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Is there anything that gets our attention quicker than a child in distress? We saw that dramatically not long ago on national television. Following a rainstorm, a young boy accidentally fell into a narrow drain some 60 feet beneath the earth. The eyes of the nation were focused on that rescue effort as a host of skilled workers went into action in a race against time and rising water. Miraculously, they saved the lad's life, drilling through the earth and the pipe just at the right point to pull him out safely. A child's well-being is really everybody's business. It does indeed take a village to raise and care for our young.
It's not surprising, therefore, in our scriptural setting today to see Jesus hurrying through the crowd in response to the breathless plea of one Jairus--a prominent citizen and leader of the synagogue. He had abruptly accosted the Master in the midst of a crowd by the sea, urging him to come to the rescue of his 12-year-old daughter who was deathly ill in his home.
This was in the early stages of Jesus' public ministry, and his popularity brought crowds wherever he went. Here he was with a throng pressing in upon him. Now, as a member of the clergy, I can't help but note what a glorious opportunity that was to preach a sermon! But then comes Jairus, falling at Jesus' feet and begging him repeatedly to come and save his daughter. The Scripture says simply, "So he went with him."
The late Henri Nouwen, great Catholic teacher, minister, said in the prime of his career that he became frustrated by the many interruptions to his work. He was teaching at Notre Dame. He had a heavy agenda each day and didn't like to be disturbed. Then one day it dawned on him that his interruptions were his work. Someone has said, "Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans!" Often we find that the interruption, however, is of greater consequence than what we were doing.
This incident also speaks a poignant word about the one among the many. Jesus left the crowd to minister to a single person. When I was elected a bishop following 35 years of pastoral ministry in 1984, I met with a group of laypersons who were leaders of our denomination. They were on the committee that assigns the bishops to their geographical areas of leadership. I asked them what their advice was for a brand new bishop. The first word was the pointed statement: "Don't forget the individual!"
Jesus was never too busy to respond to the needs of individuals. His public ministry of only three short years was constantly centering on particular persons: a blind man by the side of the road, an epileptic youth brought by a distraught father, a troubled tax collector worried about his spiritual life, a widow weeping over her dead son.
Yet even our Lord, who came to save the world, could not minister to everyone. As you and I look at the needs of the world--six billion people, many of whom are perishing daily--we are overwhelmed. We want to help, but we hardly know where to begin or where to stop. The temptation is to despair, wring our hands and feel that anything we might do would be of little or no significance. Quite the contrary. There is truth in the old song, "Brighten the Corner Where You Are." Reach out to the hurt nearest and most urgent. Where your ability and the world's need intersect is where you are most needed and can do the most good.
Loren Eisely saw a man picking up star fish on a beach and throwing them back into the ocean one by one. He entered into conversation with the man, who said, "Hopefully, I can save them from dying in some shell hunter's collection." Now, it was not possible for him to retrieve them all, but he was giving a precious few another chance to live. Eisely was deeply moved by this experience, and he came to love life more dearly. He talks in his poetry about his care for the small, the vulnerable, the lost ones, the failures in life, whether they be fish or human beings. The God we have come to know and love in Jesus Christ is like the star thrower. Thomas Merton calls it "Mercy within Mercy within Mercy." Did not Jesus say, "Inasmuch as you've done it to one of the least of these, you have done it unto me"?
Jesus went hastening with Jairus to his home and was interrupted again this time not nearly so noticeably but stealthily, in fact. From behind, Jesus feels the flick of fingers on the fringe of his outer garment. He stopped and asked his disciples, "Who touched my clothes?" The disciples all but laughed and said, "You see the crowd pushing in on you and you ask who touched you?" I think they may also have added, "Besides, you've got urgent work to do for one of the leaders of the town. Let's be on with it." But Jesus would not be deterred. He looked all around to see who had touched him, and a woman apparently in her middle years came forward, fell at his feet, and told him the whole truth. She had a chronic illness, a debilitating disease, suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had been to many physicians, spent all she had and was no better. She was worse, in fact. You see, we moderns are not the first to have sought medical care with considerable frustration. She had heard about the wonderful things this itinerant rabbi from Galilee was doing, and she was determined to touch the tassel of his robe in hope of a cure. That was a superstition in that day. If one could but touch the garment of a holy person, one might be cured. And now she had experienced healing. Nobody else would even speak to her openly. She was ceremonially unclean because of her blood flow. But Jesus expressed affection to her! He called her, "Daughter," and said, "Your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease." In other words, it wasn't touching his robe, but her faith that did it.
Do you catch the wonder of this story? A poor, diseased, outcast woman, clutching her tattered garments tightly around her, slithering through the throng, frantically reaching out her hand for help and, suddenly, all the love and power of God in Christ concentrated for a brief moment in her. Mark Guy Pierce says, "In that instant she went from 'nobody to somebody to everybody.'"
Sixteen centuries ago, St. Augustine affirmed that God loves each of us as if we were the only person on earth, yet God loves all as God loves each. There's no one on earth today that God loves any more than God loves you, nor is there anyone God loves any less than God loves you. That realization certainly gives us assurance about our own well being; and, hopefully, it gives us greater concern for others.
One more thing: There is an "aha!" aspect to this narrative that ought to grab us all. Here is faith at its finest. This poor woman never gave up hope. At last, she had heard about Jesus of Nazareth and the wonderful things he was doing, the difference he was making in people's lives. She sought him out and acted on her belief. She was wrong about the robe, but she was right about reaching out to Christ in total commitment. Such wholeness as she experienced is God's gift to all who seek him in sincerity and in truth.
Let us pray.
Loving God, in your majesty you number the stars in the heavens; and in your mercy, you heal the broken hearts of earth. In Jesus you entered our human estate as a helpless infant. You have borne our mortal flesh and are acquainted with our grief. You are ever present with us to comfort and uphold. Sensitize us to the hurt of individuals all around us. Use us as instruments of your mercy in a world full of loneliness and misery. Help us to bear one another's burdens and so fulfill your long love through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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