By Jared A. Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
Mark 6:14–29 (NRSV) 
The Death of John the Baptist
(Mt 14:1–12; Lk 9:7–9)
14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
This week has been interesting for me. It was not because I have been abnormally busy, or less busy. It has just been different. I watched a friend get recognized for his accomplishments, I helped a few people, and basically tried to not get overly worked up about much. Of course, the news tends to get my mind going, which is not always a good thing. I notice when I spend too much time with the news my stress level increases, I get irritated and annoyed. Mainly because there is always an opinion and my opinion is often not popular among my friends.
Today we meet with Jesus after his trip home, after the trip across the sea to the Hellenistic portion of Palestine, and his return to Capernaum. During this trip he had cast out troublesome demons, healed the sick (some of which had chronic illnesses), and even raised one little girl from the dead. This sort of thing would cause many people to talk. These sorts of things do not happen often, so when the news of a person doing these feats begin to circulate there tends to be opinions circulating with it. It did not take long for the news of Jesus to get to the highest levels of society.
It is not hard to believe the types of stories that would circulate around the activities of Jesus. Some had already begun to speak out against him, the crowds were so large at one point that prominent members of society were not able to get to the table. This hangry lawyer cried out that Jesus was not a righteous person but the prince of demons. This of course was not the overall theory of the masses. There were other ideas floating around. Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, had zeroed in on one of the ideas. Herod believed that Jesus was John the Baptist back from the dead.
Before we get too far into this I find it odd that this was one of the top opinions among the first century Jewish community. We often have this idea that the Jewish community was this unified religion, but it was not. They like many institutions had various factions. We know of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and have heard of the Essenes. We had even heard about the religious/political faction called the Herodians. This group was a Hellenistic Jewish group that sought for an independent Jewish nation under the leadership of the Herodian dynasty. There is not a great deal of information about this group, and some historians believe that they were the Essences. These historians say this because Herod was said to have enjoyed listening to the teachings of this group. If this were true, and if John the Baptist was an Essene as other scholars believe, Mark does say that Herod did enjoy listening to John. I do not agree with this idea, because much of the Essene thoughts seem to be opposed to the popular philosophies.
The family of Herod were not birthright Jews. They were from Edom. Herod and his family were converts to the faith, they were God fearing outsiders that were intrigued by the ancient faith. The Greeks were also intrigued, they formed a hybrid of faith and philosophy. And that faith became championed by one of their own, the converted king of the Jews. The things about converts is that at times old superstitions creep back. Herod thought that Jesus could be the reincarnation of John the Baptist. Herod was fearful of this because if John the Baptist left the afterlife to return to earth, he would have left for a reason, maybe to seek out revenge. The idea of reincarnation was not widely accepted in Jewish tradition, but it was there.
They hybridization of philosophy, religion and politics. It is something that goes to the dawn of civilization. It was something that Jesus and those in the first century endured, and it continues to this day. All the major sects under the Hebrew umbrella had some twist on the recipe, and as a result were chastened for it. The danger of the union of these factors is that often we forget where the line between the three is drawn. We have a philosophy and we think that that idea or system of thought is equal to our spiritual practice. Or we have a political stance and we feel that it is a God ordained stance, even when that stance is contrary to the words of scripture. We are faithful to our religion but is that of God or man?
This is who Herod is. He has a group of religious zealots that do all they can to maintain his political power and he encourages them and uses them for his benefit. He allows them to twist sacred documents to suit his needs, and if there is opposition he takes a play out of his father’s playbook, he removes the opposition by force. The marriage of philosophy, religion and politics often results in that end. It often is based on power and control over others, and the only way to maintain control is to wield fear. This is why Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world. Jesus was building a kingdom of love and says that perfect love cast out all fear. The lives lived under the influence of Jesus do not fear the world, but they change the world out of love.
John the Baptist opposed Herod, he called Herod an adulterer. He said that it was not lawful for him to be married to his brother’s wife. John the Baptist threatened the power and influenced of the sitting political entity and those involved in this scandalous relationship were not pleased. Yet, Herod did not oppose John. Mark tells us that John perplexed Herod, and the king enjoyed listening to John, though he did not always agree. But his wife, held a grudge against him. She wanted the prophet dead, but Herod knew that John was a popular figure, so he instead imprisoned the teacher because to execute a popular figure could bring negative consequences.
Herod was intrigued by the religious teaching, but the words he heard did not reach the depths of his soul. Herod was interested in power and influence. He would use religion as a tool in his quest for power, but lust held sway over his heart. He married his sister-in-law who was also his niece, and he enjoyed the provocative dancing of his step-daughter. He exploited his step-daughter to expand his influence. Herod was a twisted man. He manipulated everything with the hopes of increasing his power.
Exploitation and fear, these are not the tools of the righteous but tools of the adversary. John spoke against this man for this very reason. It is not lawful for him to be married to his wife, it is incestuous and adulterous. Though John spoke out against this man, Herod continued to use his skills to manipulate and garner influence. He had a party to celebrate his birthday, and the most influential leaders where present, both secular and religious. For the entertainment he brought out his daughter to dance. The term used to explain the daughter is one that implies that she is too young to marry, she is a child. In ancient times this would mean that she was around twelve, and this twelve-year-old girl is performing erotic dances for the men of power in Galilee. And they were very pleased with her dancing, so much so that Herod pledged to her anything she wanted up to half of his kingdom. I want us to stop and consider this statement for a moment. This type of pledge was given to others in Jewish history, Esther was promised anything up to half the kingdom. This statement implies that Herod was willing to make his step-daughter his queen if she so desired. The thought of that sickens me.
Luckily, she was too young to realize what her step-father was saying, so she sought the advice of her mother. And her mother, who held a grudge asked from the girl to demand the head of the Baptist. The mother sought to silence the dissenting voice that threatened to topple their religious political machine. And Herod obliged.
There is much we can learn from the martyrdom of John the Baptist. The first is that our faith cannot be wedded with political systems. Faith must be free from political influences. Because faith is to be the aspect of our lives that causes us to stop and think, to examine our intent when it comes to politics. Often on the radio and internet I will hear commentators saying that social justice is a code word for socialism. I say no. Social Justice is ministry. If we are being true to our faith, if we are truly following the life and lifestyle of Christ, we should be active in providing justice to the least of these among us. We should be feeding those who are without food and ask for help, we should clothe those that are lacking proper attire, we are to give water to the thirsty. If we do these things we are bringing light to the injustices of our society and raising awareness of the areas our society often fall short. I have seen political philosophy enter religious institutions and silence stop these ministries making the institution nothing more than a political pawn to power instead of a center of hope and mercy.
The second thing we can learn from the death of John, is that there is a time where we must speak out against the powers of our society. Herod was a corrupt and evil man parading around as righteous. He had an entire sect within the Jewish culture that believed he should be and was their God ordained king. God does use the kingdoms of this world, he does ordain governments for reasons. But at times those ordained powers of this world are not always in place to dictate faith. Sometimes God ordains human governmental structures to highlight the corruption and sinfulness within a culture. Our job as disciples and Friends of Christ is to discern the difference. If the words and actions oppose the ways of God, we must protest and speak out against the injustice. John spoke out against the lust of the king. He cried out to Herod and the rest of the Jewish faithful to repent for the kingdom of God is near. And in those sermons on the banks of the Jordan he spoke of the injustice of those occupying the seats of power.
The third thing we can learn from John is that we should not be afraid. Lucretia Mott was a Quaker activist and preacher prior to the civil war. She was an advocate of the abolition of slavery and a supporter of women’s rights. She was even part of a delegation that went to England to promote the abolition of slavery. She once said, “If our principles are right, why should we be cowards?” There are things important to God, and there are things important to those controlling seats of power. If we are focused on what is important to God, why should we be afraid of man? Fear and force are the tools of the adversary they are contrary to God. God stands for justice and mercy. God stands for equality. Ms. Mott stood up for those that were oppressed in our nation. She spoke boldly at a time when women did not even have the right to vote and she made a difference. Her boldness inspired others, including her cousin Levi Coffin to do more. And Levi put his money and life on the line, he was a conductor on the underground railroad, and refused to sell any good that benefited from the labor of slaves. Meaning he found cotton that was produced only by free men, he would only use dyes that were produced only by wage earners and produce that was not harvested by people in bondage. John the Baptist saw that Herod was exploiting and manipulating and he spoke against it. He saw that Herod was claiming righteousness yet living a lifestyle fulfilling the lusts of his heart, so John boldly spoke against it. God desires justice and mercy, not exploitation and manipulation. God rules with love, not fear.
When Herod heard of Jesus, he was filled with dread. He thought that Jesus was John reanimated. He thought that through Jesus John would have his revenge. As a result, Herod began to watch the news to keep tabs on this traveling preacher. What would Jesus do, what would he say? Would Herod’s dynasty come to an end because of a revolt lead by religious zealots he could not control?
As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, I encourage us all to consider who leads us. Are we being led by worldly concepts and desires or are we being directed by the Spirit of God? Are we using our politics to manipulate the faithful or are we listening to the Spirit of God to boldly stand and minister to those in need? If our principles are right why should we be cowards? Will we like John, stand for what is right even in the face of death?
Image from: http://livingthelectionary.blogspot.com/2012/07/pentecost-7b-mark-614-29.html Viewed July 15, 2018
Mark 6:1–13 (NRSV)
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
(Mt 13:54–58; Lk 4:16–30)
6 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
The Mission of the Twelve
(Mt 10:5–15; Lk 9:1–6)
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
In most relationships there is some expectation involved. It might not be really expressed but we all have an expectation of the people we interact with. When those expectations are not realized or if the person does not meet our expectation, we tend to get upset. Maybe upset is a strong word, maybe it is disappointed. In marriages people often say that money is the number one problem, but if you look a bit deeper than the money issues you would find that the real issue is that there was an unrealized expectation that once a couple was married financial issues would be something of the past. There was an expectation, yet when reality sets in marriage costs more than being single. You cannot buy what you want because if each person does you end up spending twice as much money.
We have all experienced unrealized expectations. Your pastor does not play the guitar, and you might have wanted him to. But what if the expectation was different, what if someone exceeded your expectation. What if they started doing things that were beyond what you thought? This happens to us as well. Imagine that you love to cook, everyone enjoys what you prepare for them. Then out of nowhere your spouse makes something amazing, the best thing you have eaten in a while, and suddenly you feel inadequate. They just took your thing. Now you either must one up them or you must find a new thing, a new identity.
Expectations, we all have them and we all have trouble dealing with them. In today’s passage we meet Jesus, his hometown, and the disciples facing the challenges of expectations. Jesus left Capernaum and returned to Nazareth. As was his custom, he went to the synagogue to worship with the rest of the community. While he was at this place of learning and worship, he began to teach. The first century synagogue was like churches today, but also more. There was usually a primary school where the boys were taught the scriptures, and most learned the basics of reading. They would attend this school until they were twelve or thirteen, when they were either asked to continue their learning or they would go to learn the family trade. If they were asked to continue in their education, the Rabbi would personally teach the boys, who after their thirteenth birthday were considered men, and begin to train them to become rabbis or scribes. But even if they were not asked to continue in this educational route the synagogue was still a place of learning for the men. It was not uncommon for community or traveling Rabbis to visit synagogues and have community classes. It would be like a public library, where they have story time for the toddlers, have various activities that you can enroll in as children, and then there would be community enrichment opportunities where you could learn about other things. For example, at the Red Bridge Library just down the street, you could take a class to learn how to use the excel software, learn to knit or quilt, or just enjoy reading a book within a group and discussing it. The public library is in many ways the most foundational educational institute available in a community. So, in the first century even if you were not asked to extend your formal education there were always things that you could learn along the way. The men would work throughout the day and when classes or lectures were offered they would go to the synagogue to listen and learn.
Jesus went to the synagogue when he returned home and while he was there they were in a discussion forum where he began to teach people about the scriptures, and his interpretation of them. There were Rabbis within this group along with men of the community. They knew who Jesus was. Some of them might have attended the primary school with him, and there might possibly have been one of the rabbis present that taught the class. They knew him, and they knew that he did not take the formal extension in education. We do not know why Jesus did not do this. When he was of age to take these formal classes, he had the aptitude because when he was twelve and failed to follow his parents away from the temple, they found him in deep discussion with the rabbis and priest when they realized he was not with them or the traveling companions. Which would lead me to believe that Mary and Joseph might not have been able to afford to allow Jesus to take those classes, either because they did not have the finances or Joseph needed help in the family trade.
The community knew that Jesus did not have the credentials. They knew that he was a carpenter, not just Joseph but Jesus was a carpenter. From the age of twelve or thirteen Jesus along side his family, working with wood, stone, and other materials they helped build the homes and other building in Nazareth and the surrounding area. The word for carpenter was not solely dealing with wood, like we understand today. The term was used for anyone that worked with wood and other hard materials. And unlike today houses were not built completely out of wood, the wood was usually reserved for framing and hanging doors. Jesus was basically a local handyman, he was a blue-collar laborer, he a common man just like most of us, and that was exactly what the community expected out of him.
When Jesus began to teach at his home synagogue people began to wonder. Who is this man? Where did he get this learning? Isn’t this the carpenter, Mary’s son? The expectation they had for him was not met, in fact he exceeded what was expected of him which was just as bad if not worse. What they are asking is, who does he think he is? Does he think he is better than us? And if you notice they say, “Mary’s son.” They do not say Joseph, which can mean two things, maybe Joseph has already died and has been dead a considerable time. Which is highly likely since we do not hear about him after Jesus was found in the temple at the age of twelve. Or they are remembering that the birth of this man was scandalous. Mary’s illegitimate son, the son of Mary’s that was conceived prior to marriage.
Jesus is teaching with authority, and he is not remaining in the social status his community accepts him in. He was not one of their elites, he was a commoner, and that could not handle him doing things beyond his place.
I want us to think about that for a moment. They were not upset at what Jesus was teaching, they were upset that Jesus was teaching. In their minds, Jesus was just a carpenter. That was his place, that was his role. In their mind he was not worthy of having a greater role because they had not given it to him, or he had not paid the proper social cost to achieve it. He had gone beyond their expectation and for them to accept that they would have to humble themselves. To humble themselves they would have to step down from their roles within the community, their perceived power or control over the others within the community, and they would have submitted to someone they perceive as being socially beneath them. We see this throughout culture. In history the feudal system had a social hierarchy. There were peasants and noblemen. The nobles were treated in special ways because their position demanded it. And peasants no matter how skilled they were would always be beneath them. The only way for a peasant to rise was to join the monastery and potentially work their way up within the church, but even then, there were sons of nobles that had privilege and would start a few steps ahead. There was also second way that a peasant might move up socially, to be strong enough to take the honor by force. Even today, even in our culture there are hierarchies. One of the first statements against our current president that was mentioned in the campaign was that he did not have the knowledge and experience to lead the country. He was not highly educated in universities, he was not a career political figure, so how could he lead? For some that made him attractive, and for others that gave them great fear. People that move beyond the expectation of society make us uncomfortable. And Jesus made his townsmen very uncomfortable.
It was not that the teaching it was who was teaching them. And because of this they closed their ears, they hardened their hearts against him. Mark tells us that because of this, Jesus could do no deeds of power there. This is an interesting statement. Jesus, God incarnate, could do nothing in his home town. Have you ever stopped to think about why that was? Is it our faith or the faithfulness of God that brings healing? Why was Jesus, the one that could cast out a legion of demons from a man, the one who could heal a woman with a chronic illness that had plagued her for over a decade, and could raise a dead child back to life, why was Jesus unable to do works of power in his hometown? Because he was a carpenter.
Jesus taught that we do not have because we do not ask, and when we ask we ask incorrectly. It was not that Jesus could not heal, or that the faith of the people would not allow the power of Jesus to work, they simply would not ask. They did not believe. They would not put their trust in a carpenter, they would rather trust their local rabbi, at least they knew he had the proper education, unlike Mary’s son the carpenter.
Do we ever do this? Yes, we do it all the time. How many of us struggle with sin? How many of us suffer and struggle with health or some other hardship? How many of us share those struggles with our community? We often do not share because what can they do? They are just a computer guy, or a vet, or they work in an office, or Target. We know who they are and why would we entrust our lives into their hands, or our reputation? We do not share and because we do not share are we hindering the power of God to work within our community? Or maybe we have potential leaders within our Meeting, people who have a gift that would enhance our ministry, but we do not nominate them. Or if someone does nominate them we do not consider it because we know who they are, and they do not have the perceived credentials to do it. They either do not meet our expectations or they are trying to exceed them, and it makes us uncomfortable.
Jesus was amazed at the unbelief of his townsmen. This lack of belief, this lack of trust in the awesome power of God restricted them. They could not see God work in and through them because they were too worried about their expectations. The people in neighboring villages were seeing God do amazing things, yet in their town nothing. They believed, but the did not BELIEVE. They did not trust, they did not entrust, and because of that they did not actually experience the grace of God. They did not experience God, because they were focused on themselves. They were so self-centered that if they could not do it no one could, especially the illegitimate carpenter son of Mary.
Jesus and the twelve leave and visit the neighboring villages, where he continued to teach. It is likely just like in Nazareth, Jesus went to the villages’ synagogue to do this. It is likely he taught the exact same things that he did in his hometown, but in these villages, they did not have the same expectations. In fact, they heard about what Jesus could do and they believed. There was a different issue in these villages, did they hope only in Jesus or did they hope in God no matter who the messenger was? At this point, Jesus begins to send the disciples out to minister. They had heard him teach, they had seen him minister, they had went out into the isolated places with Jesus to pray. They had observed Jesus’s holy lifestyle and were actively participating in that disciplined life. Jesus sends them out. They expected to follow Jesus, did they expect to go out representing him in this manner? Jesus sends them out saying, “you have the authority to do everything I do.” But do they believe? Who are we, they might ask. I am just a fisherman, I am an unworthy tax collector no one will trust me. I do not have the training or education… the same doubts that prevented Nazareth from experience the power of God, could also prevent the disciples to experience the power of God. But they trust Jesus. They know that if he says something, it will happen. And they go holding to that promise.
They go just as he says, they stay in the homes where they are invited. They leave without money or food and take only the clothes on their backs and a staff. They go. Jesus says that they might encounter people with the same spirit as those in Nazareth, and he says if they do not receive you just shake the dust off your sandals and move on. So, they go. They enter the villages, they stay at home, they knock dust off their feet, and they trust that Jesus said they have authority, so they have it. And when they meet with the people they teach the message of repentance or returning to God in the name of Jesus. And when there is a demon tormenting an individual they boldly command the demon to leave in the name of Jesus. When there is an illness they anoint the person with oil and pray in the authority of Jesus and the people are healed. They do all and can do all this because they believe, they trust, and they entrust their lives to Jesus.
Which brings us back to today. What are our expectations with God, our community, and ourselves? What or who are we placing our trust in? Do we believe that God can do the things that He claims or do we only trust in ourselves? Are we willing to hope? I will be very honest with you all, at times I do not trust. At times I am down right afraid and unwilling to move because what if God does not meet my expectations? At times I am comfortable in the status quo, not making waves because who am I and who are they that we should question? At times is am just like the people in Nazareth, at times I will not speak about my weaknesses because I am afraid that if I expose them I will lose. At times I even question the message I feel God is directing me to speak. I and often we, do not believe, and our lack of belief is hindering what God can do through us. And because we do not believe we fail to experience what God would like to do through us.
Jesus told his disciples to take nothing for the journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belt; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. Go with what you have right now. Go share the hope that you have. Go: Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. Go.
As we enter a time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends I ask what is keeping us from going? And what might happen if we were did?
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
Mark 5:21–43 (NRSV)
A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed
(Mt 9:18–26; Lk 8:40–56)
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
A common thing I hear when I am out talking with people is that they need to get their life together before they can come to church. It saddens me when I hear those words. Because it is as far from the truth. This is a prominent idea that runs through our human experience, because we seem to find acceptance and value in our performance. If I act a certain way I will impress people, and if I impress others then they will accept me. If we really think about it, these performance theories are how we accumulate friends, how we determine our value as a student in school, how we advance in work, and even how we win the hearts of our spouse. It is no wonder when people feel as if they have caused a disappointment, where they happen to appear less than perfect they assume they have lost value.
We have all had instances where some sort of mistake or lack of ability has caused us to feel inadequate. It might be something real or even a perception not based in reality, but the emotional response is the same. Something did not go as planned and we felt that it was our responsibility and we feel like a failure.
I cannot even begin to tell you how often I have had those feelings, but there are a few examples. The job I had just prior to moving to Kansas City was a branch manager for a rental car company. I had moved from a Manager in training to a branch manager in about a year and I was proud of myself. I was put in charge of a brand-new location, in a city this company had not had service in before. It was exciting. I went out contacting various body shops and regional airports letting them know what we had to offer them. I contacted businesses and presented the benefits of using rental vehicles. And the branch did not grow. I worked long hours, I cut costs to the bear minimum, I personally covered shifts so I would not have to hire more people because we just needed to get the customer base up enough to justify the expense. I worked hard, and after a year we were not making a profit. I had to sit through weekly conference calls where I was told how poor I was performing, I had to provide documentation on what my plans were to increase the business, yet it seemed like everything I did was not helping. I felt like a complete failure, even though there was a steady increase of sales each month, in comparison to branches in similar sized communities I was growing faster than they did their first months. For a year I struggled, until I finally had to admit rental cars were not what I was passionate about and I needed to find something else to do. I felt like a failure but there were many factors involved in my failure. The number one factor was I was starting a branch in a small town, in the middle of a recession that hit the auto industry hard. Most of the struggles I was having were not things I did, but it was the economy in general. When the last reports were entered, and my work was done I looked at the statements and I found that even through all my struggle, I was only $300 from breaking even that last month. If we were to have stayed open one more month and the trends remained the same the first month of the second year would have been profitable. Yet I felt like a failure.
I bring that up because my emotional response did not consider all the factors involved. I was so worried about making a profit, I was unable to testify to the reality surrounding the business, we were growing steadily. And the largest problem was outside of my control, and that problem was that the company had to sell several cars, so I was competing not only with the competition within the community but also with my own company for vehicles to rent out.
My example of struggle pales in comparison with the story we read here in scripture, but I hope it will provide an avenue to give us some empathy with the characters we read about. Mainly that we can recognize that at times we cannot always control or change things.
Jesus and his disciples sail across the sea, this voyage is the return trip from the one we read about last week. Last week they were heading toward the Hellenistic center of the land the Romans referred to as Palestine. In that area they met a demon possessed man who was so violent and wild that he would literally break chains apart when the community attempted to bind him. Yet when Jesus approached this man was released from bondage and the demons were driven out of the man and they then possessed a herd of swine which they inspired to run into the sea. After that the community both feared and revered Jesus, yet they asked him to leave because they could not lose any more pigs.
So, they return to the western shore of the sea of Galilee, this time they did not encounter a threatening storm, so they arrive safely. When they arrived on the shore, a great crowd had already gathered to meet him, and there was one in that crowd named Jairus. Jairus was a leader in the synagogue, so he exhibited great faith and was righteous. But Jairus’s daughter was deathly ill.
This was something that happened nearly 2000 years ago, and because of that illness was seen differently than it is today. They did not know that microscopic organism caused infections, or that people could have allergic reactions to certain types of foods. When someone was ill they attributed that illness as divine judgment for some transgression. For a leader in a synagogue to have a daughter who was deathly ill to many was a sign that maybe this man was not as righteous as they thought. He is in a struggle trying to preserve and protect the life of his daughter, and at the same time protect his own livelihood. Imagine what he might be feeling. He had done nothing wrong to his knowledge, yet he felt like a complete failure.
I also want to note that we know his name. In the many stories of the various encounters with Jesus we do not know the names of those involved. We might be told their position in the community or in the religious establishment, like a scribe or Pharisee, but rarely are we given the name. This time we know the name of this leader of a synagogue, Jairus. Why do we know his name? Because these stories were written to testify to the life of Jesus, and if someone wanted to ask they could talk to them, or someone who know them. This same story is mentioned in Matthew and Luke, and both Mark and Luke call Jairus by name. Luke tends to do this because he says he interviewed the people to give an accurate account, so Jairus must have been around after the death and resurrection of Jesus to personally ask. I would venture to say that Jairus became a leader within the early church. Yet, at this moment in the story, Jairus was not feeling like a leader among men, he was broken, worried, and terrified. His daughter was sick, and he was a failure because he could do nothing to help her. But he knew one thing, Jesus had healed others, so he did not care what people might think, he did not care that some of the leaders in Jerusalem had called him the prince of demons, he had no other options, so he would ask for Jesus’s help.
At that same time, we meet another person, a woman. This woman had spent twelve years in social isolation because of an illness. She had a hemorrhage for twelve years. I cannot even begin to think about the physical toll this took on her, to have a constant disease that cause the loss of blood in such a way that would make her “unclean” sounds devastating. I do not even know how she lived twelve years with this disease. She had spent all her money going to doctors, and none of them provided relief. For twelve years she lived in isolation. The state of being unclean at this time did not necessarily mean that she was a sinner, but it meant that she could not participate in religious activities, and anyone within her household would also be considered unclean if they encountered her, or anything she touched. For twelve years, she lived outside the community. She was unable to attend worship services with the other women. She also could not have intimacy with her husband or he too would not be able to interact with the men of the community. For the sake of their livelihoods she had to live in isolation, for twelve years.
Imagine if this would have happened today. My wife and I have only been married for fifteen years, if this had been her and if our society still lived by the same social rules, we would have only been able to enjoy our lives together for three of those years. The remaining time, I would have done everything for myself and potentially for the children that may have come during those first three years. And she would have had to take care of herself. I would have cooked meals for my family and she would have cooked her own meals using different utensils. For twelve years we would have been married but leading totally separate lives under the same roof. In today’s world this marriage would have dissolved soon after the illness began. Even then it might not have been uncommon for a marriage to have dissolved in similar circumstances. We do not know what her life was like, there is no mention of a family, only the suffering. She suffered, alone isolated from the community with a disease outside of her control. The only thing she had left was this hope that if she could only touch Jesus’s clothing she could be healed.
Two people, both broken. Both faced social criticism, both felt like failures, because they suffered through circumstances beyond their control. They looked at their lives, realized that they had done everything they could do, and decided that they had nothing to lose, so why not hope in Jesus.
I have friends that claim faith, yet they are isolated from the community of faithful because they feel they are not good enough. I have friends that reject faith, yet they struggle everyday feeling as if they are total and complete failures. I have friends that have been broken to such a degree that they felt the only escape from their torments and the torments of their families would be take their own lives. I have had friends that have cycled through relationships after relationship repeating the same thing repeatedly yet ask why nothing changes? And at times I am like those friends of mine. At times I feel I am not good enough to be in this building let alone speaking. We feel like we must perform, and our value is based on how well we perform.
The truth is our value has nothing to do with our performance. It has nothing to do with who our parents are, or what country we happened to be born in. Our value is that we are human beings, created in the image of God. And each of us has so much value that while we were still sinners Jesus came down from his throne in heaven, was born of the virgin Mary, lived within a community form the time of his birth for approximately thirty-three years, taught us, died on a cross for us, was buried in a barrowed tomb, and after three days rose from the grave defeating the sting of death and the curse of sin. We are valued so much the Jesus, God incarnate, came to live in our neighborhood with us. Yet we still say I am not good enough, or I am a lost cause.
Jesus did this all before we were good enough. We were no where close to good enough we were living completely contrary to God’s ways, yet He came to us. He came, and he calls us to follow him. Do we ever slow down enough to consider that? We continue to work ourselves up into a frenzy in our performances yet do we look at our true value? Do we just sit knowing we are loved not because we can do something, but just because we are humans created in God’s Image?
Two broken people came to Jesus when he returned from his voyage. They were not good enough in the eyes of the world. One was a leader within the religious community and the other was a social outcast because of an illness. Both felt like failures, and outcasts because of illness, and thought that they had no value because they were sinners worthy of divine judgement. They were not good enough to be there on their own, but Jesus provided restoration.
First the woman touches Jesus’s clothing. Remember she is unclean and anything she touches is unclean. So, Jesus would now be considered ceremonially unclean if he had the knowledge that she touched him. He stops walking and calls to her, those around him are confused. There is a crowd pretty much all of them have touched him at some point. Jesus persists, and the woman comes forward trembling in fear, because she is an outcast. And Jesus calls her daughter. While he is talking to this woman, someone comes to Jairus and tells him that his daughter has died, and to not bother Jesus anymore. Jesus looks directly at Jairus and tell him not to fear and to believe. Jairus, whose faith is in shreds hold on to his last hope and continues to lead Jesus to his house. The people at the house are weeping and Jesus tells them that she is only sleeping, and they laugh at him. Yet still Jesus looks at Jairus, and the same words ring in his ears, do not fear, only believe. He takes her hand and speaks tenderly too her, telling her to get up and she does. He then tells them to get her something to eat.
We all live in and through times of failure, defeat, despair and lack of faith. We feel as if we are not good enough, yet Jesus can restore our lives. Jesus can bring healing and hope. Just as he spoke to Jairus he encourages us not to fear and only to believe. Just like the woman who touched his clothes, our faith can bring healing. But to gain that hope we must stop looking at our own selves and our own abilities and performances. If we had the power and strength to overcome our difficulties we would have done it already, but we haven’t we still struggle, we feel like failures, and are often hopeless. Why? Because we do not like admitting that we need help. We like playing God in our own lives. We like to think that we can handle it all and we do not want to bother the teacher, our lord and our God. But Jesus is looking at us saying do not fear only believe. He is telling us let go of our despair, let go of our failures, let go of our illness, and let him help. Will it bring the healing we want? Maybe and maybe not, but it will bring healing and it will restore our hope.
As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, I ask what are we holding back from Jesus? What are we trying to fix ourselves without his help, and the help of those within our community? Why are we holding back when all we must do is believe? It sounds easy enough, yet I know it is hard, it is sometimes the hardest thing we will ever do, but if we do let go and believe we will have restoration.