In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We meet with a very different scene in today’s Gospel than the one with which we ended last Sunday. In the verse just before today’s reading, we hear that when Jesus returned over the sea of Galilee after healing the Gadarene demoniacs, the people of Bethsaida gladly received him: for they were all waiting for him (Lk. 8:40). The people of Decapolis begged him to leave, and the people of Galilee could hardly wait for his return. They had ample experience of his preaching and his miracles, and they eagerly looked to him with faith.
But today’s Gospel shows us that not all faith is the same faith. Some have little faith, weak faith, easily shaken by outward setbacks and adversities; others have strong faith, great faith, faith that can move mountains, faith that soon obtains all its requests from God. No sooner had the Lord returned over the sea of Galilee to Bethsaida, than the ruler of the local synagogue, Jairus, approached him, and asked him to come and lay hands on his dying daughter, so that she might be healed. He indeed showed faith, but as we know, his faith was not perfect. It was not the Roman centurion’s faith, which caused Christ to marvel; it was not that faith, which knows that a mere word from the Lord suffices to work miracles and to raise the dead. The merciful Lord, however, never casts out those seeking him, but receives them where they are, and lead them step by step towards perfection.
The large crowd that met Jesus pressed all around him, as he tried to make his way through to get to Jairus’ home. Imagine the father’s anxiety as the mass of people obstructs Christ’s path, and hinders him while the young girl’s life hangs by a thread. In the midst of this tumult, unnoticed and unbeknownst to all, a desperate woman, sick for twelve years with an issue of blood, snuck up behind Christ in the crowd, and touched the hem of his garment, hoping with deep faith to be healed.
In the same year, perhaps in the same month, or even on the same day—a father was filled joy, and a woman with shame. Twelve years prior, Jairus’ daughter was born, and twelve years prior, the woman’s flow of blood began. How differently those years were experienced and spent by each of them—the one with domestic happiness and fatherly tenderness, and the other with bodily illness and inward hopelessness. Year after year, Jairus had the pleasure of watching his daughter grow and mature, and arrive at the cusp of womanhood; she remained his only child, and commanded the undivided affection of his paternal heart. Year after year, the woman had the misery of watching her health grow progressively worse, and her wealth dwindle to nothing, as she paid the most skilled doctors for treatment to no avail. She was sick not only in body, but according to the Law of Moses, she was ritually unclean, unable to live and take part in normal society. Shame and despair sapped her of whatever strength her physical ailment did not take from her.
And now see how the two approach the Lord: both with faith, but not the same faith. They both knew they had no one else to turn to, but they did not equally reckon his power. The woman’s long years of suffering had given birth to a more ardent faith than that of Jairus, who enjoyed the benefits of family, health, prestige and prosperity. In her faith, she knew that, touching the Lord, she would be healed. And this faith was not deceived, nor was it disappointed. Immediately, when she clasped the hem of Jesus’ robe, she felt her flow of blood stanch, and her body made sound and whole.
The all-knowing Lord knew her even before she was born, and of course, was aware of her in the midst of the crowd. When she touched him, the Gospel says he perceived that virtue—δυναμις, power—had gone out of him (cf. Mk. 6:30, Lk. 8:46). He then turned around in the throng, and asked what seemed an unreasonable question: Who touched me? Perplexed, Peter provided the logical response: “Master, the multitude throng you and press you, and do you say ‘Who touched me?’ There’s a poor young girl about to die. Why do you stop and waste time with such a nonsensical question? Look around, Master, at all these people surrounding you. Would it not be more appropriate to ask, ‘Who didn’t touch me?’” “No, Peter,” the Lord says, “many indeed touch me with their physical hands, and obtain nothing; but only one in so many has touched me with the hands of faith, and laid hold on the infinite wellspring of inexhaustible power hidden within me. So I say again, Who touched me?”
The woman knew that she could no longer remain hid and, still fearful of the public shame she could incur for having broken the law of her uncleanness, she fell on the ground, and in tears revealed everything before all. Christ comforted her, and made clear to all what was the cause of her healing, saying, Your faith has made you whole: go in peace. Jairus approached Christ before her, but her great faith obtained her request before him.
Doubtless, in his concern for his daughter, Jairus had little patience for this tearful spectacle. If he did not have faith that Christ could heal by a word alone, much less was he capable of firmly believing that he had the same power to raise the dead. Common sense would tell him to think, “I told this Rabbi that my daughter was at the point of death. Every moment counts. If we are delayed any longer by this woman in the crowd, it may be too late.” And so it was that, as the Lord dismissed the woman, messengers came from Jairus’ house with dreadful news that his daughter was dead. These men of little faith offered the bereaved father some reasonable advice: “Trouble not the Rabbi any further. Now that the young girl is dead, what more can he do?” It was precisely when all seemed lost, when things were most hopeless and desperate, that Christ found the opportunity to deepen Jairus’ faith. When he heard the messengers’ unbelieving advice, Jesus must have smiled to himself inwardly, as he turned to Jairus and offered him encouragement: “Fear not: believe only and she shall be made whole. Death may have swallowed her up, but rest assured that there stands here one greater than Death, who by a word can bring up a dead soul out of hades.”
When they arrived at last at Jairus’ house, the Lord sent the great crowd away, including even most of his disciples, allowing only Peter, James, and John to go in, along with the dead girl’s parents. He had already raised the widow of Nain’s son before a large crowd, and had no interest in making an open display of his divine power. Within the home, he found the customary lamentation underway, weeping, wailing, and moaning. Again, the Lord speaks foolishly to a crowd, and says, Weep not: she is not dead, but sleeping. Foolish indeed are the words on the lips of any other man, and so the ignorant crowd laughed him to scorn. Luke alone among the evangelists tells us they did so knowing that she was dead. They knew, but what did they really know? What is human knowledge in the face of the omnipotent Creator? Nothing, except vanity and folly. Faith knows only one thing—that with God, all things are possible.
The Lord put everyone out of the girl’s room, except for his three disciples, and the two parents. When they were alone around the girl’s dead body, Christ took her by the hand, and woke her as if from sleep by two simple words: Talitha cumi; Maid, arise. So great was the miracle that, although the Lord commanded the parents to tell no one of what had happened, Matthew relates that the fame hereof went abroad into all that land (Mt. 9:26). Though it was done in a private chamber, witnessed by only a handful of people, the wonder could not be hid. For the rest of her life, the girl that had been dead bore living witness wherever she went of Christ’s almighty power and compassion.
In the end, both Jairus and the woman obtained what they sought from the Lord. But the miracles of healing they received were not of lasting importance. Eventually, the woman, Jairus, and his daughter, all died according to the natural course of this world. We may well ask why the Lord allowed these troubles to befall them to begin with, and why he allows troubles to occur in our own lives. God’s purpose in all of these things is that we might draw closer to him. They may make little or no sense to us; but let us recall how often what is senseless from a human standpoint makes perfect sense from the perspective of the Lord, who not only knows all, but loves us more than we can ever possibly know. Our world today especially confronts us with tragedy upon tragedy that appears completely senseless, meaningless, random, and inexplicable. When faced with such things, our only hope is to approach the Lord with strong faith, the absolute faith of the centurion, or the blood-streaming woman. We will receive the resolution of our earthly problems according to God’s will; but most importantly, our souls will draw near to the Lord, and find their eternal rest and consolation in him; to whom be glory and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.