(This is the prayer of confession my church prayed together last Sunday. I don’t know who wrote it.)
Almighty God, forgive me my wandering heart that seeks things too fragile, too selfish. Renew my mind, that my thoughts may honor you. Grant me hope, to know that this is not the final word. Meet me in my weakness and my folly, that I might know your boundless love. And forgive my my sins, as you cast them as far as the east is from the west.
Mark 5:21-24, 35-43. We’ll go back to verses 25-34 tomorrow. As you read, especially if this is a story you’re familiar with, be mindful of the temptation to only “read” what you already know. Pay attention to the words and phrases and give yourself time to “see” something that you haven’t seen before. Note phrases that you find particularly interesting.
After healing the man of demon-possession, Jesus crossed back in the boat to the other side of the sea. I appreciate my friend Robbin, who shared her insights on Mark 5:1-20 in the comments section of yesterday’s post, pointing out that it seems that the only reason Jesus went across the sea in the boat was to heal that man. Looking back at the passage, I think she’s right! Jesus and his disciples crossed the sea, encountered the man, healed him, and then, in today’s reading, turned around and went right back, where he was greeted by yet another “great crowd.”
And in this text we have the story of Jairus. I love this story, and in an effort to see it with fresh eyes today, I decided to focus only on the “Jairus” part of the story, skipping over the verses about the healing Jesus performed while en route to see Jairus’s daughter.
Jairus was a ruler of the synagogue, which means that he was a religious leader in the community. We often emphasize how Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders of the day, as if that rejection somehow gives us permission to dismiss all religious leaders, carte blanche. But the truth is, there were many religious leaders among Jesus’s followers. Some of them may not have been totally public about their devotion to Christ (think of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night, many presume in order to avoid scrutiny of his peers). But among those who had faith in Jesus were men like Jairus—a respected leader in the religious community who was at a point of desperation: his young daughter was at death’s door.
Have you ever noticed how desperate times can humble even the hardest of hearts? I’m not suggesting that Jairus’s heart was hard. But it does seem that any sense of religious decorum went out the window. He, a ruler in the synagogue, threw himself at Jesus in public humility and desperation. “He fell at his feet and implored him earnestly” to come and heal his daughter.
Jairus’s actions and words demonstrated two of the things that God looks for most in a person: humility and faith.
Before Jesus made it to Jairus’s house, word came back that his daughter had died. But Jesus was not about to let death have the final word. “Do not fear, only believe.” Whoa! Do you realize how much of the life of faith can be summed up in those five words?!
I have so many friends who are going through very difficult times right now. And as I pray for them, these words come to my mind: “Do not fear, only believe.”
My friend’s engagement has ended, just weeks before the wedding date. “Do not fear, only believe.” My friend’s pre-teen daughter has a congenital defect that is affecting her brain. “Do not fear, only believe.” I have three friends who are being treated for the advanced stages of cancer. “Do not fear, only believe.” Another friend’s husband suffers from a degenerative disorder that is sucking the life out of him, day by day. “Do not fear, only believe.” The list goes on.
When I read Jesus’s words, I am cut to the core. Just believe! My faith arises. Just believe! I do believe!
But then I start to ask myself, and God, “believe what?” In this case of Jairus and Jesus, it seems obvious: Just believe that things are not as they seem. Your friends have said your daughter is dead, but let mine be the last word, not theirs.
And as I look at the bigger picture of life, where hard times come and the outcome isn’t a miraculous healing, but rather death, I wonder, “What about that, Lord? What about that?”
And even then, in the wake of death, the statement remains: “Do not fear, only believe.”
Believe that things are not always what they seem. God works all things—ALL things—together for good, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
Believe that even in the valley of the shadow of death, God is with you, protecting and directing your path. Believe that death is not the end! We sleep, but we who are in Christ will be awakened again to eternal life, where every tear will be gone and there will be no more sorrow or pain or sadness. Believe that God is close to the brokenhearted and near to those who are downcast in spirit.
Believe that God’s love never fails.
Whatever the cause of your desperation today, the answer is the same: Do not fear, only believe. Only believe. Can you imagine how liberated our hearts would be if we walked in that truth day by day?
Take a moment to invite the Lord to show you any areas where you are like Jairus—desperate, yet faithful. If you can’t think of your own areas of desperation, perhaps you know others who are going through very trying times. Spend some time in prayer for yourself and for others, that we would all “only believe.” Pray that we will all live in the liberating words: “Do not fear, only believe.”