Trinity XXIV – 2015

Trinity XXIV

The Gospel. St. Matthew 9. 18.

While Jesus spake these things unto John’s disciples, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples. And behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind. Him, and touched the hem of his garment: for she said within herself, if I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; they faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise, he said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. But when the people put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose. And the fame hereof went abroad into all the land.

We can easily picture the scene depicted in today’s Gospel lesson. Here is this Jesus of Nazareth; at the height of his popularity and power. As St. Matthew implies earlier in his Gospel, Jesus is now attracting a crowd wherever he goes; they’ve heard of this guy. Rabbi, prophet, miracle worker, “hero”. These people are all looking for something from this man.

They seek different things, of course. Some are looking for a personal miracle. Some are looking for freedom from Roman occupation. Some are looking for a sign that this is God’s chosen one. And, of course, some are looking for evidence that this Jesus is a fraud.

But then, we are presented with two very different characters in this story. St. Matthew describes the first as a “certain ruler”, whom St. Mark and St. Luke identify by the name Jairus.  This Jairus was the “ruler” of the local synagogue and therefore a defender of Jewish Orthodoxy. This would have made him a man of some status and authority in the community. It would also have made him a natural enemy of Our Lord.

The second character is at the other end of the spectrum; a woman, who has been suffering from some vaguely described blood disorder for twelve years. We can imagine that this woman had little to no status in the community; health care standards being quite poor at the time, she probably wasn’t getting much in the way of support.

But out of that whole crowd of people, we are told that only these two are the recipients of Our Lord’s Miraculous Grace. Only these two? Out of all those people? What made them so special? We might be able to justify the woman, given Our Lord’s compassion for the unfortunate. But what about this “ruler”? He was quite likely more fortunate than most, at least economically, and he certainly wouldn’t have been a “believer” in Jesus. So why did he “get the miracle” as well? The easy answer lies, of course, in their shared example; that in spite of their different circumstances, they both shared a similar desperation, and in that desperation, they both came to Christ.

St. Matthew tells us that the “ruler” came and “worshipped” Jesus. Now make no mistake, this does not imply that Jairus has had some sort of revelation and that he thinks he is actually “worshiping” the Incarnation of God. Rather, it is more likely that this man has exhausted all other options for his daughters cure, and he is turning to Jesus only as a “last gasp” attempt to affect her recovery.

And so when we are told that Jairus “worshipped” Jesus, it actually means that he was simply assuming the posture of someone who was humbly seeking a favor. His attitude falls short of actual belief, but he is hoping beyond hope that if Jesus will just lay a hand on his daughter, then she will live. His “faith”, his “belief”, is but a glimmer, but he has heard so much about this “miracle worker” that he is willing to give it a try.

Likewise we have the woman who has been suffering from the blood disorder. Both St. Mark and St. Luke tell us that this woman had been subjected to any number of “treatments” administered by any number of physicians, to the point that her life’s savings had been utterly depleted.

She too is seeking a “last gasp” attempt for a cure. But unlike the “ruler”, she decides on a more humble (some might say a more clandestine) approach. She will not presume to approach Jesus openly; rather, she has heard enough about him that she has come to “believe” that all she needs to do is touch Jesus in just the smallest way, and she will be healed.

The “belief” and “faith” of the woman and the ruler is not to be confused with the “adoration” of the crowd. Oh, I’m sure that there were many who “believed”. Can’t you hear them; “Lord, if you heal my bunions, then I’ll believe”, “Hey Jesus, I knew you back in the old days, how about you multiplying this bread for me?”, “Yeah sure, I believe in you Jesus, if you would only give me the winning numbers in this week’s Temple lottery drawing?”. Yes, the crowd must have been full of “believers”, who were all about the latest deliverer. Combined with the seekers and the skeptics, these supplicants were all quite willing to believe as long as they got something from it.

          And on the surface, it might look like the ruler and the woman fall into the same category. But notice the order of things here; the crowd presses around Our Lord, each with their own demands and requests; but only these two people come to Jesus, humbly seeking!

           The ruler and the woman didn’t need to see some proof to believe that this man, this Jesus, was more than just the “flavor of the day” prophet. They had heard the Good News, and while they likely still had their doubts, they overcame those doubts enough so that they were able to come to Christ and present their petitions in all humility. 

To be sure, they approached Christ primarily in the hope of receiving a miracle; but their hope, their humility, their “faith” was not conditional upon any miracle. “My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live”, “if I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole“. They heard, they hoped, they believed, and then they received!

          This is where so many people go wrong, even today; especially today. They want proof; they say that they need proof. A world full of doubting Thomas’s. A world full of “conditional” believers. A world that refuses to humbly submit themselves to God unless they see some sort of miracle first, and maybe not even then.

          But now we get to the real key of today’s message, which is in these words that Our Lord speaks to the woman after her miraculous healing; “be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole”. You wonder about the rest of the crowd, don’t you? Give me a miracle, and then I’ll believe. Yet even when presented with one, the healing of the woman, they still doubt. When Jesus says that the rulers’ daughter is not dead, they laugh at him. Even though Jesus has told them how and why miracles happen, “thy faith hath made thee whole”, they still don’t believe. And then he takes the girl’s hand, and she sits up.

          Think they believed then? If not, what would it have taken? What would it take today? We hear people say all the time that they require proof, but Jesus has also told us that they would not believe, even if one was raised from the dead. Boy, did he ever hit that nail on the head.

          So what would it take today? You know, I’ve heard some people question why God would have come to earth when He did; after all,  had He done it in our time, imagine how many hundreds of millions of converts He could have won just by using our modern technology; A “messiah blog” to preach the Gospel. Automated news alerts and Twitter feeds about the latest healing or resuscitation. All done under the scrutiny of modern science, which would have no choice but to come to the conclusion that, at least, there is something supernatural at work here.

          But this is not the kind of proof that the Gospel is about. God doesn’t need to prove that He exists. He doesn’t need to prove that he can perform miracles. He doesn’t need to be popular to a crowd of people. Actually, ironically, if you think about it, God didn’t provide any proof here at all. The proof was provided by the example of characters in today’s lesson.

          This is all the proof we need; if I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. The woman with the blood disorder says this to herself, within herself. She makes no public proclamation. She doesn’t join in the curiosity or skepticism or “celebrity worship” of the crowd. One. Simple. Statement; if I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. And she is healed. Out of all those people crowding around Jesus; she believes, and then she is healed.

          Likewise with the ruler; what’s the first thing we are told that he does? He worshipped Jesus. He assumes the posture of a humble supplicant. And then he makes his request which is also his statement of belief; “My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live”.

This ruler, this rabbi, has recognized something about Jesus. He recognizes that Jesus is more than just another prophet or faith healer. He recognizes that Jesus is more than just the “latest messiah”. And from this recognition comes his hope, and from his hope comes his belief; and from this belief he responds in the only way he (and we) can;  first by humbly submitting to Christ, by worshipping, then by requesting God’s Grace.

          And it is important to note at this point that the “belief” of the ruler and the woman was very much inadequate. Sure, they “wished”, they “believed” that Jesus was their last best hope; but they didn’t truly know with all confidence that they were actually in the Presence of the Divine. It could well be argued that they were not worthy of the Grace that they received. But if we think that, then we likewise must ask the same question of ourselves; because can we honestly say that our Faith is really any more certain?

But regardless, we are still each of us, recipients of God’s Grace. In his Divine Mercy, Our Lord has seen fit to bestow his Grace upon us, even though we can never truly deserve it. But we have been given to know the Truth of the Gospel and the examples of belief, both great and small, that ultimately leads us to God.

Like that ruler, we turn to Christ in hope and we worship him. Like that woman, we recognize that we are imperfect, but that we can be made whole if only we will reach out to Jesus, to try to touch him even in the smallest way. And while their “faith” was inadequate, their example provides us with the perfect answer to all those in the world who say they need “proof”.

Our faith is our proof. Our faith in God begins in our hearts with our willingness to surrender ourselves to Him. It begins with our acceptance of God’s presence in our world and His ability to change our lives. It begins with our recognition of the life of His Son and the Sacrifice he made for us. It is our faith that is our proof of God’s existence and the Salvation He has given us.

          Our faith does not require miracles or signs. We do not believe because it’s popular to do so. We do not believe because we receive. We believe, and then we receive. By our Faith we receive the comfort that Our Lord has promised to us; for we know that it is through our Faith that we bear witness to God’s Love; that Love by which we all are saved.  for she said within herself, if I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.

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