Trust in Christ’s Healing Mercy and Refuse to Despair: Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost and the Seventh Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church

Galatians 2:16-20; Luke 8:41-56

                  Many people are filled with fear and worry today, even to the point of losing all hope.  The effects of the multi-layered trauma of the global pandemic remain with us, as do threats of so many kinds to peace and wellbeing around the world. Deaths of despair are on the rise in our nation, as are words and deeds of violence and hatred that call into the question the way of life we have taken for granted and often made a false god.  Many are tempted to lash out towards enemies real and imagined in a vain effort to save themselves from falling into the abyss.  If we embrace that temptation, however, we will pursue a salvation contrary to that of Jesus Christ, Who taught and embodied love for enemies and Who is present to us in those we like to blame for our problems. He offers healing from the fear and worry that so easily tempt us to demonize others. In a time and place far more dangerous and divided than ours, He invited everyone to enter into the blessedness of His Kingdom, regardless of where they stood in the mix of the religious, political, and social divisions of first-century Palestine.

In today’s gospel reading, Jairus and his wife were put to the ultimate test when the Lord 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.”  Jairus was an upstanding Jewish man who was responsible for the good order of a synagogue, but we have no idea what Jairus had thought about Christ other than that he knelt before Him and asked Him to come to his house, where his daughter was dying.  After she had died, whatever faith he had was surely stretched to the breaking point.

We also do not really know how Jairus and his wife responded to the Lord’s challenge to believe that their daughter would return to life and health.  Nonetheless, they had enough faith to go into their house with the Messiah Who had promised to save their daughter if they believed and did not fear.  Mourning and weeping had already begun, and others laughed at the Savior for saying, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.”   In the midst of their despair, Jairus and his wife somehow found the strength to trust in Christ’s promise, which enabled them to receive a miracle well beyond all reasonable expectations.

Something similar occurred with the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.  She had impoverished herself by spending all her money on physicians who could not heal her. There was no medical cure for her condition, which also made her ritually unclean.  She was isolated, poor, and miserable.  Her religious and social standing were completely different from that of Jairus, who was at the center of the Jewish community, for she was very much on the margins.   All that we know about her attitude toward Christ is that she reached out and touched the hem of His garment in the midst of a large crowd.  She probably did not want to draw attention to herself by asking for healing or to risk rejection from Him, for anyone who touched her would have been considered unclean also.

When the woman reached out for the Lord’s garment, she was healed immediately, but Christ knew that someone had touched Him; her secret was out.  Instead of running away in fear or becoming angry, the woman then “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.”  Then the Lord said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

As different as Jairus and this woman are, they have in common that they were surely tempted to fall into despair.  They saw no way out of the tragic circumstances they faced.  To their credit, they did not look for scapegoats to blame for their grave problems; neither did they do anything self-destructive.  Instead, they offered the deepest pains of their lives to Christ for healing beyond what they could possibly understand or reasonably expect.  Unlike the pointless babbling we fall into on social media and in other settings, they did not try to distract themselves from reality by inflaming their passions with idle words that only make things worse.

The woman did not say anything at all until after her healing, which came through the only gesture of faith that she had the strength to make:  reaching out to touch the hem of the Savior’s garment in the middle of a crowd.  She was healed instantly, but spoke only after she had been found out.  She did so with fear and trembling, falling down before the Lord and stating publicly why she had reached out for healing.  That was likely the most difficult and embarrassing moment of her life.  In response, the Lord said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”  Notice that He did not relate to her according to the conventional standards of that time and place, but simply as His beloved child.

The pain felt by Jairus and his wife was certainly not lessened by their respectable position among the Jews.    Jairus had asked Christ to come to his house where his daughter was dying, but he and his wife surely struggled in stunned silence to believe that the Lord could actually raise her from the dead.  After He did so, “her parents were amazed; but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.” Their faith, however small and imperfect, was all that the Savior needed to work an extraordinary miracle.

The Lord showed mercy throughout His earthly ministry to suffering people who responded to Him with faith, regardless of whether they were considered righteous or unclean Jews.  He praised the spiritual understanding of a Gentile woman and cast a demon out of her daughter. (Mk 7:24-30) He said that no one in Israel had greater faith than the Roman centurion whose servant He healed. (Lk 7: 1-10) He restored the broken life of St. Photini, the Samaritan woman, by disregarding the prejudices of the time through His shocking conversation with her.  (Jn 4:1-42) The Savior did not treat these people as members of various factions or nations, but according to His love for all Who bear His image and likeness.  And they all opened themselves to receive His mercy by entrusting themselves to Him in faith, not by inflaming their passions as they condemned others who were not part of their group.

As St. Paul taught, we are “not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 2:16)  “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:27-29) If we are finding the salvation of our souls in this Savior who defeated the powers of this world through His Cross and empty tomb, we must refuse to respond to life’s difficulties according to passions fueled by earthly divisions.  Instead, we must “commend ourselves, each other, and all our life, unto Christ our God.”

Our hope is in the blessedness of a Kingdom open to all who respond to the Lord in faith, not in the success of any worldly agenda.  If we really believe that, then we will not look for relief from our problems in condemning anyone or despairing about anything.  Instead, we will hope in the One Who conquered death as we learn to see even our enemies as those called, every bit as much as we are, to become “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  That is precisely how Christ saw the suffering people He healed.  And it is precisely how we must see and serve all our neighbors if we are not to fall into the abyss of despair in a world where hating others remains an appealing way to distract ourselves from facing the truth about where we stand before God.

 

 

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