An Awakening

Mk. 5:22-24,35b-43


“Young folks, old folks, everybody come, come to our little church and have a lot of fun. Please leave your chewing gum and erasers at the door and you’ll hear some Bible stories that you never heard before.”

Today another Bible story! Last week we had the stilling of the storm and the healing of the Gerasene Demoniac. Those two events are part of the nature and healing miracles, which Jesus performed. They convict us that in the midst of natural and mental chaos God rules. They tell us that there is order, renewal and the assurance of God’s love in the midst of our lives. Our job is to tell others about what God in Christ has done for us.

Today’s Gospel story is in the tradition of the miracle/healing narratives, and is often referred to as “The raising of Jairus’ daughter.” Jairus was a man of great learning, a leader in the synagogue. He had both knowledge and position. He also had a twelve-year-old daughter, who was on the verge of death. The mother and women moaned and groaned over the daughter, who was unresponsive. At his wits’ end, Jairus pled with Jesus to come and make his daughter well. Jesus told Jairus that his daughter was not dead but sleeping. The mourners laughed at Jesus. So He came, took the girl by the hand, and told her to get up. Behold, she woke up and got up! The mourners were astounded. Jesus told them to giver her something to eat and to keep the incident to themselves. Which, obviously, they didn’t do.

You and I can speculate as to whether the girl had a sleeping sickness or coma, but the story doesn’t really answer those questions. This is also not overtly a story about someone having been raised from the dead. It is, however, a story about the prescience of Jesus, his ability to see into a level of reality that others miss. Those of you, who know your Bible, will recognize that the story echoes the healing miracles done by the prophets Elijah and Elisha. So the story is also saying that in Jesus, God has revealed the power of the prophets, power to make change and to see more clearly what is to be and also to see into the nature of reality.

So the awakening of Jairus’ daughter is a neat story. It is also evocative and touches our all too human condition. As you know, I always have a handful of stories that parallel or play off a Bible story. I am going to tell a couple again today, because they help us “read, mark, and inwardly digest” this Bible story.

Like the women and naysayers, you and I often miss seeing into a level of reality. We are stuck on appearances and complaining, and fail to reach into the level of reality where there is creativity, hope and renewal.

Case in point: Some time ago, Faye and I came back from Old Saybrook. When we got home, Faye was alarmed. “Where is my computer?” “What computer?” “The one in the black case that I took to the beach?” “Where did you put it?” “If I knew, I wouldn’t be asking! It has all of my St Luke’s Lifeworks’ reports on it, plus all of my material for the Connecticut Writing Project and the workshops I am doing this week. I’ve searched the Caravan over and over. Go out and see if I missed it” So I went over the Caravan thoroughly. No computer. “I’ll have to get back in the car and drive to Old Saybrook and get it, because I have a meeting in three hours!” “I can go.” “No. there won’t be time. I have to go!” Wishing to spare her the trip, I went out and searched the caravan, again. There, flat on the black floor, behind the driver’s seat, was the computer. I brought it in, and Faye was on the sofa, crying from frustration. Teasing her a little, I said, “I don’t want you to go back to Old Saybrook.” Glare. “Here is your computer!” For a moment, Faye didn’t know whether to clobber me for teasing her, or to hail me as a hero. So she did neither.

The point of the story is this. You and I often move on the level of appearances, which seems to make sense and to be valid. But sometimes when we drop down to a lower level of reality, we are able to see and to find that which we so greatly need. That is what Jesus did. He saw beyond appearances that there is life, not death, at a deeper level of reality.

Second story. Joe was one of the finest men I ever knew. He was a Mainiac, not from Gerasa, but from Maine. Tall, thin, laconic and keenly intelligent, a lawyer, he was a man of position in his company and in the community. Born and bred in New England, he carried on the tradition of Emerson and the Transcendentalists, in that he was more of a deist or theist, than a red blooded Christian. He tolerated traditional Christianity, but preferred to be, at best, a lapsed Congregationalist. Joe had an adult daughter, who was married in their back yard by a justice of the peace. Joe was bemused by my becoming a priest and was respectful, but patently skeptical about “the whole religious thing.”

One Saturday morning I was having coffee with Ben, when Joe appeared at my back door. “Neighbor,” he said. “I have a favor to ask, seeing as how you are a padre and all. My daughter, she’s got the cancer and is to be operated on. Could you say a prayer for her?” “Sure, Joe. I’d be honored to.” So we held each other while I prayed. “Much obliged,” Joe said and disappeared. Ten days later Joe, my modern day Jairus, reported that the operation was successful. “They got all the cancer and she’s doing fine.” A year and a half later she had a baby girl.

Now the awakening of Jairus’ daughter and the healing of Joe’s daughter while on the one hand are comforting, on the other hand they are infuriating. We want to say, “Why wasn’t my daughter cured? Why wasn’t my husband healed?”

There is no easy answer to the pain and sincerity of those questions. But the Bible story isn’t talking about every illness or loss. <ital>It is pointing to the nature and power of Jesus and it is challenging you and me to move into that area of reality that is below appearances.</ital> It was when Jairus dropped his reliance on education, learning, and status that he was able to go to Jesus, to persist and to bring his daughter to the power of the prophets and of God in Christ. This is not to deprecate education and status; it just means that Jairus got down to basics, as a husband and a parent.

When Jesus says that the girl is not dead, but sleeping, He is foreshadowing His resurrection. He is also pointing to the promise of life after death, to the reality of individual life at a more basic level of reality than that of appearances and sickness and death.

A final story. My mother-in-law, Gladys, was 93 years old and dying at Courtland Garden Nursing Home. She had been failing markedly. At ten in the morning the floor nurse called and said, “Gladys is dying; I don’t think she will last the night.” “How is she?” “Well, she is barely breathing, there is almost no heart beat or pulse.” So I rushed over to the nursing home, where a very somber nurse greeted me. “How is Gladys?”  “I don’t think she will last until six.” Faye arrived and asked how her mother was. “Well, there is no pulse, no breathing, and no heart beat, but she is doing as well as can be expected. I don’t think she will last until noon.”  So I went in and anointed Gladys, said the prayers for the time of death and stroked her hair. Crooning I said, “Gladys, you’re going to be with Charlie and your parents, and your daughter and grand-daughter.” Then because I always teased her, I added, “I know you will miss housework, washing the blinds, scrubbing the floors, cleaning the stove.” Gladys sat bolt upright and said, “In a pig’s ear I will!” and lay back down. The nurse’ jaw dropped. Faye said, “He’s done it again.”  I turned and left.

Gladys, to all appearances, was unconscious. But at a very deep level of reality, at the subconscious, she was quite present. With Jairus’ daughter, Jesus reached to the subconscious and the deeper level of reality and pointed to life – life which is present in the here-and-now and which extends to the hereafter.

<ital>Today’s Bible story calls us to see beyond appearances, to wake up to the deeper realities in life, and amidst the chaos and sorrows of life to move away from the nay-sayers and in to those realms in which God is present with compassion and hope, love and redemption.</ital>

Likewise, as we deal with the issues which we have not only in our own lives but in society, we need to go beyond appearances and deal with the deeper realities behind the issues of society and life: food, clothing, education, health and shelter. Personally and collectively you and I are called by Jesus, <ital>to wake up, deal with and look at the deeper levels of reality, where God works and where there is always life and redemption, love and hope.

And that is what we do at the Mass this morning.<ital> Amen. –Fr. Gage