Our readings for this morning are all full of such good news. As a preacher, it almost makes my job harder, because what else can you really add to great texts like these? “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is God’s faithfulness.” Mmm! So good — end of sermon! (just kidding)
The stories in our gospel reading are especially moving. Jesus has just come back from the trip he made across the sea in our readings from last week, where he healed the man with the demons in the country of the Gerasenes. And now, by the time Jesus gets back, word of his healing and teaching ministry has spread so widely that he barely steps foot off the boat before he’s mobbed by a massive crowd.
One of the people who comes to Jesus is a leader of the synagogue named Jairus. Jairus’s daughter is sick and at the point of death and he is desperate for any way he can find to save her. He throws himself at Jesus’ feet and begs him to come and heal his daughter. And without a word, Jesus follows him to his house. By the time they get there, the little girl has already died and the people are already weeping. But with just a few words, Jesus raises her to life again.
And Jesus heals another person without even trying! As Jesus is following Jairus to his house, a woman comes up behind him in the crowd, just trying to touch his cloak. Like Jairus, this woman is in desperate need of Jesus’ healing power. She has been bleeding for twelve years, and nothing she has tried has helped her. She’s spent all her money on medical care and has only gotten worse. I can only imagine how exhausted and desperate she must be for help. And, for that matter, how lonely and isolated she must be. Her hemorrhages were more than just a medical issue – because of them, she would have also been considered “unclean,” forced to live in isolation from her community. Yet here she is in the crowd, spurred on by the hope that Jesus will be able to help her. And the instant she just touches him, she can feel in her body that she has, indeed, been healed.
These are such powerful stories about Jesus’ life-changing mercy in response to people suffering. They’re stories that show Jesus’ powerful compassion and love for his people in action. Yet, as I was spending time with this text this week, something that really stood out to me was how sharp a contrast there is between Jesus’ attitude and the attitude of some of the other folks in this reading.
The woman suffering from hemorrhages has been going to many physicians for over a decade and not one of them has been able to help her. She is out of money and out of options and there is nothing more that they can do for her. At this point, it seems like they are ready to just write her off as a lost cause. But Jesus is not willing to do that.
And in the case of Jairus’s daughter, someone literally comes and says to him, “Your daughter is dead; stop bothering Jesus.” And when Jesus himself comes to the house and says, “The child is not dead, but sleeping,” the people who are standing outside the house weeping actually laugh at him. Out of curiosity, I looked up the Greek on this, and the word that is translated here as “laughed” carries a strong flavor of scorn or derision. They scoff at Jesus. These people have probably heard the same stories everyone else has of Jesus’ ministry of healing – and yet they scoff at him when he says that it’s not too late to save this little girl.
What I think I hear, though, in the attitudes of these people, is grief. The people in this story who have given up or who laugh at Jesus sound like maybe they have been disappointed one too many times in the past. They sound like maybe they have been let down – and that has made them reluctant to trust in hope, especially in such desperate circumstances. And, frankly, that’s understandable. It’s true that the world we live in is a broken place. And no matter how deeply we believe that God wills good things for us, we also know that’s not always how things play out. In our lives, in the short term, the good that God wills for us is sometimes interrupted, even thwarted, by things that are outside of our control. And so it becomes easier, safer, not to open ourselves up to the risk of hope. It’s easier to expect the worst and not be disappointed.
You can probably think of times in your own life when you have been deeply disappointed – times when you have hoped for something or prayed for something with all your heart, and you’ve been let down. And I can imagine that disappointment makes it harder to trust in hope, harder to risk hope, the next time around. I know that’s something I’ve struggled with.
I hear this sometimes in the ways people talk about the future of the church. In the last year or so, reports from the Pew Research Center (and others) have painted a fairly grim picture of the trends in church attendance and religious affiliation. And I’ve also heard a few people express worries about how the pandemic may have changed some people’s relationship with the church, and about what that will mean for the future of the church at large. These are important questions – and the answers to them are not yet clear.
But what is clear is the message of the gospel – the message that we hear in our readings for today – and that is that nothing is ever beyond redemption with God. Nothing. With God, there is always reason for hope.
We see Jairus and this woman in the crowds acting with hope, risking hope, in our gospel reading. Even though their circumstances are objectively desperate, they still cling to the hope of God’s power to bring healing and life. They have enough faith in God’s goodness to reach out to Jesus in the hope that he will help them. And that hope does not disappoint them. Jesus responds to their faith with compassion and mercy.
Their acts of faithfulness and hope are good examples for us to follow. And this story leaves me wondering: where are the places in our lives – as individuals and/or as a congregation – where we lack hope, or where hope feels like too much of a risk? What are the places in our lives where we feel desperate, or we struggle to trust that things will get better or that we will find healing?
I pray that God gives us all the courage to be bold – the courage to risk hope and to reach for God – the courage to trust that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, and God’s mercies never come to an end.”