DO NOT FEAR, ONLY BELIEVE
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 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.” 24 So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35 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?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And 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. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Our congregation is dealing with a question a week as a way to corporately think together and reconnect. I am returning to writing in the second week of a five question series. This week the question is ‘Where does it hurt?’ It is a well timed question. Today, I’d like to address the question corporately, personally and biblically.
In our community, we have lost two of the most loving people you will ever meet—Jap Keith and Carolyn Brooks. These are terrible losses for anyone who has met them. I met Jap when I was supervising seminary students and he was the professor of Pastoral Care. Then, later, we met regularly as colleagues when he served as pastor to our church. His warmth, wisdom and care were hallmarks of his ministry. Carolyn has been one of the most mindful dedicated women I know—and I know only a fraction of the ways she has cared for and supported the people around her. My last conversation with her was her looking for a way to reach out to me as I was preparing for my parents arrival at our home. Though I knew she had been having more physical problems lately, her stroke came as a body blow—unexpected and devastating. The pain and grief of such losses are one of the obvious answers to ‘Where does it hurt?’
But that raises the question: ‘What is the actual pain we feel?” At one level the loss is obvious— we will not see them again. We will miss the particular ways they made our lives richer, the particular ways they noticed and tended to people—the way they made the word flesh. Each person in our Faith in Real Life remembered specific encounters with Jap and Carolyn. It is hard to imagine a world that does not include them.
At another level, the deaths came to most of us unexpectedly. It really is little comfort that both had lived long full lives. We still ask ‘why now?’; ‘why them?’. It is one thing to say we are all going to die. It is quite another to have someone we just talked to suddenly disappear. None of us are safe. It can, and will, happen to us. It can. and will happen to the people we love. Usually such knowledge stays on the periphery of our vision. Sudden, unexpected or undeserved deaths force such knowledge to the center of our knowing. And it hurts.
I have a good friend who is living in a senior community in Florida. She is a spiritual person and is well read. She shared a reading with me that she shared with some of her friends in Florida. It read in part:
I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.
I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
Her friends ask her, “Do you have any good news?” We all know all of these statements are true but we do not like to know that this is who we are. And we don’t like it. I have wanted to add to this list—I am of the nature to mourn. There is no way to escape mourning.
This is how we are created. We did not get a say in the matter. Some of us will die in our sleep, some sentient (those are my choices), others of us will lose our mobility and our minds. We are creatures, We must live with what is— not what we wish. When we come to grips with who we are, as creatures, we can live fully in the midst of our mortality. This is the paradoxical good news of the Christian faith.
I believe this is what Jesus meant when he says: “Your faith has made you well” to the hemorrhagic woman and, “Do not fear, only believe” to Jarius as he learned of his daughter’s death. But what does this mean? What kind of faith makes us well and what are we supposed to believe? I will not argue about the physical nature of healing in these stories but they do not help me if I take them literally. Allowing for exceptions I cannot understand, all of us age, become ill and die. And we stay dead—now matter how faithful or believing we are. That’s our real life experience. If faith and belief are the criteria for healing, our faith becomes a massive finger pointing indictment telling us we are not enough. It suggests that if only we had more faith, our loved ones would be safe.
But Jesus inverted our human understanding of life itself. Life is more, much more than our beating hearts. Life is about how we live our lives far more than it is about how our lives end. If that is the measure of life, we are all fighting a losing battle. My sister could not remember the source of the quote but commented, “Jesus did not go to the cross so we wouldn’t have to.” Jesus went to the cross to live the faith that Love matters and Love will prevail—no matter what happens to us. Jesus’ death was not the end of him. His care, his way of loving continues into our lives. That belief and that faith allows us to do what we can in the time we have.
Carolyn and Jap picked up that call. Now it is our turn. Jap Keith and Carolyn Brooks belong to a great cloud of witnesses. They lived and taught what they believed. Grieve for our loss. But know, though they have died, yet shall they live. The baton is being handed over. “Do not fear, only believe.” “Your faith has made you well.” Our faith can and will sustain us.
But when we ask ‘where does it hurt?’, there are many more struggles in our lives than grief and the loss of loved ones. Personally, my life has gotten a lot more complicated. My 97 year old parents have moved in with us and we are in the middle of major changes in routine and schedule. I find myself trying to be the memory for three people and I wasn’t doing that great of a job when it was just me. So far, there is almost always at least one daily search for hearing aides or glasses. Though there are designated places for such things, they can be found anywhere—or not. It remains to be seen how we will adapt.
There is simply more to do than I can keep up with. I’m trying to identify the activities I can give up and the ones I’d like to preserve. I am going to have to practice what I preach and be more honest with myself about my own limitations. I know the theory. Living it is another problem. Everybody knows we can’t do it all but living that knowledge is one of the major tasks of faith in real life. The focus has shifted from ‘How can I fit a little more in?’ to ‘How will I disappoint myself and others? Some very important desirable priorities will have to move down the list of the doable. These choices are painful but anyone who has a child is quite familiar with the dilemma.
Again, we are creatures. No matter how important, we cannot do it all—yet most of us live as if that is the measure of life. It is not. The measure of life is our willingness to live in God’s care. It turns out that as much as we desire such a life, it is a hard faith to hold onto when we are not doing what we think we should. The hemorrhagic woman had exhausted her every resource. She was a pariah. She was unclean. Jesus did not treat her that way. Even as she sought to be healed incognito, Jesus noticed her. The woman and Jarius were desperate. But when Jarius begged for his daughter’s life and when the woman reached for that cloak it was in the hope that there were possibilities beyond their control. That’s what happens when we turn our pain over to God.
Whether it is in deep grief or the ordinary limitations of what we can do, we are called to love as best we can in the confidence that God loves us. “Do not fear, only believe.” “Your faith has made you well.” Let it be so.