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Monday, January 30, 2017

The Compassion of God (Luke 8:40-56

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A leader of the synagogue; that’s how Luke introduces us, his readers, to this man Jairus, who approaches Jesus.  Following Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus, we know that in chapter 1, Mary was told she was to be the mother of Jesus.  In response, she broke into a song inspired by a woman of the Old Testament, Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel.  In her song praising God, Mary sings, “[God] has brought the powerful down from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and the sent the rich away empty,” (1:52-53).
Following Luke’s story further, we come to chapter 6 where Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God; … woe to you who are rich, for you have [already] received your consolation” (6:21, 24).  Luke has told of Jesus engaged in public debate with the Bible experts, the Pharisees.  They accused Jesus of doing things only God can do – forgive sins.  And Jesus did not deny it or distance himself.  He continued forgiving sins and butting heads with them.  Luke showed Jesus doing what only God can do – driving demons out; 1000 demons in one man, and they were powerless before Jesus (8:31).  Jesus rebuked a storm that raged over the Sea of Galilee, threatening the disciples with death.  The wind stopped and waves fell to a silent calm at his word. 
As simple as it might sound the conflicts in the life of Jesus – with nature, with the demonic, with earthly power structures – all these conflicts are manifestations of the battle between God’s good and malevolent forces of evil that try to oppose God by hurting us.  In Ephesians 6 we read, “Our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, [and] against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:12).  What does that mean?
It means there is more going on that meets the eye.  In your life, in mine, the course of history of nations, more is happening than is reported in the news and recorded in the history book.  It means there is a battle taking place we can only understand through faith.  To be on the winning side in that battle, to avoid being utterly consumed by Satan’s evil and death’s final end, we have to know God, worship God, love God, and follow God.  To know, worship, love and follow God, we need Jesus. 
What does this spiritual battle look like?  It looks like an angel telling a young, betrothed virgin she will be the mother of Jesus.  It looks like a storm that threatens lives to obediently cease at God’s command.  It looks like those who suffer being helped to their feet, fed a warm meal, loved, and empowered to live blessed lives in the love of God and the community.  And the battle against the cosmic powers of this present darkness sometimes looks like what we read last week and today in Luke 8.
 It begins with the leader, a person with some measure of power, coming to Jesus.  His power, his position, his authority has been reduced to nothing by an incurable, fatal disease that threatens to take his daughter from him.  Forget all the run-ins Jesus and authorities have had up to now in Luke.  Jairus doesn’t care.  Pain and fear have given him singular focus.  Only one thing matters: saving his girl. 
Jairus comes to Jesus and falls at his feet.  Everyone in the community knows who Jairus is.  Everyone knows his position.  Everyone knows the running controversy – Jesus or the Pharisees?  Whom do we trust?  Who do we follow?  Now here is the main man at the synagogue, the local house of worship.  Here is a man they’ve afforded much respect.  Here he is groveling.  I guess we know where he stands.
But Jairus doesn’t care.  He doesn’t see them watching him.  He only sees Jesus and he sees Jesus through fear-tinted lenses.  And that’s how we must see him.  We must see Jesus as our only hope. 
Word association!  I am going to say a word.  When I say this word, I want you think of a person, a person in the real world – not a fictional character.  When I speak this word, capture in your mind’s eye an image of this person.  Oh, also it has to be someone living.  Not someone from history.  Not someone from the Bible.  Not God or Jesus.  Think of someone today.  See that person.  Concentrate on that image.  Think about that person.  Are you ready?  I will say the word and you fix in your thought the image of the first person that comes to you mind.  Here’s word:  Power.
OK, do you have the image of a person in mind?  Think about that person that jumped to your mind when I said the word ‘power.’  Why this person?  Is this person physically imposing?  Does he or she possess tremendous riches, able to buy any and everything?  Is he or she the CEO of an enormous company?  Or a top military leader?  Or someone with political clout?  Center in on the person who to you embodies power.  
Whomever jumped to your mind is likely someone very aware of the power he or she possesses.  This person undoubtedly feels powerful and self-reliant.  Thus, this person will have trouble acknowledging he or she needs anything, including God.  I think this is why Luke so frequently highlights the idea that those exalted in human institutions, the power-hoarders among us, will be brought low.  They cannot be overcomers in that battle with cosmic evil until they truly understand their own powerlessness in the face of Satan and death.  Only when someone knows he is completely lost and broken can he then rely on God for salvation.  It is hard for power possessors to see their own weakness and dependence.  That’s why it is so hard for the rich to be saved.  They don’t realize they need.
Jairus did.  I don’t believe God inflicted his daughter with a deadly disease.  In ancient times a lot of people died of incurable ailments, including children.  With all the advances in medical science, today, a lot of people still die of diseases, even rich people.  I don’t think God imposes heart failure or cancer or diabetes.  Those evils aren’t from God.  But, I do think God speaks in those moments.  When Jairus the synagogue leader saw his daughter dying before his eyes, he was broken, dropped to his knees.  He was ready to be dependent on God. 
Jesus went with him.  Without a word, Jairus came, asked for help, and Jesus went.  Jesus never brought up the conflicts with leaders.  He didn’t refer to his past accomplishments or use the opportunity to pontificate his own virtue.  I find it significant that Luke doesn’t record a verbal response from Jesus at all.  The next phrase Luke writes ending verse 42 is “as he went.”  God is always as ready to help and to save the wealthy as He is to help and save the poor.  God does not love downtrodden people more than wealthy people.  But it looks that way because those who are down and out are more ready to receive God’s love because they are more aware of their desperate situation.  God loves everyone abundantly.  We miss the good God gives when we are caught up in ourselves.
As Jesus went with Jairus, a woman who had suffered for 12 years came behind him in the crowd.  She had a perpetual menstrual bleeding.  Upon surreptitiously touching Jesus, she was instantly healed.  Her utter poverty and desperation, her unending suffering gave her clear vision.  She could see that God was in Jesus.  She knew He was her only hope.
For Jesus’ part, it was not enough to heal her.  He also had to name her.  He had to look into her eyes.  This is where we ended in this story last week.  A desperate woman is healed as Jesus walks along.  He didn’t even need to stop walking or even be aware of what was happening.  Like a skilled pickpocket, she stole the blessing.  But we cannot steal from God.  He stopped to give a greater blessing.  He called her out.  Trembling, she came.  He named her.  “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”  Is that was faith is, desperation?  Sometimes.  He sent her away in peace.
And there is desperate Jairus, just waiting.  Has he waited too long?  Luke writes, “Someone came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer’” (8:49).  That messenger was stuck in the way the world, a world fallen in sin, operates.  We think that when the doctor says, “It’s over,” then it is over.  We accept the limits imposed by human wisdom.  Jesus plays a different game, one in which God sets the limits and exceeds them when God so pleases.
Jesus doesn’t mind that Jairus’ anxiety grows as he stopped to help a woman.  For Jesus nothing mattered more than restoring her life.  For God nothing matters more than a broken person coming for healing, for forgiveness, for hope.  However, Jesus won’t let this messenger’s word of finality crush Jairus’ spirit.  How many times do we surrender to inevitability when we could look to God and to the possibility that God might write an entirely different chapter in our stories?  A better chapter?  A more hopeful one?
Jesus says the words he and angel say throughout scripture to people who are overwhelmed when they meet God.  “Fear not.”  Jairus burned with anxiety when Jesus stopped and gave way to despair when he got the message he’d been dreading, but Jesus will not let that sit for even a minute.  “Do not fear. Only believe and she will be saved” (8:50). 
They arrive at the house and the professional mourners have already begun their dirges.  This sorrow has be done properly.  It’s not just anyone who has died, but the daughter of the synagogue leader.  And underneath the breath of those weeping their showy tears are the whispers.  What sin did Jairus commit that God would punish him by taking his daughter?  No one’s saying it.  Everyone’s thinking it.  Actual compassion is in short supply.
Jesus quiets the nonsense.  “Do not weep for her; for she is not dead but sleeping” (v.52).  The mourners in the story laugh a mocking laugh at Jesus, and in fact, the girl was dead in the sense that her heart had stopped, she wasn’t breathing, and disease had ravaged her body.  But I believe Luke has in mind several layers of meaning at this point.
Sleep and death are an odd dynamic in the New Testament.  Jesus says she is not dead, but is only sleeping.  She was actually, in a physical sense, dead.  In 1 Thessalonians 5, the word “asleep” is a euphemism for Christ followers who have died. They have resurrection to look forward to.  I think Luke embeds the same idea in his storytelling here.  His gospel would have been completed and first read in churches in the 80’s.  Many Christ followers had died.  His framing of this story reminds believers that the ultimate enemy, death, is no match for the power and the love of God.  It is as simple as Jesus walking in and saying, “Child, get up” (12:54).
Luke writes that her spirit returned to her.  It had departed but now came back.  That can happen when Jesus speaks because Jesus is God in the flesh.  And God is uninterested in the victories death claims.  God is a God of the living.  “Child, get up.”  And she gets up and her parents feed her because Jesus tells them to do so. 
The confused crowd had cried fake tears and laughed a mocking laugh.  Now they stood mouths agape.  Crowds want a show from Jesus, but he’s no showman.  When the power of God is on full display, it leave us in awe and afraid.  We are profoundly aware of how powerless we are and how unworthy we are.  The same crowds that clamored to see more and more miracle later on in the story clamor to see Jesus nailed to a cross.  Too much God overwhelms us and we need to maintain control.  In a sense, that’s what the crucifixion was.  Different groups – the priests, the Romans, the crowds – were all aware of how powerless they were before God but instead of bowing in grateful worship and receiving the salvation they desperately needed, they tried to pry control away from Him. 
As Jairus hugged his daughter, he was thankful he made the decision to fall at Jesus feet, acknowledge his desperation, and rely completely on God’s power.  When we come to God as Jairus did, God shows us His power through compassionate acts of salvation.  God does it in God’s own way, in God’s own time.  Sometimes there will be delays and accepting that is part of living in dependence on God.  God’s ways are higher than ours, and God’s timings is more perfect than ours. 
Saying this is not submission to fatalism.  We reach to God as both Jairus and the bleeding woman did.  We beg, we grab, we reach, we pray.  And God, in his power, reaches to us in compassionate love that never runs out.  I do wonder if Jairus continued in his role as a synagogue leader after that day Jesus healed his daughter.  If he did, he was a very different man of religion.  If the crowd couldn’t tolerate his presence and the presence of his daughter, a reminder of how far they were from God, and thus ran him off, I don’t think he minded. 
I pray that this week you will be aware of your own desperation and utter weakness before God.  When you are, then I pray you will see the power of God and it will scare you to the point of silence, mouth agape, eyes big as saucers, heart beating out of your chest, and mind totally blown.  I pray that happens to you this week.  I pray we will all see our own frailty and in our profane smallness, we will then see the holiness of God and scared out of our wits.
When that happens, fall on your face before God in complete dependence, full bodied worship, and absolute surrender.  God will pour out compassion on your until you are soaked in his love because that’s what God does.  God drenches us with blessings and makes us new.


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