Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Expect the Unexpected

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

This morning’s gospel lesson (Luke 8:41-56) presents two very different people. The first is a wealthy and prestigious ruler of the synagogue, apparently so well-known at the time that St. Luke mentions him by name. His daughter lay at home dying. The second is a penniless and unnamed woman who for twelve long years had been stricken with a type of disease causing a continual flow of blood. This symptom would have rendered her “unclean” according to the laws of Judaism, making her an outcast from among her own people. What a contrast between these two! The ruler would have always taken the most prominent and honored place in the synagogue every Sabbath. The woman wouldn’t have even been allowed through the door. But both people were brought together by their mutual need for the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Jairus, the ruler, came to Christ and bowed down before Him. While this appears to have been a very pious act, it is likely that piety had nothing to do with it. As a synagogue official, well-versed in the law and the prophets, he should have long ago recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah, declared Him to the people, and come bowing down before Him in rightful worship. But there is no mention of him doing this. He only came to Jesus when he needed something, and his prostration before Him was not that of a man worshipping the Son of God, but only of a man beseeching the favor of a miracle-working prophet. Yet our gracious Lord agreed to help him, because He shows compassion to all who turn to Him, despite the imperfections of their faith. He also knew that events would soon happen that would increase the faith of many.

As Christ accompanied Jairus toward his home, a great throng of people pressed in all about them. The woman with the issue of blood saw this as her opportunity. What she did next was very wrong, for being ceremonially unclean, she was not allowed to touch anyone. Yet she forced her way through the crowd, brushing against many unsuspecting people, to finally take hold of the Lord’s garment. It was a desperate action, and one that was entirely unnecessary. He she simply cried out to Jesus from afar, He certainly would have helped her. But she did not understand the depths of our Lord’s compassion, and allowed shame and fear to keep her from doing the proper thing. Although there was no doubt in her mind that a touch from Jesus would heal her, it is clear that she still did not know Jesus Himself, or the measure of His divine love for us fallen people.

As the story finished out, we saw that the woman succeeded in touching the Lord’s holy garment, and immediately felt herself healed. At this point, Jesus feigns not knowing who touched Him in order to draw the woman out of the crowd. He further revealed Himself to all who would believe by saying, “I felt power go forth from Me”. We know that many of the great prophets worked tremendous wonders and miracles, but none would ever have claimed that the power to do so came forth from themselves. Only God--in this case, the Son of God incarnate--could make the claim that the power to heal and give life comes forth from His very own being. No wonder the woman fell down before Him with much trembling after hearing Him say this! But the merciful Jesus tenderly called her “daughter,” thus reinstating her into the synagogue, and blessed her, sending her on her way in peace and in complete health.

I wonder what was going through the mind of Jairus by this time, and if he was beginning to realize who this Jesus was. Perhaps the devil thought so, for people were immediately sent from Jairus’ home to tell him that his daughter had died. “Don’t trouble the Master any longer; there’s nothing He can do for you. Leave this Jesus and walk away, for your daughter is dead.”

Do we see how our wicked enemy is right there to bring fear and troubling whenever we look toward Christ? “Fear not,” Jesus immediately said to Jairus, “Only believe, and she shall be made whole”. What a choice this man faced! Give in to the fear of the situation, which certainly seemed reasonable at the time, or believe that this Jesus could do what was necessary, even when things appeared utterly hopeless. We might even say it was an unfair choice; an impossible choice! But Jesus was right there with Jairus to comfort him and to prepare him to witness what great things God can do for those who believe.

As we reflect on this gospel lesson, we see two very different people with entirely different situations, who both believed in Jesus enough to at least think that He could help them. But that’s really as far as their faith went. They saw their immediate problems and wanted Jesus to make them better. They weren’t thinking about salvation; it never crossed their minds that their trials were bringing them closer to the kingdom of God in mystical ways guided by His grace. They weren’t seeking the enlightenment from Jesus Christ that would lead them to eternal life. But that’s exactly what they got! Wanting help from our Lord, they got the help they truly needed, not just the help they thought they needed.

I suppose there’s a lesson in there for us. Like these two, maybe God has more for us that we imagine. Should we raise our expectations toward Him a little higher? For example, how about if we stood before God each day in prayer, bringing just a tiny bit of enthusiasm to our work? Not too much, you know, there’s no need to go overboard, but just enough to imagine that God actually wants us to pray to Him, that He really listens to us, and that He truly answers all our prayers in ways both seen and unseen, both temporal and eternal. What if we did that? What if we prayed like it meant something? What if we prayed like we had faith in God? It’s just a simple little adjustment of our expectations. But what great change it could bring to our lives!

That’s just one example. There are many ways in which we could raise our expectations toward God and come to Him with eyes of faith, rather than eyes that only see our own misery and complaints. The story of these two people is by no means unique in the gospels. Always when people came to Jesus they got more than they expected from Him. Should we expect any less, or imagine that we’ve got Him all figured out? May God help us to truly expect more from Christ ourselves, and to come to Him to find healing, enlightenment, and life eternal in His kingdom.

+To the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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