28 Jun 2015
“‘Do not fear, only believe.’” (Mark 5:36) In the name …
So after the shooting at the church Bible study group down in South Carolina a lot of businesses and even southern state governments and their citizens are finally talking more openly about removing the Confederate flag from public display. They’re doing this because to a lot of people that flag represents prejudice, discrimination, violence and even slavery. But it was offensive before the shooting too. It’s unfortunate that it took something as blatant as a white militant shooting up a black-church-Bible-study-group for this protest to gain steam. But it’s not easy to stand-up and speak-up when the people around you, the people you care about, the people who you meet every day, may turn against you because of what you believe.
Now think about Jairus from today’s Gospel story. In this seaside village, there are probably only a few hundred people, and their families have probably been together forever. People didn’t move like they do today. If you were born in that village, you probably were going to die in that village. Jairus was a respected member of this community maybe because his father was before him and his grandfather before that. He was a synagogue leader, and everyone went to synagogue. He probably had a long pedigree of distinction in this village that he had grown accustomed to. Then one day Jesus happened to pass through town. We all have those moments when Jesus passes by and disrupts things. Last Sunday’s Gospel concluded with the question concerning Jesus who had just stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee: “‘Who then is this?’” Jesus is starting to make people wonder, and we’re going to hear next Sunday that amazement can turn into antagonism. Looking ahead to that Gospel, it says, “‘And they took offense at him.’” Jesus is seen as a wonder worker, but also as a controversial one. He’s starting to say things that aren’t kosher.
Jairus, for as much as he is respected by the community as a leader of the synagogue, is also a father, and his little girl is deathly ill. He is forced to take a chance, to come out of the crowd, to stand alone. He gambles his respectability and his position, and he falls down at Jesus’ feet and begs for a miracle. At this point Jairus can plead his case by saying that Jesus is a man of God, but that’s all going to change in a moment. This Gospel selection is famous because of its format of a story within a story. As Jesus begins heading toward Jairus’ house, we hear the second story of the woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for 12 years. In the midst of that throng of people pushing and jostling each other to see if Jesus would be able to cure the child, Jesus feels, as the Bible puts it, “that power had gone forth from him.”
The reason this woman would not dare to ask Jesus for help the way Jairus did is that her disease was judged ritually impure, that God would frown upon her. The flow of blood meant that she was unclean. When she dared to go into that crowd as ritually unclean, she made everyone she came into contact with unclean that day, including Jesus. This was a serious offense that would be judged a serious offense by a synagogue leader like Jairus. Now he can’t hide behind the argument that Jesus is a man of God because Jesus commends the woman for her faith, when Jesus should have condemned her for what she did. Would Jairus, with all eyes on him, still let this now unclean and unconventional Jesus pray over his little girl?
And it gets more complicated. Messengers come from his home telling him that his daughter has died. Now what should he do? He was willing to fall down before this controversial religious man for the sake of his daughter, but would he still stand by his decision to turn to Jesus who has now been seen to flaunt the Law of Moses, especially now that his daughter can’t be helped? At this crucial moment Jesus says to him, “‘Do not fear, only believe.’” We have to appreciate the severity of the decision Jairus has to make at this moment. His reputation that has taken a lifetime, and maybe more like generations, to earn is at stake. If he chooses to let Jesus come into his home, the unclean Jesus, and now with the almost preposterous assumption that Jesus can bring his child back from death, he has to weigh this against the very real possibility that all he has attained in his life, his position, his stature, his respect, all will be lost. When once he could walk the dusty paths of his village and be among the community’s most honoured, now he could very well be among their most ridiculed. That’s the full weight behind Jesus’ words: “‘Do not fear, only believe’” and of Jairus’ decision.
And that’s what will always challenge us as Christians. There’s an unspoken fear of believing, of really believing, of having to stand alone beside Jesus when everyone else is watching and waiting for us to walk away with them, for us to disappear in the silence of the crowd. But I think we all relish the Jesus who reached out to the ones who were alone or were helpless, like when He praised rather than condemned the poor woman who dared to touch the fringe of His cloak seeking a miracle. But He’s also going to ask us to stand alone when necessary, and that’s the example of Jairus. We can’t only be proud of Jesus when He stands-up, even if alone, for what is right and true, and then not be willing to do the same. “‘Do not fear, only believe’” are words meant for each of us. Our faith in Jesus can give us the strength and the courage to be different when we need to be. There is so much going on in our society that Jesus would challenge. Poverty jumps to mind. This isn’t about liberal or conservative responses; it’s about the fact that Jesus wouldn’t tolerate the way things are now. I guess prejudice is still alive and well as the church shooting in South Carolina made all so clear. Less people are paying attention to their faith and that can’t be something Jesus would walk away from. There’s so much violence from our streets to our constant wars, and I can’t see how Jesus would stay silent. And I have to tell you, even if I stand alone, that I am very pleased the Supreme Court has allowed for gay marriage throughout the nation because I think Jesus would commend this just like He did the woman who touched His cloak. So let us pray this morning to not fear, to only believe, so that we can find the courage in our faith to even stand alone if necessary for what Jesus would stand alone for too. In His name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo