Summary: The key to faith is in Jesus. His presence with the disciples is what matters. His call is to keep trusting, to keep focusing on him rather than on outward circumstances. Don’t be afraid, just believe.
If you were here last week you may remember that I asked whether you have trouble believing that God still intervenes in the world in a miraculous way. Well, a similar question arises today. Not whether you believe that God can answer your prayers, rather do you believe that he will answer your prayers?
Do you wonder whether God will listen to you because you’re not sure if you’ve been good enough? Do you think to yourself, “I haven’t really been good enough lately to ask him that.” Or do you sometimes make deals with God and then find that you’ve broken the agreement you had so you think you’ve blown it. Well let me suggest that it all comes back in the end to what you think faith is. What is it that faith in God hangs on? Is it something in ourselves? Does God look at us and decide whether we have enough faith before answering? Or is it something else.
In our reading today we find the account of two quite different people who had faith in Jesus. But we find the account cleverly interwoven by Mark so that as we go through it we see a number of contrasts and a number of similarities.
The first person we meet is one of the synagogue rulers. Here at last is a leader of the Jews who’s willing to accept Jesus for who he is. Mind you he is in a desperate situation. Perhaps he might not have been so accepting of Jesus if he hadn’t been so desperate, but notice that there’s nothing in the passage to indicate any sort of rebuke by Jesus of his association with the other Jewish leaders who were plotting to kill him at this very moment. God sometimes uses these moments of desperation to provoke faith in those who otherwise wouldn’t have had anything to do with God. And when that happens God accepts us, no matter what our attitude of heart might have been before that point. Mind you, even then we have to trust God, just as this synagogue ruler did, even when things get tough.
Well, this man comes to Jesus and falls at his feet to beg him to come and heal his daughter who’s dying. Here’s a man whose love for his daughter is so great that he’ll even demean himself with this public display of humility before this upstart young preacher. But it isn’t just a show of humility. Rather it’s an acknowledgement of, in fact a sign of faith in, Jesus’ ability to heal. His daughter’s at the point of death, but he trusts that Jesus can pull her back from the brink.
And such is his faith that Jesus responds and goes with him.
But as they’re going along, surrounded by a great crowd of spectators, a woman worms her way in among the people and gets close enough to touch his cloak. Now this woman is the complete opposite of the synagogue ruler. In fact the contrast is almost overwhelming. While he has every quality that would make him a ‘suitable’ person for Jesus to minister to, she has few. Think about it for a moment. First of all he’s a man and she’s a woman. Jewish rabbis didn’t think much of women in those days and certainly wouldn’t have spent time on them. He was a synagogue ruler - highly respected in the community. In fact notice how we’re reminded of his position throughout this account. He’s repeatedly referred to as the Leader of the synagogue. That’s about as high as you could get in the Jewish culture. By contrast she was an outcast. The fact that she had this bleeding meant that she was unclean - not able to worship with God’s people - shunned by upright citizens - no doubt considered by many to be under the judgement of God. And she’d been this way for 12 years.
Imagine that you’d been an outcast in your own community for the past 12 years. You can almost imagine her sneaking along with head bent and a shawl pulled down over her face so people wouldn’t notice her or recognise her. And on top of that, or perhaps because of that, she was poor. All her money had been spent trying to find a cure and instead of getting better she grew worse. One can guess that the synagogue ruler on the other hand would have been fairly well off. Wealth was a sign of God’s blessing and that would have been an important part of deciding who should be made an elder in the synagogue.
So we have these two contrasting people coming to Jesus with very similar needs. She has a seemingly incurable condition. He has a daughter who’s at the point of death.