Bearing the Heavy Things in Life Series – Part 8 of 8: Kingdom Talk
Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church
April 30th, 2017
And When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
Overhearing[c] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
You know in some churches this text is old reliable; everybody knows what it means; we’ve all read it together. The sermon pretty much preaches itself and we get to go home. You know me and you know that I don’t buy that.
For me this text is an incredible problem text the way that we’ve read it or failed to read it. I know it is tempting and easy to follow the lead of our cultural religion and its commitment to a surface reading of these passages as promises that if you personally possess enough faith, Jesus will come to you and grant your wish for wellness. If we start this from the beginning of Mark’s gospel — you start reading through — it does look a little bit like Jesus is all about curing the sick — you have to ignore quite a bit of stuff — but it’s there. There are stories about curing the sick and casting out demons and cleansing the leper and healing a paralytic, story after story about people coming to Jesus and being healed.
In our text today there is a bleeding woman and there is a daughter of an important man who are healed and Jesus to both of them says something about faith. Wouldn’t it be nice if it work that way? Wouldn’t it be nice if the church could interview people who had survived tough times and find out how much they prayed? Maybe even categorize it as to when they prayed and how many times they said Jesus when they prayed and how many Christian albums that they had at home and did they go with the Gaithers or did they go with contemporary bad rock ‘n’ roll Christian music? [laughter] Maybe we could ask them did they pray on their knees of if they were seated and how long they prayed and how often did they read the Bible. Exactly what did this person do? We could set up a data table and we can figure out the folks who made it and survived; OK you prayed this much. Then we can look at the folks who really didn’t make it and we could presume that they didn’t have enough faith. So what did you do and could we take down the information, but, well, don’t do this.
Over time, we could compile a list of what you could do to be more faithful; signs that you’ve got it all together and can expect a full healing. Wouldn’t that be great! I could write a book about the list. We could sell it. I could sell it. Maybe even offer it as a package deal to people and include some anointing oil and some holy water in a little bottle and a prayer cloth with black dots and blue diamonds on it. You could put the cloth around your neck when you prayed; help you to be closer to God. I could raise a whole bunch of money. Of course I would have to go on a book tour and they would put me on TV. And I’d probably have to buy an airplane because I was important. Operators are standing by.
The thing is you and I know it doesn’t work that way. That hasn’t stopped some people from making a whole lot of money by hustling gullible frightened Christian people. And it is not just our observation that it doesn’t work that way. It is also what our text is telling us today. To read this text was such a personal focus brings on six — count them — six significant problems that we have to overlook to read it that way.
I’ll tell you the six problems. This section begins in Mark chapter 1, verse 15, right after Jesus is baptized he announces the arrival of the kingdom of God. So everything is following this has to resolve some way into creating the kingdom of God, the coming kingdom of God. Jesus says to the men he’s calling to be his disciples: I will teach you to fish for people. And then there are healings, there’s lots of healing. There is also rejection. The third chapter includes rejection by many and his family — Jesus’ family — he says my family is those who do the will of God. Of course the first responses is who knows the will of God? How can we know the will of God? So you got that question waiting there for us? The entire fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, his parables: the parable of the sower sowing seeds, the parable of the lamp projecting light, hiding under a bushel, no, seeds growing; weeds included, and the story of a mustard seed which starts almost insignificant and grows to a huge tree. So we have to figure out what these mean and we certainly must not discount them or violate them.
Right before our text in chapter 5 Jesus heals a man with demons; sends the demons into a herd of pigs. The pigs immediately stampede down an embankment, off the cliff and into the sea where they drown. The people in town received word of what is happened to the pigs, they probably heard the pigs. They come to Jesus and they say it’s really great that you have healed but you cost us these pigs; would you please leave our town. We prefer our economic arrangement of us having profit over anyone getting healed and so there’s a community illness. As Jesus climbs back into the boat, the man who formerly had demons begs to go with him. Jesus says: no, stay here; tell everyone what he Lord has done for you of all people. You are outcaste, you are the one driven out and it is you, through whom God has done something very merciful and great. Maybe that would be enough to heal the community.
Not long after our text today is the miracle of the feeding of five thousand. We know that this miracle here is that people simply open their coats and shared what they thought was theirs and theirs alone. But there is bigger connection here. This is a judgment of what happened when Jesus was asked to leave town because of the pigs. People being generous create an incredible judgment of people who are selfish. The sixth chapter ends with the notice that they were bringing people from all over the landscape and laying them in the marketplace so that they might be healed as Jesus passed by. The sixth chapter of Mark ends with these words: all who touched his cloak were healed; that in and of itself is its own problem. Do you suppose all of those people had adequately accumulated enough faith in their faith bank? As you know, that’s how we think of faith. It is like the fundraising thermometer on the wall at school for the PTA; the bigger, the more, the better. That’s how we think of faith. So do we believe that every one of those people laid out in the marketplace that touch Jesus had an adequate accumulation of faith — whatever that means — to have earned their own healing.
So here are all the problems. We’ve got kingdom of God talk. We’ve got a community illness that degrades and drives out of the community what it doesn’t like. We have the economics of not wanting healing if it costs us something. We got the problem created by all of those parables; what do they mean? I’m also going to tell you the fifth and sixth problem. This whole idea that Jesus is here to rescue the deserving who have accumulated faith is a problem in Old Testament Hebrew and it is a problem in New Testament Greek. Six problems which tells me that our reading of the text is inappropriate.
So let’s walk back through the passage that Bill read for us and see what we find. Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, falls at the feet of Jesus and begs: my little daughter is ill come save her from the grasp of death. Jesus walks with him; we would expect that; he is important. In the crowd of people pressing it around Jesus is a woman suffering, bleeding for twelve years. She says to herself, if I but touch his clothes I will be made well. She touches his clothes; immediately she knows she’s been healed; she can feel it. He felt it too, the power drain, and he spins around and he said: who touched my clothe? The disciples look at the crowd and they say: like everyone. Jesus said no that’s not it; somebody touched me and was healed. And then she steps up and makes a full confession of what she’s done; tells the whole truth. Instead of reprimanding her, Jesus commends her saying: Daughter, your faith has made you well.
There’s that word: faith. A decision was made about the 1580s into the 1600s as they were writing the King James Bible; the decision was made to translate the Old Testament and New Testament word: faith and they gave some new meaning to it. I’ll tell you about that in just a minute. It’s a real stumbling block. They made an error in translating the word: faith. We have received the definition of faith to mean strength, personal confidence, like a level of trust that we have or the belief we have in a warranty that we got with a Sear’s lawnmower. So we say things to other people like: have faith, meaning conjure up confidence. And faithful people are seen as those who exhibit self-assuredness and positive poise and a calm cool demeanor. And “I have faith.” has become a statement of pride. Now we’ve got another problem because all through the Old Testament we are warned against the trappings of pride and what it brings. The prophet Habakuuk says it better than most, Behold the proud one, his soul is not right within him.
Old Testament Hebrew has something to say about this. In Old Testment Hebrew there are three tenses of verbs. The first one is Qal, like first person: I, me, my, mine. The second of these tenses is Piel, like second person: you, your, yours. The point of view is yours or mine, meaning the intention, the motive, the power to act is yours or mine. It comes from within us. This is the decision that was made in the translation of the King James Bible, faith was translated that we have control of faith. Now you are smart and you are thinking ahead and you can smell the problem, because we’ve made faith a source of pride. To a desperate, bleeding, excluded woman, off the bottom of the confidence ladder, Jesus tells her that her faith is the source of her healing.
Let us go back to Hebrew, fortunately, there is a third tense of this Hebrew verb. The third verb tense of Hebrew is hiphil which is like third person in English: he, she, they, them. Faith in Hebrew, amanah, means those thing we think it means: firmness, steadfastness, loyalty, reliance, and insight. But it’s form is always third person: hiphil. The form in the Old Testament is always third person. The intention, the motive, the insight, the power to act, comes from a perspective apart from ours. So the firmness, the steadfastness, the loyalty, the insight — all the things that faith means – belong to God, not to us.
Suddenly faith in New Testament Greek makes sense. In New Testament Greek the word faith is pestis. This means the persuasion from God that we receive like an impulse, a divine spark, a hearing, an intuiting, a knowing whereby we lay hold of God’s preferred will. How do we know God’s will; it is an act of faith; God shows us. This is how the fishermen that Jesus called to be his disciples left everything and followed Jesus. Faith came to them in the person of Jesus, God’s preferred way spark visible to them and it became the most important thing in their lives. This is how we should hear those parables out of Mark’s fourth chapter, little sparks of insight into God’s preferred way. Little promises that if you notice those little sparks for what they are they will grow in us like a seed grows in the ground. They will start out very small and will grow like a mustard tree. The visibility of God’s preferred way shines through us like a light on the lamp stand. Even the judgment that Jesus uses for those who reject him and his definition of faith: Whoever has will be given more, and whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.
What we have is simply an openness to this divine spark to redefine us. That’s what all that means. This now also helps us make sense of Jesus and the disciples at Capernaum. Remember he is with his disciples around the fire — this will be later in the eighth chapter of Mark — one night Jesus looks at his disciples and he says: who do the people say that I am? I don’t know. They think you are Moses, they think you’re Elijah, they don’t know. Jesus cuts him off and says who do you say that I am? They go: I don’t know. Peter is the one that blurts out the response: you are the Messiah, the son of the most high living God. Jesus looks at Peter and says blessed are you for this knowledge was not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by God Almighty in heaven. Peter you listened to an impulse, a spark, an intuition, a knowing that came from outside of you.
So let’s go back to the text. God’s persuasion is at work; God’s spark is active. A woman off the bottom of the social ladder — think about the inconvenience of bleeding; you don’t want to go out. Blood was seen as ritually impure, meaning that anyone who knew her knew of her condition would back away. The interpretation of her condition by the religious leadership — read men — would have been that she is being punished in some way. Meaning that for her to be caught in public would create a scene. Yet she finds in herself on this particular day an impulse to get up and leave her house. She has an internal conversation going on; we only get to hear the end of it. She had to be saying things like, I don’t know why; I heard this guy was coming to town and others have tried to heal me. I don’t know why I think he will be any different. What is the worst that could happen? Well the worst that could happen is that there’s a scene. Where did she get the courage to risk a scene?
If she’s quiet, maybe she can get close enough and just … and then he is right in front of her. Do I extend my arm and risk a scene or do I retract my hand in fear? She felt the spark; she felt the impulse; she said to herself, all I have to do is touch and she was healed. And of course there’s a scene. She’s embarrassed; she wants to run; this scene ends with Jesus commending her: your faith has made you well. You were persuaded to act on an impulse in you. You caught a glimpse of God’s preferred way. It made you see yourself differently as someone who had value and you walked out of your house today and you sought that kingdom.
So hold onto that because while all of this is unfolding, Jairus, the leader of the synagogue; the man with the plan; the man with the life; the man with the authority; the man who knew what was going on in the community. He was important. He had social connections. He was waiting while all of this is going down. He too had left his house that morning having an internal dialogue with himself. He had most certainly heard that this healer fellow was coming through town today; it created in him a double-blind. Jairus would’ve lived off the top of the ladder. He was special; he was unique; only good things happen to him. If you want good things to happen to you, you get near Jairus. But his daughter was dying. Well, you know she’s just a girl. In the first century girls were of incredibly low value. In that day lots of children died. The community attitude was the children — especially girls — are replaceable. This is the double bind for Jairus.
First, bad things don’t happen to good people. Second, you don’t utilize the power of your position and social connections to seek the healing of your daughter. If word of either of these things got out his sterling reputation would be tarnished. His importance would be lessened; he would be knocked down the ladder by many rungs. This was the social construct of the town. It is a community illness. He too may have thought at some point that he could quietly engage Jesus; maybe invite him to come to his home. But by the time he reached Jesus he realized that probably wasn’t going to happen; too many people. So he made his decision; he decided his daughter was more important to him than anything else. He may not have wanted a scene but he sure did make one.
This man of significance begs Jesus. And while Jesus is still speaking to the formerly bleeding woman, some people come with the news that the daughter of Jairus has died; it is too late to help her. Jairus has to be thinking in that moment: I’ve already made a scene. How can I preserve my honor? It is too late for her; I’ll grieve later. Jesus overhears the news that she has died and he says to Jairus: have faith, do not fear. Jesus is saying to Jairus: God’s persuasion is at work in you and that impulse in you that caused you to see infinite value in your daughter; that caused you to redefine how you see you; that lead you to lower yourself and beg for assistance. You caught a glimpse of God’s kingdom where women are not expendable. You were willing to humble yourself. You were willing to risk losing all of your social status to save the life of your daughter. Do not lose that spark of God’s preferred way that got you here.
They proceeded to the home of Jairus where there is commotion caused by people weeping and wailing. It is in his neighborhood; it might be a gated community; it’s probably important people; it is his neighbors. Jesus comes up word comes that he could do something for this child and they laugh at him. And Jesus throws them out. That is a little side note for you of what to do when people mock you for seeking God’s preferred way. Jesus enters the house with only Jairus, the child’s mother and three of his disciples. Without making a scene, without dancing around or jumping around, or furling his forehead or pretending to be close to God, he reaches out, says to the child: little girl get up. Immediately she gets up and begins to move.
Do you notice what just happened here? Jesus has just commended an unimportant woman for allowing God to value her and to work in her. Jesus has just commanded an important man to deepen his humility of seeking healing for someone who was too far gone for the human community to reach. It was going to cost him something. Jesus has just defined community standards by valuing and rescuing a dispensable child. This is kingdom talk and Jesus has just made it clear that the kingdom of God is equally for women and men and children. And he has also made it clear that the humble shall be exalted and the exalted will be humbled.
This is kingdom talk and Jesus has just made it clear that what heals you and what drives you is not yours to possess. It is a persuasion from God that we receive, like an impulse, a divine spark, some kind of a hearing, or an intuiting, a knowing whereby we lay hold of God’s preferred way. The motive, the power to act, the spark comes from the perspective that is not ours.
You know this is the mission of the church. The purpose of our church is making disciples. But what do the disciples do? Disciples bring the kingdom. How do we do that? Well, we follow Jesus. We imitate Jesus; we do what he did. We do what our Missions Committee and Congregational Care folks do. We do with our children’s ministry and youth ministries do. We do what Women of the Word did yesterday for a family that had a memorial service here. We do what our United Methodist women do in their justice work. We search out and we set free those who are imprisoned by community standards. We lift up and we advocate for those deemed unimportant and unworthy. We challenge hierarchy that discounts and disposes of people. We help down those whose pedestals have gotten too high for their own good. And we share what we have in acts of compassion that cost us something.
The mission of the church is bringing the kingdom of God. Our purpose is making disciples. Disciples bring the kingdom. Our story today is from the kingdom of God, it was brought to us by the one who will lead us into that kingdom.