Our Gospel reading this morning is one that affects us as parents; the issue of a sick child is something that none of us ever wants to ever think about, but there is a valuable lesson in the message of our appointed reading today.
The principle character in our reading is a man named Jairus. Jairus was a prosperous man, and was well regarded in his community. We read in St. Luke’s account that Jairus was the ruler of the synagogue, the equivalent of the president of the congregation, and his duties included conducting synagogue worship and selecting those who are to lead prayers, read scriptures and teach. It is Jairus who invites Jesus to participate in the synagogue services while Jesus is in Capernaum, but as we read this morning, Jairus didn’t go to meet Jesus upon his entry into the city merely to greet Him. Rather, Jairus, a man of authority, went to meet Jesus and begged him to heal his only daughter. He made the bold decision to separate himself from his daughter’s bedside as she lay dying in a desperate measure to ask for Jesus’ help.
I think all of us can identify with Jairus. All of us know the pain and heartache involved with taking care of a child who is ill. Every cough, sneeze, yelp, just hearing the awful wrenching sound of them when they are physically ill and helpless as their body fights being sick, any of us would trade places in a heartbeat to spare them such illness and pain. You can imagine the emotional turmoil that Jairus faced in watching his daughter’s condition grow worse. This is his only daughter, daddy’s little girl, who, at the tender age of 12, is dying. My only daughter Laura is 12 – just a little girl – but in the Middle Eastern culture at the time of Jesus, this was already marrying age. Girls this age were considered to be adults. I couldn’t possibly imagine marrying off Laura at this age, and I certainly couldn’t ever imagine her being terminally ill either. Yet Jairus had all of this on his mind when he sought Jesus for help.
Think for a moment about Jairus’ faith. How strong was it? Unlike the centurion, who knew Jesus didn’t need to be physically present in order for healing to occur, Jairus’ crisis of faith required more of a demand or imposition placed upon the Master. Even the hemorrhaging woman, of whom we also heard about in today’s Gospel, had enough faith to know that just touching the fringe of Jesus’ garment would heal her. Jairus simply didn’t have that same level of faith. What is worse, when Jesus stops amid the crowd to find out who touched him, Jairus is patiently waiting, knowing all too well he has a small window of opportunity to get Jesus to his daughter before it is too late. His prayer is that of a demand that his own will be done by healing his daughter.
When we pray, my brothers and sisters, is our prayer like Jairus’? Do we pray with a laundry list of demands and wants, and expect that we will get everything we ask because we’re entitled to it? Or do we pray with faith, like the hemorrhaging woman, who knew by faith that she would be healed.
Our prayer life should be focused on allowing us to do the Lord’s will in everything that is set before us. I realize we all pray for the things we want; we need to pray that the Lord gives us what He deems necessary for our salvation. Trust me when I tell you I have prayed hard about different crises all summer, but as I was preparing this homily, it occurred to me that my prayers have been wrongly directed at our Lord. I’ve told him what I want. I’ve prayed for the temporal things of this world that I thought were necessary. I’ve even prayed to our Lord by bargaining with Him – praying that if you give me this, in return, I’ll give you that. I arrogantly prayed with a sense of entitlement. Absolutely wrong. It’s no small wonder that the things I’ve prayed for have not come to fruition. But thanks be to God that we have the ability to correct our actions. Jesus knew all of the feelings Jairus had in his heart, all of his anxieties, all of his fears; yet Jesus responded in His own time to show that faith is the only requirement necessary. Jesus was seemingly unconcerned about Jairus’ needs when he spoke with the hemorrhaging woman, now healed, for it was a golden opportunity for the teacher to teach a lesson about faith, about perseverance, and about patience.
As Jesus is ready to move on, after having spoken with the healed woman, Jairus sees a friend trying to get through the crowd to speak with him, and instinctively, Jairus knows that bad news is about to pass from his friend’s lips when he says, “Your daughter is dead. Don’t bother the teacher any longer.” (Luke 8:49) Here is the breaking point where Jairus can potentially lose his faith altogether, but Jesus, the ever present comforter, was with him to hear the news, and immediately tells him, like the ever patient and gentle physician, “Do not be afraid, just believe and she will be healed.” (Luke 8:50) You can just imagine Jesus’ arm around Jairus, expressing words of encouragement that feel like a soothing balm to Jairus’ hurting heart. Jesus knows this type of sorrow all too well, for he had the same hurt in His own heart at the grave of his friend, Lazarus, when He arrived at Bethany to visit with Martha and Mary.
Nonetheless, despite the sad news, Jesus accompanies Jairus to his home, along with Peter, James and John, the ever present trio of Jesus’ most trusted Disciples. They were the only ones who were allowed into the room, along with Jairus and his wife. I believe Jesus minimized the amount of spectators for several reasons: First for privacy, as any death in the family is a cause for the most intimate of family members to pray and share their sorrow together, for sorrow shared is sorrow diminished. Second, Jesus knew what He was about to do – there was no need for a large public spectacle that would needlessly cause harm to the girl’s family. Mostly, Jesus wanted this private moment to exclude those who were unbelievers. He was already being mocked and scorned for saying that she was only sleeping, not dead. This was exactly the group of people he was not willing to entertain; they will ultimately need to decide for themselves if a true miracle occurred, or if it was merely a clever magic trick. It will spark their faith, if they have any; it won’t make a difference to the unbelievers if they have no faith in the first place.
Jesus then approaches where the young girl is laid out in the room, and gently takes her by the hand, telling her, “My child, get up!” Immediately, she stands up, and once again, Jesus, the gentle physician and healer of souls and bodies prescribes food and drink for her. This is a point that is unique about the writing of St. Luke. A physician by trade, St. Luke understood the practical need for nourishment for the little girl. She had been ill for some time before actually dying. Now, restored not only to life, but to completely good health, she needs sustenance, as she had not likely eaten anything in a long period of time. It further shows the nature of the actual miracle, in that she has been raised as flesh and blood, not as a spirit or ghost that would not require food, in the same way Jesus shows His own Disciples after His own Resurrection when He asks for something to eat.
Finally, Jesus admonishes her parents to not tell anyone of what has occurred, but how can something so wonderful be kept a secret? The entire household knew she was dead. The mourners had already started wailing, as is customary in the Middle Eastern culture. How could such a joyous occurrence be kept a secret? Seeing the girl alive, standing upright, talking, eating and drinking is more than enough proof, but her parents simply kept the details of what happened private. It was the disciples told retold the details of the story, which is how it was recorded in the pages of sacred Scripture.
This Gospel reading today is a fine example of what happens when we struggle in faith. Jairus had a measure of faith, but it wavered, and after word was brought to him that his daughter died, his faith was deflated. It was then Jesus’ faith that carried Jairus at his lowest point. This is evident in the poem, “Footprints in the sand,” where the Lord tells the man, “When you see only one set of footprints at those awful moments in your life, it was then that I carried you.”
My brothers and sisters, Jesus is there for us always, not just at the worst moments in our lives. Jesus rejoices with us during our times of happiness, and He feels our pains when we are distressed. Jesus has the ability to carry all of us at our moments of crisis, as long as we don’t lose our faith in Him. Jesus will prop us up when we have fallen in faith, and restore us to where He wants us to be. And sometimes, Jesus will use us to prop up others and give them encouragement at their times of crises. The Lord has placed us here together to pray with each other, as well as to support and encourage each other, and to be strong in the Lord at all times. As we continue our journey this day as Disciples of Christ, let us all strive to keep our prayer life simple as did the hemorrhaging woman, who knew, by faith, that the Lord would help her because she believed. Let our own motto be the same words spoken to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”