Have you ever knelt down on the ground, late at night before climbing into bed, and started pouring your heart out before God? Have you done that thing where you’re searching for something so desperately that you’re willing to beg God for it, to bargain with God for it, even to threaten God for it, because you simply can’t imagine a future without it? Maybe it’s your own health or the health of someone you love. Maybe it’s an opportunity that’s just on the verge of coming to being: a job prospect, a relationship, a trip, or a move.
We seem to have this vision of God as this great and tremendous stress reliever, as someone to whom we can bring all of our worries and anxieties and who can fix everything. We talked a bit about that at the Bible study down in the PLL this week, about how often our prayers might start off praising God, but then how quickly they turn into requests from God. We expect God to be the one who will run to our rescue and save us from all harm. In some ways it’s an idea of God that’s pretty natural given the images that we use for God. Our most popular prayer starts, Our Father, and from there we develop these theologies that remember God as the loving and caring parent that we can run to when things in life get hard or scary.
Now, I’m not saying God isn’t that person. God does seem to invite us to entrust our cares and our worries to him: Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.“ But I think sometimes we need to talk about what we’re actually doing and what we’re actually expecting when we approach the throne of God without fears and our stresses.
The story from today’s gospel reading is told with two to three really contrasting characters. On the one hand we have the woman who touches Jesus’ cloak in the hope and the trust that something is going to happen when she does. Jesus, in this story, is one of the great magic men of old. He doesn’t even need to turn around in order to be involved in someone’s healing, just his physical presence alone is enough to work miracles in somebody’s life. It’s not conscious, it’s this physical reflex that brings healing to those who have faith, but that seems to be the key point, this woman, an outcast on the very fringes of society, was someone of tremendous faith, who believed in God and who believed that Jesus really did have the power to transform her world, and it was that faith that made her well.
On the other side of the story we have Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, a leader in the community, who comes to Jesus pleading for the life of his daughter. Unlike the woman in the crowd, Jairus seems to be quite well off. He at least holds a stable place as a leader of the wider community and he has this entire entourage around his home weeping and wailing for his lost daughter. And of course she’s the other figure in the story, young, female and outside of the normal circles of power in her own right, but connected to her father at the centre of power.
They’re two starkly contrasting characters who approach Jesus and beg for his help, and yet both times, Jesus’ response is similar. When it comes to the woman in the crowd, in this quiet and simple act of compassion and mercy Jesus says to her “daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” Similarly with Jairus’ daughter Jesus simply says “‘Talitha cum’, little girl, get up!” and she does. There’s no grandstanding to this there’s no pragmatism to it. Jesus doesn’t use these miracles to convince people that he’s all powerful or that he’s benevolent and kind. He simply responds to human need, in whatever form it comes, with compassion and love and care. I think it’s that fact right there that says something important about the way that we interact with God in times of need.
TRUSTING THE COVENANT PROMISES
Offering our needs before God and trusting God to somehow do something with the brokenness of our lives makes clear and present the covenantal relationship that we hold with God. It shines a light on the bonds of trust that connect us with God. It calls us to remember that the promise of God’s loving-kindness is that we belong to God and with God, no matter what.
The reality of a covenantal relationship is the fact that we find our ground, our core, our heart, not in the agreements that we make, not in the vows we make to God, and not even in God’s willingness to respond to our every need; we find our ground, our core, our heart, in every step we take walking alongside God through this life. We find our identity in the knowledge we have of God’s love for us, in the faith and the trust we place in who God is and who God has promised to be. That’s the nature of the faith that heals us. It’s the ability to trust that God is exactly who God has promised to be and that God’s love and care is real for you and for me and for all of Creation.
Whatever happens next is incidental to that knowledge that we belong to God, that we were created for a purpose and we were created in love. And so when we come to God, carrying our burdens and our fears and our stresses like broken pottery before God our Father, we come not with the expectation that God’s going to put all the broken pieces back together, but with the expectation that God’s going to put us back together, that God’s going to wrap us in arms of love, that God’s going to remind us how precious we are and how powerful we are so that we can turn around and face a broken world again.
This is why we can keep coming to God, time after time after time, when our prayers are answered the way we hope they will be but even when our prayers aren’t answered the way we expect they will be. It’s because we know in the end that the heart of our healing doesn’t come from what’s subject to change and decay, the heart of our healing comes from the core of who we are, icons of the living God.
The woman’s faith made her well. Jairus’ faith brought his daughter back from the dead. Our faith claims us as companions of a compassionate and powerful God of love who works miracles for the great and lowly alike.