What We Really Need
Scripture - Mark 5:21-43
“Grant that we may follow the example of Jesus’ patience.” That is what Thomas Cranmer, the author of the original Book of Common Prayer, wrote as a prayer to be used on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. It is in the prayer book I grew up with. But what does he mean by patience? Patience is love for the long haul; it is bearing up under difficult circumstances, without giving up or giving in to
bitterness. Patience means working when gratification is delayed. It means taking what life offers – even if it means suffering – without lashing out. And when you are in a situation that you are troubled over or when there is a delay or pressure on you or something is not happening that you want to happen, there is always a temptation to come to the end of your patience. You may well have lost your patience before you were even aware of it.
Cranmer’s prayer is especially poignant because it is prayed the week before Easter, the time when we remember J’s
sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus displayed patience not just in the way he faced his execution & his enemies. He also displayed remarkable patience with his disciples – think of his patience with them in the storm last week - & with the people he met throughout his life.
Mark tells of a meeting of Jesus with a religious leader, a ruler in the synagogue, named Jairus. He would have been a man of great devotion to God, morally respectable, as well as a man of wealth & social prominence. Mark writes: < 5:21-22 >
Here is a man of authority & social standing, yet he falls at the feet of a Galilean carpenter. That is pretty unusual, don’t you think? He must be desperate. So, what is the problem? Mark tells us: < 5:23-24a >
His little girl is as good as dead. That is the language he uses: She is going to die unless Jesus comes. So, you can imagine Jairus’ excitement when he realizes there is hope for his dying daughter. Yet his insides must be churning with fear that he & Jesus will be too late. So, Jesus, Jairus, & the disciples hurry toward Jairus’ home, & they are followed by a crowd of people eager to see another miracle. < 5:24b-26 >
It is interesting that Mark says that she had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors… in fact, she had gotten worse. In other words, she had not simply been suffering from her disease, but also from the cures. She had exhausted all her finances, & all the medical options. < 5:27-30a >
The crowd is pressing in on Jesus, this woman touches him & is healed, & we read that Jesus realized power had gone out from him. This is the first time the Greek word Dunamis, from which we get the word ‘dynamite,’ is used in the book of Mark. Jesus had a sensation of weakness, of draining, & he knows that there has been a healing. He has lost power so she could gain it. He stops the entourage, the emergency procession, & he turns around & says: Who touched my clothes? < 5:30b-33 >
When Jesus finds the person who was healed by tapping into his power, he stops & has her tell the whole truth, the whole story of what happened.
Imagine Jairus’ anxiety during all of this; & the disciples’ irritation; & Jesus’ patience & composure. This woman with a chronic condition is getting attention instead of a little girl who has an acute condition. Jesus chooses to stop & talk with the woman who has just been healed. This makes no sense. It is irrational. In fact, it is worse than that: it is malpractice! If these 2 were in the same emergency room, any doctor who treated the woman first & let the little girl die would be sued. And Jesus is behaving like such a reckless doctor. Jairus & the disciples must be thinking, “What are you doing? Do you not understand the situation? Hurry, or it will be too late. The little girl needs help now, Jesus. Hurry!”
But Jesus will not be hurried. As he is standing there & talking with the woman, the thing that Jairus feared all along happens. < 5:35 >
Imagine how Jairus feels about Jesus at that moment. But Jesus looks at him calmly &… < 5:36 >
Jesus says to Jairus, “Trust me. Be patient. There is no need to worry.” Every culture has a different sense of time. This becomes glaringly evident in cross-cultural encounters & events. Picture a wedding where a groom comes from a culture where being 15 or 30 minutes late is okay, while the bride is from a culture that frowns on any tardiness whatsoever. She & her bridesmaids are ready for the wedding, but the groom is not there & it is 15 minutes late. On the left side of the sanctuary there is handwringing & worried glances. On the right side, everyone is calm. Timing is relative. And everyone has a sense of “this is the right time, but this is not.”
God’s sense of timing will confound ours, no matter what culture we are from. His grace rarely operates according to our schedule. When Jesus looks at Jairus & says, Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting, in effect he is looking over Jairus’ head at all of us & saying, “Remember how when I calmed the storm, I showed you that my grace & love are compatible with going through storms, though you may not think so? Well, now I am telling you that my grace & love are compatible with what seem to you to be unreasonable delays.” It is not, “I will not be hurried even though I love you;” rather it is “I will not be hurried because I love you. I know what I am doing. And if you try to impose your understanding of schedule & timing on me, you will struggle to feel loved by me.” Jesus will not be hurried, & as a result, we often feel exactly like Jairus, impatient because he is delaying irrationally, unconscionably.
But precisely because of the delay both Jairus & the woman get far more than they asked for. Be aware that when you go to Jesus for help, you will both give to & get from him far more than you bargained for. Be patient because the deal often does not work out the way you expected. Take Jairus. He came to Jesus to cure his dying daughter, but he got far more than that. Let us move to the climax of this story. The plot has thickened again. Even though the little girl is dead, J looks at the father & says, “I am coming anyway.” < 5:37-40a >
When they eventually arrive at Jairus’ home everyone is in mourning for the dead girl. So of course, they laugh when Jesus says she is asleep. They know a dead child when they see one. The story continues: < 5:40b-42 >
Of course they were shocked. Jairus came to Jesus for a fever cure, not for a resurrection! When you go to Jesus for help, you get from him far more than you had in mind.
But when you go to Jesus for help, you also end up giving to him far more than you expected to give. Jairus came home thinking he would have to trust Jesus just enough to get home, hoping that somehow the child would not die before he arrived. But Jesus demanded far more from him: After Jairus’ daughter had died, because of the apparent malpractice of the Great Physician, Jesus looked right into his eyes & said, Trust me. Now, that was a test of faith far beyond anything Jairus had expected.
Or take the sick woman. She came to Jesus for healing. But she wanted to just touch him & run. She wanted to say, “I am better - & now I am out of here!” But Jesus would not have it. Jesus forced her to go public. Keep in mind that this was very threatening for her. She had been coping with a blood flow, which made her ceremonially unclean. Because of this, to touch a rabbi in public would break a great taboo. And therefore, Jesus’ request that she identify herself was a very frightening thing.
Why did Jesus insist that she go public? She needed it. You see, she had a somewhat superstitious understanding of Jesus’ power. She thought it was the touch that could heal her. She thought his power was manageable. And Jesus made her identify herself so he could say, “Oh no, it was faith that healed you.” So now the climax of the story: < 5:33b-34 >
Jesus is saying to her, “Your faith is what healed you & now that you know that you are in a life-transforming relationship with me.” There is all the difference in the world between being a superstitious person who gets a bodily healing, & a life-transformed follower of Jesus for all eternity.
If you go to Jesus, he may ask of you far more than you originally planned to give, but he can give to you infinitely more than you dared to ask or think.
Now, as far as Jairus & the disciples are concerned, it is malpractice for Jesus to let a little girl die while he deals with a woman with a chronic condition. But we who have read to the end of the story know something that they did not. We know that for Jesus to raise a girl from the dead or to cure a fever was no different – that he has power over death. We also know that Jesus had an opportunity to take a superstitious woman who has received a bodily healing & turn her into a life-transformed follower. Jairus & the disciples could not see either. They had no idea.
It seemed to Jairus & the disciples that Jesus was delaying for no good reason, but they did not have all the facts. And so often, if God seems to be unreasonably delaying his grace & committing malpractice in our life, it is because there is some crucial information that we do not have yet, some essential variable that is unavailable to us. If I could sit down with you & listen to the story of your life, it may well be that I would join you in saying, “I cannot understand why God is not coming through. I do not know why he is delaying.” Believe me, I know how you feel, so I want to be sensitive in the way I say this. But when I look at the delays of God in my own life, I realize that a great deal of my consternation has been rooted in arrogance. I complain to Jesus, “Okay, you are the eternal Son of God, you have lived for all eternity, you created the universe. But why would you know any better than I do how my life should be going?” Jacques Ellul, in his classic book The Technological Society, argues that in modern Western society we have been taught that nearly everything in life is there to be manipulated for our own ends. It has become common for many people to act in that way no matter what the time or place, but Ellul believes modern Western culture makes this condition even worse. We are not God, but we have such delusions of grandeur that our self-righteousness & arrogance sometimes have to be knocked out of our heart by God’s delays.
Right now, is God delaying something in your life? Are you ready to give up? Are you impatient with him? There may be a crucial factor that you just do not have access to. The answer, as with Jairus, is to trust Jesus.
Let us pray. God of mercy, you believe in us, & offer us love to change our lives. Help us now believe in you, whether fearful & trembling or confidently at peace. May your word be alive in our souls, so that hope may not die, but only sleep for a while, waiting to awake. Amen.