Humble Acknowledgement of Our Weakness Opens Us to Christ’s Healing Strength: Homily for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost and the 7th Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church

2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9; Luke 8:41-56

 

In today’s gospel reading, Jairus and his wife were put to the ultimate test when Jesus Christ said of their daughter, “Do not fear; only believe, and she shall be well…[and]  “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.”  We do not know exactly what Jairus had believed about the Lord previously other than that he knelt before Him and asked Him to come to his house, where his daughter was dying.  It was one thing to believe that this rabbi had the power to heal the sick, but something quite different to trust that He could raise their dead daughter.

The gospel passage does not quote any of Jairus’ words.  It does not tell us how he and his wife responded to the Lord’s challenge to believe that she would be returned to life and health.  These events probably rocked them to the depths of their souls.  Perhaps they could not find the words to respond to what was going on in that moment.  But they still had enough faith to go into their house with the One Who had promised to save their daughter if they believed and did not fear.  Even though the mourning and weeping had already begun, they offered Him the faith of which they were capable at that moment.  Their trust enabled them to receive a miracle well beyond all reasonable expectations.

The same is true of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.  She had spent all her money paying physicians who could not help her. Her malady was medically incurable at that time, and also made her ritually and socially unclean.  The passage does not tell us what she believed about Christ, but only that she reached out and touched the hem of His garment in a crowd so large that she hoped to do so without drawing attention to herself.  She must have had some level of faith that even that small gesture would enable her to receive healing.  That is what happened, but when the Lord announced that someone had touched Him, she knew that her secret was out.  Then she “came trembling, and falling down before Him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed.”  When she openly confessed what Christ had done for her, He said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Both the bleeding woman and Jairus faced circumstances so dark that they could not reasonably expect to be delivered from them.  In the world as we know it, incurable chronic disease and death cannot be overcome.  That these challenges were so profound is reflected by the fact that these characters speak so little in this passage. They did not use words to state what they believed about Christ.  The woman did not say anything until after she had been healed, which came through the only gesture of faith that she had the strength to make:  secretly touching the hem of the Savior’s garment.  And once she was healed, she spoke only after she had been found out.  Though Jairus had asked Christ to come to his house where his daughter was dying, the gospel passage does not record him asking for her to be raised after her death.  He and his wife probably struggled in stunned silence to believe that the Lord could fulfill such an astounding promise.

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to put into words our deepest fears, hopes, and loves.  The most important things in life are too profound for precise definition.  All the more is that the case for God, the infinitely holy “I AM” Who is beyond our knowledge and control.  Orthodox theology teaches that we are completely ignorant of God’s essence, but may know God as He has revealed Himself to us in His divine energies.  While we use words to make true statements about God, genuine spiritual knowledge requires personal participation in His life.  That participation requires faith in the sense of uniting ourselves to Him from the depths of our souls. That kind of participation transforms us into “partakers of the divine nature” by grace as we become more like God in holiness.

Like Jairus and the bleeding woman, Saint Paul knew that honest acknowledgement of his own weakness was necessary for Him to share in the healing power of Christ. The Lord had appeared to him on the road to Damascus and enabled him to become a most unlikely apostle to the Gentiles.  Paul wrote so much of the New Testament and helped the Church understand the most basic truths of the faith in times of great controversy.  Instead of glorying in his accomplishments, however, he boasted only in his weakness.  He openly acknowledged how he had previously persecuted Christ in His Body, the Church.  Indeed, Paul wrote that the Lord had mercy on him as a sign that He truly came to save sinners, of whom he was the very worst.  (1 Tim. 1: 12-16) After mentioning his mystical experiences in prayer, the apostle told the Corinthians that he was given “a thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble which the Savior would not remove.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  Consequently, Paul concluded that he “will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

St. Paul did not shy away from calling himself the chief of sinners, and he publicly recounted how he had earlier persecuted the Church and was unworthy to be an apostle. (1 Cor. 15:9)   In addition to acknowledging and repenting of our sins each day in prayer, we must all take advantage of the great blessing of sacramental Confession on a regular basis if we want to find healing for the weakness of souls.  At least during the four penitential seasons of the Church year, we should name our sins to the Lord as we stand before His icon, and then kneel as we are assured of His forgiveness through the prayers of an unworthy priest who himself also goes to Confession.  Taking Confession regularly and conscientiously fuels our humility by keeping our spiritual vision focused on our constant need for the Lord’s mercy.  As we name our sins aloud and receive assurance of forgiveness if we are truly repentant, we embrace more fully the Savior’s victory over the corrupting power of sin in our lives.  All of us spiritual weaklings need this sacrament for the healing of our souls. The less we think we need it, the more we actually do.

The same is true of fasting   Even when we are not in a penitential season, the Church calls us to fast from the richest and most satisfying foods on almost all Wednesdays and Fridays.  From the first century, Christians have kept these days of fasting in commemoration, respectively, of the Lord’s betrayal and crucifixion.  Just a bit of self-denial for our taste buds and stomachs will hit most of us right where we live and reveal our weakness in controlling our self-centered desires, including our resistance to denying ourselves even in small ways.  Fasting is a teacher of humility that will help us see our true spiritual state more clearly.  It will also remind us that we find our strength, life, and fulfillment in Christ, not in satisfying our bodily appetites and own will however we please.  And by eating a simple, inexpensive diet on fast days, we will have more resources available to share with the poor and needy in whom we encounter our Lord.

Jairus, the bleeding woman, and St. Paul all show by their examples that we open ourselves to the healing mercy of the Lord through honest acknowledgement of our weakness.   Through Confession and fasting, let us embrace Him in humility, holding nothing back, for that is the only way to receive His strength, which conquers even death itself. It is the only way to believe and not fear before the great challenges and sorrows of our lives.

 

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