Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Your Faith has Made You Well

Sorry for the delay (see last post). Let's get back to it shall we....

During dinner with Matthew and his friends, Jesus' relaxation is interrupted by the business of the Kingdom...

While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.” So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples. And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour. When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went out into all that land. (Matthew 9:18-26 NKJV)

Mark and Luke tell us that this "ruler" is the leader of the local synagogue (likely in Capernaum) named Jarius. That he also kneels before Jesus is of no small significance. It's hard for us in Western culture to fully appreciate the nuances of interaction between classes. As leader of the synagogue Jarius would be a man accustomed to other people showing him such deference; for him to kneel would be an uncharacteristic recognition of Jesus' divine authority. Of note also is his statement of faith. To this point Jesus has not performed a resurrection miracle, so Jarius' belief in the power of Jesus touch is an extrapolation - "If he can do what we've seen him do then he can also raise the dead." As has always been His habit, Jesus responds to faith.

On the way the call that interrupted Jesus relaxation is itself interrupted. Again Matthew wants us to understand that it is the faith of the individual that is key to Jesus' response. Our faith cannot heal, but it is the impetus that stirs the power of God into action. In this case the woman reaches out and touches the hem of Jesus' garment. In the New American Standard Bible (NASB) the word 'hem' is more literally translated "fringe". (Personal Note: The NASB is more literal yes, probably one of the most accurate of the modern translations. I consider it a great study aid, but for storytelling purposes it's not quite as readable as other versions.)

Some scholars rightly point out that this refers to the tzitzit, tassels that Jewish men were required to wear as a reminder of God's law by the Law of Moses. However, many incorrectly make a connection between this garment, or the prayer shawl, and God's healing power. The prayer shawl is a reminder for the individual, and a symbol of the temple but nothing in scripture gives it any more importance than that. To believe there is a connection to God's power turns the tassels into some kind of mystical talisman rather than the simple reminder they were intended by God to be. The power to heal comes from Jesus' himself and the divinity He shares with the Father. The tassels do however, show us once again that Jesus honoured the Law of Moses. He did not ignore it but rather strove to demonstrate its true meaning.

This does mean however, that there might well have been some connection in the mind of this woman. Being Jewish she would have held in her mind some kind of connection between the tzittzit and the God of Moses; it might be why she chose to touch this particular portion of Jesus clothing. But all that is beside the point; regardless of why she chose to touch the fact remains she was taking a chance. Her condition rendered her unclean according to the Law. She was an outcast, forbidden to have contact with any other human being. The act of touching Jesus would have rendered him unclean; this should have been enough to keep her from even thinking of touching him.

Here then, is the true demonstration of her faith. She not only believed that Jesus could heal her, but that the power within him was able to overcome her uncleanliness. Maybe she witnessed the healing of the leper, maybe she only heard of it. But she knew in her heart she could not contaminate the Son of David, that the spiritual power of this rabbi could only travel one way - outward. This is the faith Jesus recognizes when he turns to her and says,“Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.”

Again the faith is hers, the power is Christ's.

So it is with the ruler's daughter, but here we learn something else as well. When Jesus arrives the flutes and the wailing are in full swing. In first century Palestine flutes and professional wailers were as common as flowers and organ music is today. Gundry and Carson observe that "Even the poorest families hired at least two flute players and one female wailer for funerals" (Gundry, 175); and the noisy crowd was "made up of friends mourning, not in the hushed whispers characteristic of our Western funerals, but in loud outbursts of grief and wailing augmented by cries of hired mourners" (Carson, 231). Given this was the daughter of a synagogue "ruler" it's safe to assume the "crowd" was substantial.

This actually explains a few things. When Jesus makes the declaration that the child is only asleep, He is ridiculed by those in attendance. It seems to me that the family, following Jarius' lead, would find some hope in these words. The fact that Jesus' was ridiculed is confirmation that most of those present were professional mourners with no emotional investment in the situation. It also explains why he ushers them out of the room. I don't think it's so much that He doesn't want an audience as He doesn't need the nay-sayers looking over His shoulder.

I also find Jesus' statement that 'The girl is not dead, but sleeping,' an interesting one. Throughout his letters to the churches the apostle Paul uses this same term for those who have died while waiting for Christ to return. Is Jesus offering comfort, as the worldly might claim, reassuring the crowd that everything is alright? Or is He making comment on the nature of death? Could it be that He is, in His subtle way, pointing out that death is but a transitory thing for all of us? That one day we will all awaken from the grave to face the Lord and account for the way we have lived our lives? Personally, I think so.

Until next time.. Shalom

Image : Raising of Jairus Daughter 1871. Vasiliy Polenov

Friday, November 09, 2007

A Bright Light shines no more.

I had fully intended to write the next episode of 'Exploring the Kingdom Gospel" this week, but then something unexpected happened. Late Wednesday night a man walked out of a local bar, got into his truck and drove off. Because he was drunk, instead of taking the on-ramp to Hwy 6 south, he took the off ramp and wound up driving south in the North-bound lanes. A few minutes later he drove head on into a car, killing the driver. That driver was a wonderful young woman named Anna Graham.

I first met Anna about a year ago. Her uncle asked me to work on a production of "Death of a Salesman" that he was directing for Guelph Little Theatre. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and Anna was no small part of it. Anna, along with Anthony "Pooch" Brown, was designing the lighting for the production. You didn't have to watch her work for long to know that this woman not only knew w
hat she was doing, she enjoyed it immensely and had a real gift for creativity. You also didn't have to watch for long to see just how proud her uncle, my friend Lloyd, was of her.

And now she's gone!

As you scan the status lines of her friends on Facebook you can see the range of emotions. One person "is sad", another "is numb", one more is "trying to come to terms." The most vocal of the lot is "Really mad....and hurt...and not understanding why this life has to be so f**kin unfair!!!
" (the asterisks are mine). I know how he feels. I felt the same way when James died a year ago (I wrote about it here.). But somehow, I don't feel the same pain about Anna, not the same way.

I know part of the reason is the simple fact Anna and I weren't as close as James and I were. It's no reflection on Anna; we worked together on 'Salesman' and then went ou
r separate ways, her to her circle and me to mine. Most of the pain I feel is for her uncle Lloyd. Him I do consider a friend, and as both actor/director and human being, have a great deal of respect and admiration for the man. I can only imagine what he is going through. He's never far from my thoughts.

But the biggest difference in this case is there was some good to be found in Jame
's death. He had been sick for a long time. In many ways his passing was a relief. His suffering is over and the spiritual part of me can at least begin to wrap my head around the idea that God decided it was for the best.

But in Anna's case this logic does not apply. The hard cold fact is Anna died because someone couldn't find anything better to do with a Wednesday night than get drunk watching naked women dance on stage
. And even that might not matter except he then compounded things by making the selfish decision to drive himself home, and no one, not the bartender, not the servers, not his friends, nor the big burly guy at the door took the necessary steps to stop him. Anna is gone because human beings made selfish and wrong choices! Plain and simple!

Do I sound like I'm ranting? Of course I am. I'm angry! Because the simple fact is THIS IS WHY WE NEED GOD!!

Every day on the news and in other media I hear people trying to tell me how out
moded a concept God is. How human beings don't need some invisible being in the sky, they are quite capable of conducting their own affairs. Morality is a flexible concept and changes from day to day, what's good for you is bad for me, etc. etc. etc. Religion is no longer required because we can run our own affairs quite nicely thank you.

But the fact is, human beings, generally speaking, as a species, are no where near smart enough, wise enough, deep enough or insightful enough to be their own moral compass. When push comes to shove each of us, left to our own devices, will make a decision based not o
n the common good, or the welfare of others, but on our selfish wants and desires. The only hope for us is to have a moral guide that comes from outside of ourselves. A culture of accountability which holds us personally responsible for our actions on a level above and beyond the human trappings of law and order. This is the role religion fulfills.

And before you get started on the evils of organized religion, let me say it's not the institution of religion I'm talking about. Rather it is the ground level, day-to-day belief that God is watching, and that someday we will have to face Him one-on-one and He will say, "Explain it to me again why you were a complete and total moron" - or words to that effec
t. For thousands of years the love for and fear of God has kept human beings from acting out of selfish motives and inspired us to think twice before we act, even if the only reason is the slim possibility that if we don't behave we might find ourselves spending eternity roasting on a spit over a lava-fed barbecue. Though personally I have always suspected the lake of fire in Revelation is a metaphor for something far worse.

I know - I'm preaching. I'm taking advantage of Anna's death to get on my soapbox and call down fire and brimstone. Well, I make no apologies for it. I'm not trying to be comforting, I'm trying to stop this kind of thing from happening the only way I know how.

I know full well that if it were not for the work of God in my life, I could well be that same moron getting drunk watching naked women dance. Or possibly something much worse. This is why Jesus came to earth as a child and sacrificed himself as a man - to save us from ourselves. To give us an option other than hopelessly trying to be our own moral compass. He is God's response to our insistance on doing things our own way.

The hard cold fact is that this world is the way it is because human beings, collect
ively and individually, have said "Sorry God, we don't need you any more. We are totally capable of making our own decisions. We are the captains of our own fates. Thanks for all your help in the past - we'll take it from here." And like it or not - this fractured, faulty, unfair world we live in is the result. I don't like it either, but that's the way it is.

The good news is this; when we said that, God responded by saying, "Fine. Have it your way. But when it all falls apart, when the unfairness of it all gets to you and you just can't take it any more - please, please, PLEASE! Come crying back to Me and I promise - I WILL HELP YOU GET THROUGH IT!"

Good-bye Anna.

Shalom everyone.