In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In today’s Gospel reading we are presented with two conspicuous examples of faith. First there is Jairus, the “ruler of the synagogue,” who comes and falls at Jesus’ feet, and says, “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.” And then there is the woman,
who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.”
Both of these people are conspicuous examples of faith, of what it means to have faith. “Faith,” is a word that gets tossed around a lot. These two characters in the gospel narrative exhibit what William James called the “cash value” of faith – by demonstrating the difference it makes to have faith.
Maybe the first thing to notice in this Gospel passage is that when Jairus sees Jesus, he falls at Jesus’ feet (Mark 5.22). I have occasionally considered putting up a sign at the door of the church that says, “Slow Down. Quiet. You are coming into the presence of the Lord of the Universe.” Jairus exhibits an intuition about Jesus that we, even though we might be pious Christians, very often lack. He discerns something about the truth of Jesus’ identity. If we shared Jairus’ intuition about Jesus, then we would fall down and worship him urgently and sincerely. Because Jesus is the only one who can help us.
Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus said to a Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, `Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water,” (John 4.10). And Jesus told the Sadducees: “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God,” (Matthew 22.29).
At the bottom of our practice of religion there must be an assent to the person of Jesus – and a knowledge of who he is. Each of us must bow the knee to Jesus’ own claims about himself. And it does not end there, because that assent entails a lot more besides. God has revealed himself in the person of Jesus. The epistle to the Hebrews opens by saying, “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world,” (Hebrews 1.1-2).
God “has spoken to us by a Son.” At its most fundamental, “faith” means an assent, from the heart, to what God has spoken by his Son. And the “cash value” of our faith – or lack of faith – is manifested by our attitudes and actions. Jairus, seeing Jesus, “fell at his feet, and besought him, saying, ‘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,’” (Mark 5.22-23).
We come into Jesus’ presence, no less than Jairus, Sunday by Sunday. And what is our attitude? Do we prepare carefully for this encounter with the Lord of the universe? Do we show up on time? Do we fall on our knees before him? (And by the way – that is the essence of a genuflexion: falling before the Lord – it is no mere ritual.) Do we supplicate him? Do we believe what he has said – that he is HERE, and that HERE he is to be worshipped and adored?
If not, why not? Probably a part of the answer lies in our acquiescence to the tumult of the crowd. Our weekly appointment with the person of Jesus in this place is subsumed into the category of our appointments with other people, at work, at school, at Starbucks – where it seldom makes much of a difference if we are somewhat late or somewhat impertinent. But our attitudes and actions exhibit the cash value of our faith. When Jairus saw Jesus, he fell down on his knees and besought him. And when the domain of the secular began to elbow its way into his consciousness, when “some” from his house arrive to say that nature had taken its course, the Lord of nature has a word for Jairus: “Ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the Synagogue: Do not fear, only believe,” (Matthew 5.36).
Do not fear, but return to the bedrock of your original conviction with respect to the person of Jesus. This is about your encounter with him. He is the only one who can help you ultimately, because creation has but one Lord; and when created circumstances begin to rock your boat – when you get seriously sick, or when you are bereaved, or when you turn pusillanimous in the face of some offense or threat – where will you turn? When many of Jesus’ disciples stopped following because they took offense at his teaching that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order truly to live
Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6.67-69)
“You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” But maybe you have little original conviction with respect to the person of Jesus to return to. There are a myriad reasons for us to “go to church.” But if our presence here is not an echo of God’s desire for us – a deeply mysterious desire that finds fulfillment, within this world, only in Christ crucified – then we should set about the task of reorganizing our motivation.
When their boat was rocked, Jesus’ disciples asked: “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4.41). Who then is this…? We will have an eternity to deepen into the answer to that question. And there is much that can be said, and has been said. But today we are presented with two simple and non-discursive answers. Jesus can HELP us. And the woman with the flow of blood carries her non-discursive intuition about Jesus a step further in faith: “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well,” (Mark 5.28). Here, by the way, we see the Gospel efficacy of relics. Even discreet chunks of the material order, when intimately associated with the Lord, shall make us well – if we engage them with faith.
Jesus is real. He is really alive. He can really help us. In fact, he is the ONLY one who can really and fundamentally help us. Like Jairus, like the woman with the flow of blood, we have to confront our need for help, which means stripping away the many superfluous levels of desire that have piled on top of our consciousness. We have to be real with ourselves and real ABOUT ourselves – and then consider what God has spoken to us in these last days by a Son. “Who then is this…?” The soil of such a questioning consciousness is fertile, and from out if it faith may sprout. Then our hearts will have been made ready to meet the Lord, and we will be enabled to encounter him in this place, with the integrity only born of humility, as a rehearsal of the day of his coming with great glory to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire.
Longing thus to have as our Savior this Jesus, before whom we cannot stand as our Judge, with ready hearts, we will be like the woman with the flow of blood, encountering what Graham Greene called “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God,” – spoken to us by a Son: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.