I’m a Reader in the Church of England and have been preaching over the past 10 years at our village church in Kent.
I love bringing the Bible to life for our church family, especially stories of encounters with Jesus. My ‘philosophy of preaching’ is that there will always be deeper treasures to be mined from the Bible but the essential things should, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, be simple to understand. I’m married to Rob and we have three children, and until recently I was working as a doctor in palliative care.
The Power of Love: Life on the edge (Luke 8:40-56) by Clare Masters
If this was a television episode of Casualty, the scene would have opened with a 999 call handler: ‘Nearest unit, divert to Church Lane, paediatric emergency at the Vicarage. Twelve-year-old girl, unconscious, breathing irregular. Hello, you still there Mr Jairus? Stay on the line please, there’s an ambulance on the way to your daughter’. And we’d watch the anguished father waiting frantically at the end of his driveway, only to see the approaching blue lights being flagged down further back along the road at a bus stop - by some pale, unkempt woman who often slept in the bus shelter.
But it’s not Casualty, and there are no blue-light ambulances in first century Palestine. Jairus is a leader at the synagogue in a small Galilean town. His only daughter, the apple of his eye, just 12 years old, is critically ill - her survival on a knife-edge. As his precious girl deteriorates, Jairus blunders out of his house, gazes briefly at the synagogue next door, then hurries into town. He’s looking for a maverick travelling preacher, named Jesus, who seems to know God rather better than the religious elite do. It’s not hard to find him, surrounded by the usual large entourage. Jairus takes one shuddering glance at the crowd, wishing this wasn’t all so public, and throws himself at Jesus’ feet. ‘Come, please, my daughter, I think she’s dying, we need your help…’ ‘Yes, of course,’ responds Jesus. ‘Thank you, this way,’ gabbles Jairus, hurrying Jesus along.
In the heaving crowd, just a few pieces of humanity away from Jairus, is a woman. According to Jewish law, her ailment makes her tainted, an outcast. Any wealth she once possessed has long since been paid to unsuccessful gynaecologists (a little detail in Mark’s gospel, omitted by Dr Luke!). She’s impoverished, excluded from the community, and excluded from synagogue worship. For 12 years she’s lived on the unwanted edges of society; physically, relationally and spiritually diminished.
Have you ever been in a hall of mirrors, or a lift with mirrored walls, where you can see a reflection of your reflection in the mirror behind, and a reflection of the reflection of that reflection, and so on, with more and more reflections peeling away into infinity? Like reflections in mirrors, the two stories entwined here in Luke 8 reflect each other.
These are stories of love in action. We glimpse the far-reaching implications of the power of God’s love to heal, restore and transform.
The woman is lonely, weak and anaemic, but in faith has set her hope on a man who’s reached out in love to transform other outcasts – lepers, a paralysed man, even a chained madman. She dare not approach Jesus directly because she shouldn’t be mixing with the crowd in the first place. Hiding her face under her shawl, she creeps through the throng, gradually tiptoeing closer until, hope surging, she reaches out. She only manages to touch the edge of Jesus’ cloak, but instantly knows she’s healed. Then swiftly she retreats back into anonymity.
It’s a spine-tingling moment, all the more fascinating because it reads as if it’s an unintentional healing which catches Jesus by surprise. I’ll spare you the physics lesson, but it’s as though Jesus is supercharged with static electricity; with just the slightest touch his power ignites, pulsing into the woman like a lightning bolt.
Jesus is just a Jewish man, with splinter-toughened carpenter’s hands; yet mysteriously within his human frame is packed all the power of the creator of the cosmos. Paul’s beautiful passage in Philippians 2 reminds us that Jesus made himself nothing, became like a servant, made in human likeness – yet he was ‘in very nature God’. These same hands that had chiselled wood could unfurl a banquet for thousands from a small picnic parcel, or sweep away the scars of dreaded skin diseases. The gentlest touch of his fingertips could fire up blind retinas. With one nod of his head and gesture to draw from a giant water jar, he could supply Château Cana Special Reserve. The soles of his feet could stun the water molecules of Lake Galilee into totally un-Newtonian behaviour, and one word of rebuke from his lips could silence a catastrophic weather system or quell the madness of a disturbed spirit. And today, just a hopeful fingertip touch on the edge of his cloak has healed a hidden but debilitating disease.
Jesus isn’t going to let this woman settle for secret physical healing. This desolate woman is as much a beloved daughter of God as the precious child languishing in Jairus’ home. Jesus stops, and at the insistence of his voice, the retreating woman turns back, and falls trembling at his feet. Jairus is tugging on the edge of Jesus’ cloak too, urging him onwards – but Jesus won’t budge. Jairus glances down at the figure crouched at Jesus’ feet – just as he, Jairus, had been minutes earlier, pleading for his daughter. The slight hunch of the woman’s shoulders tells him she too is flinching under the scrutiny of the many surrounding eyes. ‘That’s my spot,’ thinks Jairus, shaking with desperation, ‘that little patch of ground at Jesus’ feet… my last thread of hope… taken by someone else’. But time has stopped. Jesus is in no hurry. There, in the presence of the very crowd who’d excluded her for 12 years, Jesus gives the woman a platform to speak her story. Then he gives her the affirmation of being called ‘Daughter’, with the declaration of complete restoration. ‘Your faith has healed you; shalom, go in peace.’ Healed physically, relationally, spiritually. No longer unclean, she’s now pure, fully part of society, able to worship in community once again. Made whole by the power of God’s love.
And then… messengers arrive from Jairus’ home, and the situation turns deadly serious. ‘It’s… too late,’ say their sadly shaking heads.
Jesus, looking at Jairus with a love that transcends time, says ‘Don’t be afraid, just believe, and she will be healed.’ In this moment of crisis, the synagogue ruler is gently being prompted by Jesus to follow the example of a woman who Jairus has been excluding from his synagogue for the entire length of his daughter’s life. ‘You knelt at my feet. She knelt at my feet. Your daughter is loved. This woman, God’s precious daughter, is loved. My power has restored this woman. My power can restore your daughter too. Don’t be afraid. Just believe.’
Will Jairus turn Jesus away, and stumble home into crushing grief, forever resentful of the wretched woman who stole his place in the queue? No, Jairus chooses to believe, and presses onwards with Jesus.
When they arrive, Jesus sweeps through the vanguard of wailing mourners into Jairus’ home. It’s a day for vaulting over all kinds of boundaries. Contact with an unclean woman was just the start. Now Jesus breaks another Jewish taboo by reaching out and deliberately touching a corpse – ‘My child, get up’ he says simply. And to the astonishment of her parents, she breathes again, and climbs to her feet. New life, like being born again. ‘I expect she’s hungry’, smiles Jesus.
Like the mirrors mentioned earlier, these intertwined stories reflect the power of God’s love shining into far-reaching places. It starts with something familiar to many: parental love for a child. In the highly patriarchal society of that time, it’s particularly moving to read how this father cherishes his only daughter. In crisis, when he feels powerless, love for his daughter propels Jairus out of the constraints of his religious cultural framework, risking the severe disapproval of his religious colleagues, and makes him seek Jesus. If we grasp nothing else from this passage, then this is an example to emulate – let our love and concern for others galvanise us to seek Jesus and bring him into whatever we’re dealing with.
But the story of the woman enlarges this principle. God’s love is not just for those we regard as the ‘in’ people, the ones we love and cherish, those who are personally important to us. The power of God’s transforming love is emphatically intended for the outsider – the lost, unlovely, misunderstood, excluded, those on the edge. The reality is that, this side of heaven, we’ll never be perfectly whole and healed; we’ll still face all kinds of difficulties and heartbreak. But there’s no area of any life that is too lost or too dark or too painful for God. He longs to mend and restore everything we bring to him. Because the ultimate expression of the power of love was demonstrated in desolate weakness on the cross, where Jesus completed the transaction which paid for our deepest healing.
These stories beckon us towards a glimpse of the future kingdom, the hope of creation renewed in perfect wholeness. Meanwhile let’s reach out in faith to the God who loves us, and reach out to those on the edge who need to know the power of that restoring love for themselves too.