I recently heard a Gospel passage read in church which is an old favourite. It struck me that there some really important lessons about our relationship with God in this passage, so I would like to reflect on these in this blog.
It’s a Gospel about two healings. A synagogue ruler named Jairus comes to ask Jesus to heal his only daughter, who is so gravely ill that she is at the point of death. While Jesus is on the way to Jairus’ house, a woman who had been ill with bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his clothing and she was healed immediately. Jesus knew that someone had touched him hoping for healing, and stopped and looked around to see who had done it. The disciples could not believe that he asked this, because he was being constantly jostled by the crowd of people. But he kept looking around him until the woman came forward, and with great fear, said what had happened. (We have to understand her attempt at concealment in the context of ritual impurity associated with menstrual bleeding.) Jesus said to her: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” I will come back to this in a moment.
While this is happening, someone comes from Jairus’ house to say that his daughter had died, and there is no longer any point in Jesus coming to heal her. Jesus says she is not dead but asleep, and goes anyway. When he arrives, there is a big crowd of people weeping and wailing and they laugh at him for saying the girl is not dead. Jesus puts the crowd outside, takes three close disciples and the girl’s parents and goes into the place where she is lying. He gently takes her hand; she returns to life and gets up. Jesus tells the parents to give her something to eat.
There are probably details or characters in this story with which each of us can identify. I love to think of the girl’s mother rushing to the kitchen to prepare some food, but immediately rushing back to make sure her daughter really is alive, then rushing back to the kitchen - eager to fulfil Jesus’ instructions but at the same time not wanting to take her eyes off her child for a minute.
But I was struck by some other details. The story moves quite quickly, but behind the scenes there is also a lot of waiting and frustration. The woman had been suffering for twelve years. She must have been praying and hoping for healing all that time. We know she had not been passive. She had been trying to find a doctor to heal her and had spent a lot of money, but without any result. Her healing comes at the end of a long and dark struggle.
Jairus must have been very frustrated when Jesus stopped to find out who had touched him. In those precious minutes Jesus might have got to his house before his daughter died. Jairus might also have felt resentful – that the woman got in the way; or angry with Jesus for not paying undivided attention to him. When the messenger came to say it was too late, he went on with Jesus back to his house. But how he must have been battling in his heart with despair!
Although this story is full of hope, the people involved knew all about the struggle between hope and fear, faith and doubt. It reminds us not to be surprised, or put off balance when our faith and hope meet with challenges. Our spiritual struggles can sometimes take a very long time.
Another detail is that when the woman comes forward and “admits” what had happened Jesus says something to her of crucial importance: “Daughter!” Jairus is our teacher here. Jairus is standing right beside them, feeling with all his heart and soul what it is to love a daughter, and so giving full weight to the meaning of Jesus’ word.
When Jesus was baptised, the voice of the Father was heard saying: “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him.” At his baptism Jesus was starting out on a journey, the goal of which was to make all of us daughters and sons of God too – and to be aware that it is so!
What does this look like in practice? In my tradition we look to the example of people who have gone before us, and shown in their lives what it is like to be a child of God. One of my favourites is Saint Silouan, a monk of recent times who was so overwhelmed by his experience of the love of God, that his heart overflowed with love for others. His beautiful lyrical prayers, asking that the whole world will come to know the love of God through the Holy Spirit, are an inspiration to thousands. Silouan shows us that relationship with God is a virtuous circle: the more one knows the love of God, the more one longs that others should share it, the deeper this longing grows, the greater the knowledge that one is a child of God.
To go back to the Gospel story; we all have things we need to ask Jesus to help us with. But we need to know that prayer is not magic. God helps us and heals us as his daughters and sons. We are on a journey in which we are called to become more and more a true child of God. And this takes patience and trust.