Mark 5:22-24, 35b-43
Many of us like to think of ourselves as independent and self-reliant, but in the complex economy of the industrialized world, we’re fooling ourselves if we think so. Every day, we trust ourselves to professionals to do things for us that, in simpler times, people may have done for themselves—barbers and bankers, mechanics and manicurists, physicians and farmers, attorneys and architects, gardeners and garbage collectors. We depend on them, we trust them to come through for us, to perform the service that they’re supposed to perform.
Sometimes relatively little is at stake—a bad haircut can eventually be fixed, because . . . hair grows. At other times, a great deal is at stake—I read some time ago about a kidney transplant patient who was all prepped and on the operating table, but when the surgical team opened the container that was supposed to have the donated kidney in it, there was a heart there instead! The man subsequently died waiting for a kidney. The professionals to whom he had entrusted himself manifestly did not “come through” for him.
Jairus was a synagogue official in one of the Galilean towns Jesus was ministering in. His young daughter, as St Mark’s gospel tells us the story, was gravely ill and at the point of death. Jesus had a reputation for healing the sick, so Jairus, as we might expect, made a beeline for Jesus. He didn’t seem to worry about what others might think about someone with his standing in the community requesting help from someone with such a sketchy reputation as Jesus. His only concern was that his daughter be healed. He had left his daughter’s bedside to seek Jesus out and entrust her fate to him. His only anxiety ...was whether Jesus would “come through” for him.
In his anxiety as he approaches Jesus, Jairus is a pretty good spokesman for each one of us. We all walked into this church today carrying a load of anxieties that we want to entrust to Jesus. We may lack the courage to do so completely, but we want to have the faith to turn everything over to him. And, along with Jairus, we want to know, Will he come through? Will he grant our request? Will he supply our need? We have faith, but at the same time, we want to hedge our bets. Something tells us we should not put quite all our eggs in the “Jesus basket” because, What if he does NOT come through? What if he’s not everything he’s cracked up to be? What if we picked the wrong horse?
People who invest in speculative markets often protect themselves by purchasing option contracts in the opposite direction of their principal investment. I might have excellent reason to believe—to have faith!—that the market price of Indiana corn in September will be much higher than it is today, so I might place an order for a ton of corn to be delivered in September, but at today’s low price, and in the expectation of selling it for a profit three months from now. At the same time, I might also spend a small amount on an option contract to sell a ton of corn in September at today’s price, so that if I turn out to be wrong about the corn market, I can minimize my losses.
We do the same thing with God. We have genuine faith, but it’s not complete faith. We hedge our bets. What if we’re wrong? So we reserve an option. We hold back a piece of ourselves—a corner of the heart, a section of the will, a territory within the mind. You know . . . just in case.
When the messengers from Jairus’s home come to tell him that he may as well not trouble Jesus any more, because the little girl has died, Jesus’ response is to ignore them. He simply tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” Do not fear, only believe. Jesus discerns that Jairus may have hedged his bet, and is now on the verge of exercising his option, of bailing out on Jesus and cutting his losses by entering into the grieving process for his daughter who has now been declared dead. Will he retreat to that corner of his heart which he had reserved for himself— “No Jesus allowed”? So Jesus tells him, “Don’t be afraid, just have faith.” “Have faith” may be a preferable translation to “believe,” because the issue is not whether Jairus had intellectual confidence in Jesus’s ability to heal his daughter; Jesus’s ability to heal had been pretty well established. His healings were both very public and very numerous. No, the issue was not Jairus’s confidence in Jesus’sability, but Jairus’s confidence in Jesus.
And the issue is quite the same for us. Inadequate faith is much less a matter of the mind and much more a matter of the heart and will. We can be quite certain in our minds that Jesus is the Son of God, but if we do not demonstrate that conviction by yielding him the loyalty of our hearts and the obedience of our wills, if we hold ourselves back from total commitment to him, if we hedge our bets by buying options from other “gods,” then we cannot be said to have any meaningful belief, we cannot be said to have faith. Our relationship with God then becomes one-dimensional. We are forever making requests of God, always asking for something. Our prayer is constant petition, with occasional intercession, but precious little praise, adoration, confession, oblation, or thanksgiving. God, as far as we are concerned, is squeezed into the mold of service provider, one more “professional” on whom we must rely to do for us what we lack the time or know-how to do for ourselves. Our relationship with God is defined primarily by fear, suspicion, and anxiety, rather than faith and trust.
If the management of a company says they trust and respect their employees, but then enforce strict policies of punching time clocks and turning in detailed receipts for expenses and requiring notes from the doctor in order to justify sick time, their actions speak louder than their words. It is a relationship based on fear, not on faith. Jesus challenges Jairus to walk on higher ground. “Don’t be afraid, only have faith.” Do not merely believe that I can heal your daughter, believe in me. Some work environments are indeed not based on fear, but on faith. Loyalty and honesty are expected and assumed. Innovation and creativity are encouraged. Everyone’s input is valued. This is an environment of trust which is similar in character to the relationship God wants us to have with Him—a relationship defined not by fear but by faith. Faith in Christ means giving ourselves fully to him in heart, mind, and will; not holding anything back, not restricting him from any corner of our lives, hedging no bets, buying no options.
When people learn to descend from a cliff down the vertical face of a mountain by a process known a rapelling, the most challenging part of that process is learning to do something totally counter-intuitive, and that is to hold on to the rope, plant your feet, and lean back into the abyss, away from the solid and comforting nearness of the rock. It feels like the utterly wrong thing to do, but it is in fact the only right thing to do if you want to get down safely off the mountain. When we can exercise that sort of unreserved trust in God, even when it is counterintuitive, when Jesus’s challenge to Jairus becomes his challenge to us, and our relationship with God is defined not by fear but by faith, then we can rest in the confidence that God’s love is larger than anything that might “happen” to us.
Jairus’s daughter, as we know from reading on in Mark’s account, was restored to life and health by Jesus’s touch and words. During his earthly ministry, Jesus healed a great many people that way. And in every age of the church since then, Jesus has continued to heal miraculously in response to the prayers of his people. Not every request for healing is granted, and this side of eternity, we will never know the ins and outs of this mystery, but God does heal. Yet, even if Jairus’s daughter had not been raised back to life, it would not therefore be a sign that God loved her or Jairus any less.
When faith replaces fear, the details matter less, because God’s love completely overshadows them. Sometimes God loves us out of trouble and adversity; sometimes He loves us in them and through them. As St Paul tells us in his epistle to the Romans, words which are echoed in the burial liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, “None of us has life in himself, and none becomes his own master when he dies. For if we live, we are alive in the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord. So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s possession.” This is the basis for a life of faith, a life free of fear, a life of complete self-offering to a God who already offers Himself completely for us. Amen.