Saturday, November 04, 2006

Only Believe in the Giver of Life

In chapter 8 of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus raises the dead daughter of Jairus, a synagogue official, and he also heals a woman who was suffering from a hemorrhage of 12 years’ duration. Are you amazed at this? Sometimes we get so used to hearing accounts of miracles, that we may lose our capacity for amazement at things that are utterly astounding, and even impossible by ordinary human means. The girl was dead, and the Gospel confirms it by saying everybody knew she was dead. But Jesus walked in the room and simply said, “Child, arise,” and she arose! She was alive again! Her parents, the text says with masterful understatement, were amazed, meaning they were flabbergasted, bowled over, blown away, overflowing with awestruck wonder. What about us? What are we to learn from this amazing Gospel? Is it that Jesus is divine and therefore has power to work miracles? Yes, but there is more. Is it that Jesus, by showing his power over death, is offering a prefiguration of his own resurrection and ours? Yes, but there is still more.

We have to look at the more general and underlying meaning of these and other glorious works of the Lord. The Son of God raises the dead because He Himself is the Giver of Life, as we often sing in our liturgy, and He became incarnate in order to give life to the world. On this basic principle all his miracles are based. We hear much of this in the Gospel of John: Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly; in Him was life, and the life was the light of men; whoever follows Him will have the light of life; the bread that He gives is his flesh, for the life of the world. Therefore what Jesus gives in his teaching is the word of life; what He gives in his miracles is bodily life and health; and, most profoundly, what He gives in the mystery of his death and resurrection is everlasting life and joy in the Kingdom of Heaven.

But how do we receive that life, that eternal life that begins even now as the life of grace in our souls? The key, which is emphasized in both of these miracle stories, is faith. While Jairus’ daughter was still alive he and his friends held out hope for her healing. But when the news came that she had died before Jesus could get there, they gave up. “Your daughter is dead,” said the bearers of bad tidings, “do not trouble the Teacher any more.” But death is no problem for the Giver of Life. What was Jesus’ response to this insurmountable obstacle? “Do not fear; only believe and she shall be well.” Only believe, said the Lord, and He would personally see to it that all would be well.

Yet it is hard to believe. We don’t know how Jairus responded to this word; he must have retained a shred of hope, since He still invited Jesus to come to his house, though he knew now his daughter was dead. But it is clear that the relatives and friends of the family did not believe, for they ridiculed Jesus for trying to wake the dead. How could they think all would be well when there was a corpse lying before them? But here is where one must suspend mere human logic for the logic of the Kingdom of God, which is the logic of faith in Christ. If Jesus Christ says that all shall be well if only you believe, then it darn well better be clear to you that all shall be well if only you believe!

We see the power of faith in an even more striking manner in the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage. Even though this miracle is not as astounding as the raising of the dead, it is the clearest example of what Jesus often said after He healed someone: “Your faith has made you well.” This is because Jesus didn’t deliberately intervene with an act of power. He didn’t come to her, touch her, speak the word of healing to her. He just walked by. She, by the power of her faith, was convinced that she had but to touch the hem of his garment and that healing would come to her, and her faith was rewarded abundantly.

We get a hint from some other passages of Scripture, that in the “kenosis” of Christ, his setting aside of his divine glory for the sake of becoming like us, He willed to have certain limitations in his humanity. Thus He said that even He did not know the hour of the final coming and judgment, but only the Father. So in this case, it was only after the woman touched Him with faith that He perceived that power had gone forth from Him, and He was not ashamed to acknowledge it. “Who touched me?” He said. By this time He probably already discerned who it was, and He simply wanted to honor her as an example of the power of faith. She came forth trembling, perhaps thinking that she had gone beyond her proper limits. For her flow of blood would have made her ritually unclean, and according to the law, if an unclean person touches a clean person, the clean one becomes unclean because of the contact. But with the advent of the Son of God this process is reversed: Christ does not become defiled by being touched by an unclean person. It is the unclean one that becomes clean by touching Him! The power of his holiness, love, and compassion is much greater than the power of defilement or sin. So he reassured her and said: “Go in peace.”

We can also conclude from this miracle, spontaneously accomplished without Jesus’ prior conscious awareness, that the love of Jesus was so powerful and ever-present, that it flowed from Him like light, like the river of life in the heavenly Jerusalem, to bring healing to the nations. So all someone has to do to access the power of that divine radiance of love and grace, is to approach Him with faith, touch Him with humble confidence that if only they would believe, all would be well. Jesus simply affirmed the fact of what had happened: “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

What about us, 2000 years later? The Giver of Life is not walking our streets, preaching and healing. But his Spirit is given to the Church, and the Church of the living God is meant to be the means by which the Giver of Life still works in the world. Christ still forgives sins through his Church. St Paul says several times in his letters that we are dead because of sin, and only Christ can raise us up, give us new life through forgiveness, the fruit of his sacrifice on the Cross. And the Lord still gives us the Bread from Heaven, his flesh, for the life of the world, at every Holy Eucharist. He preaches the word of life through his ministers, and He tries to reach everyone through all those baptized in his name and sealed with the Gift of his Spirit.

You might say, though, that these days the Church is crippled. Many of her ministers don’t preach the word of life, and some of them are worse sinners than most people in the world. This is true, and it is a serious problem, which needs much prayer and sacrifice to heal. But the Church is still essentially the pure and holy Bride of Christ, and even if wounded or hampered by all the influence of the world, the flesh, and the devil, she is still empowered by her heavenly Bridegroom to give life to the world, through word and sacrament, and the Lord will keep his promises. And he speaks to us this word of life from the holy Gospel today: Do not fear; only believe and all shall be well. If the Church sometimes looks as dead as the corpse of Jairus’ daughter, Christ will say to her, “Arise!”—and she will. But we have to be the ones with faith, who say: if only we can touch Him we will be healed; his mystical body will be healed. Our faith will make the Church well, for power will flow forth from the heart of Christ to make all things new, for He is the Giver of life.

We may think we know, as did the relatives of Jairus’ daughter, that the Church, and perhaps our own souls, are beyond repair, beyond hope for radical renewal, healing, and resurrection. But let us recover our capacity for amazement and remember what the Lord can do! So do not fear; only believe and all shall be well, for Christ is still among us.