Jonah was a prophet living in Israel around 700 AD. God told him to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to the people. Nineveh was the capitol of an empire and that empire was mistreating the Israelites. Nineveh was the center of an evil empire, from Jonah’s perspective. It was also a place with immense power.
Jonah didn’t want to go. He didn’t want the people in Nineveh to repent. He wanted God to destroy them. He didn’t want to be at risk of getting killed for his message. So he got on a boat and sailed as far away from Nineveh as he could.
God sent a great storm, and the people on the boat thought that they were all going to die. Then Jonah told them that he was the one who caused the storm by disobeying God. Jonah told the people that if they threw him overboard the storm would stop.
Jonah thought he was going to drown; that God was punishing him. He faced the consequences of his actions. But when he was struggling to keep afloat in the stormy water, and when he thought he would drown, a whale came and swallowed him. And he stayed alive inside the whale for 3 days.
When we make wrong choices, the consequences begin to become more than we can manage. But this is not a punishment from God.
Sometimes it is just the broken, fallen world we live in that gives us more than we feel we can bear. It is tempting to impose the narrative that “God is punishing me” because maybe then I can bargain with God and buy back my freedom. In that mindset the goal of worship is to get what I want from God. God becomes a kind of Santa Claus figure, the only role my personal faith plays, in this model, is to get from the naughty list to the nice list.
But the goal of true worship is to become one with Jesus Christ. Not to get God to do something.
When our trials and challenges become overwhelming it is common for our only focus to be on the problems, not on the possibilities.
I don’t have money. How do I get more money? I am suffering. How do I find relief? Something unfair is happening to me. How do I get justice?
To be sure, we need to have money, we need to relieve our pain and we need justice. But even when you get those things, then there is another question you need to consider: Who is the person who gets the money? What kind of person is she when she gets it? What kind of person are you going to be when you get out of your current predicament, whatever it is?
The person who wants to control God through bartering and observance of rules is actually disinterested in God, and has no relationship with God. The person who only focuses on solving problems loses any sense of identity.
Who am I in the midst of my challenges?
Let’s read from today’s gospel:
At that time, there came to Jesus a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue; and falling at Jesus’ feet he besought him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
The rulers of the synagogue were often the ones who did NOT like Jesus, and did NOT like his miracles.
Luke 6: man with a withered hand healed on the Sabbath: the religious leaders did not like it.
Luke 7: a woman who was a sinner washed Jesus feet with her tears, but the Pharisees were indignant that he let her touch him.
We’re going to hear about touching Jesus in a minute. But this man, Jairus, was in a place of desperation. His desperation brought him to Jesus.
Now the story gets interrupted as Jesus is going to Jairus’ house:
As Jesus went, the people pressed round him. And a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years and had spent all her money on physicians and could not be healed by anyone,
Weakness and helplessness caused her to be in a state of desperation when Jesus came. She was someone who was used to having enough money for doctors. But when the money ran out, the person who, perhaps would not have come to Jesus otherwise, now came to Jesus.
came up behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?”
Under the Jewish laws of purity, this woman was not actually allowed to touch people because of her illness.
She broke the rules to be healed.
When all the people denied it, Peter and those who were with him said, “Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!” But Jesus said, “Some one touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me.”
And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, 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. And Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
This was a woman who was used to hiding.
Now she saw that she was not hidden anymore. She was someone who was used to having the power and the privilege to make her problems go away. But now she is brought face to face with a few things:
She was brought face to face with her sickness (no one in the crowd knew that she had been sick otherwise but now they knew). She was brought face to face with her estrangement from society by all the people who new understood that she was ritually unclean. She was brought face to face with her desperation and weakness that were so immense that she was willing to take such a big risk to find healing. She was brought face to face with her belief that Jesus could heal her. Jesus wanted her to reflect and internalize these insights.
“Faith has made you well,” he said. In other words, faith caused you to go do something about it and that made you well.
Jesus does not say faith is some kind of a magic ticket to make God do what you want. When Jesus says, “faith has made you well,” he means – take a moment and think about how utterly convinced you were of my power, that you were willing to go this far to find me! Don’t forget that you were that convinced that I am the Son of God. Because that belief, and the lifestyle it leads to, are the only way to actually be saved. Don’t set aside that faith now that you have what you came for.
While he was still speaking, a man from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she shall be well.”
So this man is not only desperate but now bereaved and his soul is crushed. He was too late.
And at this moment Jesus is asking him to believe. Believe what? Again, faith is not a magic ticket that makes God do what we want.
Jesus was not asking this man to magically convince himself of an idea that could not be believed. Jesus was asking this man to take an honest look at his own belief in Jesus, the belief that caused the man to come to Jesus in the first place, and to realize that he not only believed that Jesus could heal, Jairus also believes, if he would only realize it, he believes that Jesus can raise someone from the dead. Deep down inside, Jairus knows that Jesus is the Son of God.
Jesus was causing Jairus to really truly understand the extent of his own faith, knowing that he was capable of so much more.
The story continues:
And when Jesus came to the house, he permitted no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. And all were weeping and bewailing her; but he said, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.
Here “laughing” does not mean “ha ha ha,” it means that they rolled their eyes and shook their heads and thought Jesus was in denial. They thought he was ridiculous.
But Jesus, taking her by the hand, called saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned
By the way, “her spirit returned,” does not mean that there was this ghost wafting up into the air and then it came back down.
Spirits are not like the cartoons where when someone dies a little angel in the shape of the person, with wings and a halo, starts to float up into the sky.
The Spirit is not a THING that came back. She started breathing again. Spirit means breath or wind. Her breath came back and she started breathing again. It’s important to point out that as Orthodox Christians we do not believe in ghosts and spirits of people floating around in the ether.
Her spirit returned, and she got up at once; and Jesus directed that something should be given her to eat. And her parents were amazed; but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.
Why is Jesus so secretive? He doesn’t let anyone into the room with him except three disciples and the parents. And now he says they should not tell anyone about the miracle. Why?
I think Jesus knew that they would be persecuted if they told everyone.
I think Jesus didn’t want them to suffer unnecessarily before they were ready.
Maybe they needed to grow in the faith first, and become part of the post-resurrection church community first, and then they would be ready to suffer for their faith. I don’t know for sure, but that’s my theory.
I think also Jesus wanted his teaching about how to be saved to be the primary thing people knew about him,
not just that he could do miracles. He wanted people to hear his message.
So let’s sum up the stories from the gospel today:
The woman who was bleeding was brought – by her desperation – to seek Jesus. And Jesus asked her to think about her situation, to realize how much she was suffering,
to realize how ready she was, in the midst of her desperation, to trust Jesus. Jesus wanted her to be strengthened in her faith, and he used her desperation as a context in which to meet her.
Then Jesus used the desperation of Jairus to do the same thing. Jairus thought that his daughter has just died,
and Jesus asks Jairus, “what made you come to me? Surely you came to me because you believed that I have something you need. Maybe you would not have figured that out without something so tragic happening to you.
Now, in the moment of desperation, that faith in me is the only thing you have, and I want you to hold on to it.
I want to be sure you will not lose the precious gift you have been given.”
Today we also read from 2nd Corinthians. Paul writes:
To keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
It is a great gift to realize how much we need Jesus. Because then we are motivated enough to turn to him wholeheartedly and sincerely. When we realize that we are weak, we rely on Jesus. We accept the tools he has given us for our salvation so much more readily.
He has given us the tools of self-denial and repentance. He has given us the tools of confession, of asking for forgiveness, the tools of practicing virtue and righteousness.
He has given us services and service. He has given us his Spirit, the prayers of the Church, the bible, and our calling to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters.
Jesus has given us these tools, and only those who know that Jesus is their only hope truly embrace these tools in order to find Jesus.
Now at the beginning we were telling a story about Jonah. Remember Jonah got swallowed by the whale just as he thought he was going to die.
Listen to what Jonah says from the belly of the whale:
Listen to what Jonah says from the belly of the whale:
“In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
In my soul’s distress I called for help,
and you listened to me.
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, LORD my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’ ”
When Jonah is in the belly of the whale, he says that the idolaters have turned away from God’s love for them.
In the storm and the inside the whale Jonah discovers God’s love. He discovers gratitude. He says he will sacrifice with shouts of grateful praise. He says that salvation comes from the Lord.
Jonah went and preached to Nineveh and they repented. And God did not destroy them, just like he did not destroy Jonah who repented. May we also find the love of God in the midst of our struggles, and trust in him all the days of our life.