffering we face. The presence of Jesus, getting his hands dirty, with the problems of the world, is what we need, and what in the gospel we are promised.”

No comments:

Post a Comment