A sermon on Luke 8:41-56 preached at United Reformed Church of Clifton, August 25, 20
Our scripture lesson this morning tells the stories of two different people. A Somebody, who had the world by the tail until, one day, he didn’t. And a Nobody, who had no name, no health and no hope.
Consider Jairus, the Somebody in this story. The scripture says he was a “ruler of the synagogue.” These four words tell us all we need to know about him. For starters, he comes from a good and well-respected family. Perhaps his father and grandfather had been rulers of the synagogue in their day and now he was following in their footsteps. He prays several times a day and keeps the commandments. He is known to be kind and generous, supporting some of the widows in the town and giving gifts to the needy so they can celebrate Passover.
Lately, he has been giving thought to his 12-year-old daughter. Very soon she will be old enough to marry, and some of the most important families in town have approached him about a possible engagement. Her future looks bright. However, as his only daughter she holds a special place in his heart, so he will settle for nothing less than the best.
In short, life has been good to Jairus. He is faithful, respected, well off and loved; but on a bright summer’s day Jairus’ wonderful life begins to unravel.
That morning, his daughter awoke complaining of a sore throat. Her mother kissed her forehead, which was slightly warm, and sent her back to bed. She said nothing to Jairus as he left, for it seemed to be just a passing cold; but by evening things were much worse. The fever had grown, and the girl was coughing and gasping for breath.
All through the night Jairus and his wife kept vigil by the bed. When morning came, her eyes were dull, and her breathing, shallow and labored. It was obvious … death was near.
Now consider the other main character in this story. The scripture simply calls her “a woman who had a flow of blood for 12 years” and these few words also tell us all we need to know about her. If Jairus was a Somebody, this woman is a Nobody.
To begin, she has no name and no title. Jairus is known as the ruler of the synagogue and the father of a beloved only child. But this woman has no name, no title and apparently, no relationships. She is not the wife of John Doe, mother of three, not an excellent baker, not even a kind neighbor. She is defined only by her disease—not by what is good abouther but only by what is wrong with her. It is not so much that she has a disease. Rather, the disease has her. She is the woman with a flow of blood.
Now this disease has gripped her for 12 years. She’s tried everything—doctors, fad diets, fasts, baths—you name it, she’s tried it. But nothing works. She just keeps getting worse. She is so anemic that some days it takes all of her energy just to get out of bed.
And that’s not the worst of it. She’s a social outcast and reject. She must have been married at one time, but the onset of her disease made continued marriage impossible. She and her husband couldn’t touch or hug each other, let alone conceive a child. After little more than a year he quietly divorced her. When she moved back to her parent’s home, she was so heartbroken and ashamed that she spent the first few weeks on her bed, crying.
It was even worse when it came to the neighbors. As far as they were concerned, this nameless woman had a disgusting disease that repulsed and frightened them. On the days when her flow was heavy, they even said they could smell her coming.
If life had been good for Jairus, it had been terrible for this unnamed woman. The two of them are polar opposites—the Somebody and a Nobody. Nevertheless, they have this in common: for while Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter is on the verge of a sudden death, this woman, during the same 12 years, has been dying inch by inch. Death has laid hold on both of them.
And so, having reached the end of their ropes, they both go to Jesus, arriving at the same time. This is no coincidence; it is the secret providence of God. Two strangers, who have never before met, will find their lives caught up in a story only Jesus can write.
Jairus, being a man of importance who is used to getting his own way, approaches Jesus directly. He is not afraid to ask for what he wants. He comes to Jesus, falls at Jesus’ feet and says, “My beloved daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be made well and live.”
Notice he does not ask a question, “Will you come?” nor does he even say, “Please.” He speaks—as all important men speak—giving an order and expecting results. Since he is a “somebody,” even when he is reduced to helplessness, he can’t help but speak in commands. This is not to say that he is impolite or demanding, for he kneels at Jesus’ feet, his voice cracking with emotion and his eyes filled with tears. The “please” is found, not in his words, but in his body language and the brokenness of his heart.
Fortunately, Jesus always listens to the heart. He senses Jairus’ distress and is moved to compassion. Willingly Jesus goes with Jairus to heal his daughter.
While they are on the way, the woman sees her chance. However, in her mind she has no right to approach Jesus directly. She’s a Nobody. She dare not ask Jesus face to face, for fear he might recoil and reject her out of hand.
Of course, we know Jesus would never reject or shame her, for we know that Jesus came to find the lost and heal the broken-hearted. Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah: “a bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. (Is 42:3)” If ever there was a bruised reed, it had to be this woman.
I suspect that deep down she knew Jesus would never shame her. But when you have been sick for 12 long years, when everyone in your life pulls back in disgust, you begin to believe the lies that have been crammed into your heart.
Instead of approaching Jesus directly, this woman decides to “steal” her healing. She dared not hope Jesus would look in her eyes and lay his healing hands upon her. But, she was sure if she could only touch his garments , she would be healed. So she pushed through the crowd until she was near Jesus, reached out her hand and lightly touched the fringes of his prayer shawl—so lightly, so carefully, that Jesus couldn’t possibly have known that she had touched him.
And at that very instant, she was healed.
That was enough for her. She would have a life again and for that she was thankful. However, after all those years of brokenness and disappointment, she didn’t want to call attention to herself. She was content to remain a nobody, to slip anonymously back into the crowd and to return home
But Jesus had other ideas. He calls her out. He turns and faces the crowd. “Who touched me?” he asks.
The disciples are puzzled by his question. “What do you mean, Jesus? Of course someone touched you. We’re being jostled by a crowd!”
But Jesus is persistent. “I felt power go out of me,” he says, and turning once more to the crowd, he repeats himself. “Who touched me?”
I wonder how this woman felt as she heard Jesus’ question. Certainly afraid, the scripture says as much. Afraid Jesus might rebuke her; afraid her stolen gift might be taken back.
Perhaps also shame. Shame she would be publicly exposed, shame she had somehow involved Jesus in her own shame, her uncleanness rubbing off on him.
However, more than all these things, I think she felt longing. Longing for someone to see her and touch her. Longing for someone to acknowledge her existence, sad though it was. And so trembling, she comes and falls at Jesus’ feet.
Did you see that? Do you get it? This woman, this nobody, is in the exact same place where we found Jairus just a few moments ago! They both have fallen at Jesus’ feet. They both are waiting for Jesus to show them mercy. For in the Kingdom of God there is no distinction between nobodies and somebodies. The only people who enter the Kingdom of God are those who fall at Jesus’ feet.
The scripture says, “the woman … came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth”—not just the truth of how she had touched his robe, but the truth of her life; the truth of her shame and loneliness; the truth of her need and longing.
And Jesus responded. He gave her what no one had given her in years. He calls her, “Daughter,” and that one word contains all she needs to know about herself. She is no longer the woman with no name, the woman with a flow of blood, the woman who belongs to no one. She is a beloved daughter; She is a child of God.
Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you… Go in peace.”
Meanwhile, what of Jairus? The scripture says, ‘While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.”’ Luke adds that Jesus overheard what was said, but even if Jesus hadn’t heard, the girl’s death would have been perfectly obvious. For as the message was being delivered, Jairus’ eyes filled with tears and his chest was racked with sobs.
And once again, Jesus takes charge. Just as Jesus called out the woman with a flow of blood—“Who touched me?”—now he calls out Jairus—“Fear not, only believe.”
Jesus is not suggesting that Jairus develop a “positive mental attitude,” as if positive thinking has some magical power to overcome death. He is not inviting Jairus to minimize his problems and engage in self-delusion. He is inviting Jairus to look at Jesus.
Faith is always faith in Jesus. For you see, faith in faith itself is no faith at all. Faith is a response to the command and promise of God. Jesus’ command, “only believe,” is the very word that creates in faith in Jairus. For when Jesus commands faith, he also gives faith. Jesus says, “Fear not, only believe,” and although he can’t explain it Jairus believes and follows Jesus home.
They arrive to a scene of chaos. Remember Jairus was a somebody, a person of high standing, so the whole village had come to share his family’s grief. The house was packed, filled with tears and loud crying. It was also filled with doubt. For when Jesus said “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping,” the crowd laughed him to scorn.
Jesus doesn’t argue with the crowd. Instead, he puts them outside of the house and takes mom, dad and three disciples into the child’s bedroom. Taking the girl by the hand, he says in a kind but firm voice, ““Child, get up!” The girl’s eyelids fluttered and opened. She took a deep breath and sighed. The color returned to her cheek. She sat up on her bed while her mother dissolved into tears of relief and gratitude, joy and love.
I have often wondered what happened to these two later on. Did the healed woman go on to marry and have a family of her own? Did Jairus and his wife adopt the healed woman into their family? Did they make her an honorary aunt to their daughter, inviting her to their daughter’s wedding as an honored guest? In the years that followed did they all worship together and repeatedly tell their story to the gathered believers?
I’d like to think so. Through Jesus their stories and their lives became intertwined. Belonging to Jesus, they also belong to each other. They are a part of God’s new thing, the family of God. In this family “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female; Nobodies and Somebodies; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
One day a Nobody and a Somebody at the feet of Jesus, and their lives were transformed.
To hear the author preach this sermon, follow this link: https://www.facebook.com/PastorMikeWeber/videos/2714554901889261/