Jesus spoke to the dead girl as if her ears still worked

Gabriel Max (German, 1840-1915). 'The Raising of the Daughter of Jairus,' 1881. oil on canvas. Walters Art Museum (37.170): Acquired by Henry Walters, 1906.“Talitha cumi,” he said to her. Little girl, get up. So she did. Feed her, he said to her parents. So they did.

But where’s the beginning of this story? We find it in Mark Chapter 5.

Jesus and the disciples had been across the lake (Sea of Galilee) for a while, then came back to where they started. One of the religious leaders was in the crowd waiting for them with a very sad story. His daughter was dying.

Please come, he begged Jesus. Put your hand on her, and she will be healed and live!

And so Jesus did. Now, he could have just spoken a word or two and sent the fellow home. After all, that’s what he did with the Centurian and the sick servant. No need to travel, just say something short.

But in this case Jesus did what the father asked. Before they had gone far, some men met them and said, Don’t bother, your daughter’s dead. Sad news, fear-creating news, doubt-filled news.

Jesus ignored their words. Still, he knew the father probably couldn’t just ignore their words, so he countered them with faith-filled words — “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

The father had to choose which words to accept. Since they continued on to the house, he obviously chose Jesus’ words.

When they got to the house, there was a lot of noise – the mourners had already gathered. You’re wasting your time, she’s dead, they claimed. Again Jesus countered their words. “She’s not dead, she’s asleep.”

They laughed – and Jesus put them out. It wasn’t his house, but he still put them out. He got rid of the mournful, faithless folks and once they were gone, he took the faithful disciples and parents into the girl’s room.

Jesus again did what the father asked. He put his hand on the girl and spoke to her as if she could hear him. “Talitha cumi.” Little girl, get up. And she did!

She didn’t just get up, she walked around. Knowing she’d be hungry, Jesus told them to feed her, and I’m sure they did.

What happened here? Why did Jesus agree to the requests of this man? Jesus came, he put his hand on the dead girl, she was healed and she lived, just like the father had said.

How did the head of the synagogue, a religious leader, get this faith in Jesus? Enough that he ignored the men from his own household, ignored the grieving mourners come to offer sympathy to the family?

I think about the statement Jesus made to several other people. Your faith has done it. Your faith has healed you. Your faith has healed your servant. Your faith has healed your daughter.

Your trust, reliance, assurance, confidence, your knowing-that-you-know faith. Not just in who Jesus is and what he can do, but in his will, his desires, his compassion.

This man had to have received this faith from listening to Jesus’ own words and making a firm decision from his heart, a decision to believe him. He had to reaffirm that decision on the road to the house when Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing not just any words, Jesus’ words. Despite his religious training and position in the community, this man had made the decision to believe in Jesus. Jesus recognized it, acknowledged it and honored it.

These days as in those days, that kind of faith is a rare commodity. Churches are filled with people like those mourners, those so-called friends of the family. “It’s too late,” they say. “We can’t know God’s will for sure,” they say. Their words lack confidence, boldness and power.

“I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith,” Jesus said of the Centurian. (Matthew 8:10)  We might as well say “anyone in America,” or “anyone in Florence.”

My goal is to be one of the disciples Jesus will let into the room. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Jesus asked. (Luke 18:8) Yes! Oh yes! Is my prayer.

(Originally posted March 10, 2008.)

Author of faith

StaircaseStoneI was praying before going to sleep one night, and complaining a little too. I want to see answers, not just questions, I was saying to the Lord. Not just prayer requests. Answers to all the prayers. Prayers from my heart that I really thought were put in my heart by you to start with.

After a moment or two along those lines, I apologized and asked forgiveness. Patience is not my “long suit,” although I am better at it now than in days past.

So I prayed for a few familiar things, like many similar prayers over the past months. And I prayed for myself, too, that I would have more opportunities to share Jesus and his word, his power and healing with somebody.

Are you finished? I heard the Lord say. Okay, I replied, please talk to me.

I am taking you to a new level, he said. And suddenly I saw a staircase, narrow with steep steps. It had no handrails, no bannisters, but I wasn’t afraid of climbing those stairs. It didn’t seem to go very high, but I really couldn’t see the top very well.

You will have an arm to lean on, to assist you in climbing the steps, the Lord said. You have an angel, remember him? Actually you have more than one, but you know about that one particular angel. He will offer his arm for you to hold as you ascend the stairs. You won’t feel unbalanced or have a sensation of falling, but he will be there to assist you anyway.

Wow, Lord. I thought to myself. A new level? What does that mean? But he didn’t explain it. I could almost see him smiling, sitting back with his arms crossed, waiting for me to think it out.

I looked at those stairs in my mind, recalling the fact that for many years I had a fear of heights. I wouldn’t even stand on a chair to get something off a kitchen shelf. Wouldn’t use a step-stool or a ladder. I felt unbalanced, as though I would fall, if I wasn’t standing on the ground.

I remembered the time I was riding in a car up in the mountains with my grandparents. I got down on the floorboards of the back seat, my face down and my eyes squeezed shut to avoid seeing the mountains. Just the sight of the edge of the highway made me feel as though I would fall right over, or even want to throw myself off! It was terrifying. I was maybe ten years old then.

The Lord showed me that my fear of heights wasn’t always there. As a younger child I didn’t have that fear. In the summers when Harold and I stayed with my grandparents on their farm, I could climb the chinaberry trees where we strung tobacco twine and tin cans for “telephones.” I  climbed a tall ladder to the cotton seed house, clambered to the top of the sawdust pile. None of that gave me a twinge.

One year my family went to a conference at the Blue Ridge campground where everything was up hill or down. One activity was climbing a nearby “mountain,” really a hill but to us kids it seemed pretty mountainous. I had no fear then, either. I climbed up and got good and muddy, right along with everybody else.

So what happened? Whatever caused the fear that arrived by my teenage years, I have no memory of it. The Lord said, a spirit attached itself to you. You don’t remember it but it came and from that point you had a fear of heights.

That horrible fear tormented me until the year my husband ridiculed my fear, asking how I planned to get to heaven — that hit me like a ton of bricks. I begged the Lord to deliver me from it. He did, instantly.

And last night, as I gazed at those steep stairs, there was no fear at all. I was grateful for the mini-vision, grateful for the announcement, grateful for the deliverance, grateful for the angel’s assistance, and eager to reach a higher level in the Lord’s presence.

This morning as I have been meditating about all that, several scripture passages come to mind.

Elisha was surrounded by the Syrian army, come to capture him. Elisha’s young servant was afraid but Elisha wasn’t worried. He saw the army of God surrounding him. “Fear not, they who are with us are more than they who are with them.” The servant couldn’t see God’s horses and chariots of fire until Elisha asked God to open his eyes. The mountains were full of them, God’s army right there with them, ready for battle if needed. See II Kings 6 for the whole story.

I have often felt that heaven isn’t far off, it’s all around us. Just invisible, unless God enables us to see into it as he did Elisha. The point of remembering this passage? The warriors of heaven are at hand, ready to protect, provide, do war, whatever is needed. Assist me to climb a flight of steep stairs, even.

Another scripture that came to mind is the gospel of Matthew. Matthew is the key, God told me some weeks ago. What in Matthew? I asked. Jesus used the disciples to work miracles, he said, but they didn’t recognize the significance of what they were doing. They fed the crowds. (Matthew chapters 14 and 15.) The key to miracles is obedience, the Lord said.

Jesus himself didn’t multiply loaves and fishes and then hand them out. Jesus blessed that little bit of food, then handed it to the disciples to serve the crowd. And they obeyed Jesus. Each disciple took his small supply of food and whether it seemed ridiculous to him or not, whether it would make him look foolish to the crowd or not, he obeyed. He started offering the bread and fish to hungry people. And the supply never ran out. Twelve baskets were full when they finished, maybe more than when they started. The disciples themselves did the miracle, through their obedience.

In John’s gospel (chapter 2), Jesus and the disciples attended a wedding in Cana, just a few miles from Nazareth. Jesus’ mother Mary was there, obviously a friend of that family, which may be why Jesus and the disciples were invited in the first place. Mary knew full well who Jesus was and what he was capable of. He was still under her covering, so to speak – under the protection of his physical family, his biological mother, the one who knew about his mission on earth better than anyone else.

Mary was familiar to the servants. After all, it was to her they brought news of the wine shortage. She in turn reported the news to Jesus, then gave the waiting servants a command — which was simply, “Whatever he says to you, do it.” The servants trusted Mary, thus they trusted her son. And they obeyed him. All he said to them was, fill up the pots with water. And they did, to the brim. Not partial obedience, complete obedience. Then he said, draw some out and take it to the master of the feast. And again they did. By the time it got to the master’s mouth, it was wine. The result of their obedience wasn’t just more wine (and better wine) – it was belief. The disciples believed in Jesus because of what they saw happen. Which may have been the reason for the whole event in the first place.

The key to those miracles was obedience. “Whatever he says to you, do it.” Good advice.

By the way – it wasn’t their faith that produced these miracles. The disciples didn’t expect to multiply food, they had no faith for that. The servants didn’t expect to create wine. They had no faith for that. But they were in the presence of the author and finisher of faith, whose word they obeyed.

Kingdom, more thoughts

Considering what the Jewish people expected the coming Kingdom of God to be, I just re-read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5 through 7).

Wow.

The people expected the Kingdom to make life easier. You know, throw off Roman rule. Live in a victorious, powerful, prosperous nation. No more taxes!

But here Jesus was telling them stuff that was harder than the rules and regulations they already had. Not only keep the law physically, now we have to keep it mentally?

If a Roman soldier tells us to go a mile, we have to go two?! If someone wants our coat, we have to give him our cloak too? And the law! No adultery, okay, that’s understandable. But now even looking was bad?

What struck me was how different Jesus’ description of Kingdom living was from theirs. Not easier, harder. Much harder.

So, what kept them from walking away then and there? Because they didn’t. They kept right on following Jesus. Hmmm.

Then I arrived at the account of the leper. And Peter’s mother-in-law. And all the “ALL’s and EVERY’s.” Read Matthew for yourself, and I think you’ll notice the same thing I did.

Don’t eat the seed corn

seed-cornSeed corn: don’t eat it, plant it.

Back when most people grew their own food, that didn’t have to be explained.

When I was a little girl spending my summers on my grandparents’ farm, I learned that you didn’t eat the seed corn. I helped my grandmother pick over a big basket of seed corn that was being put aside for the next year, cleaning the trash and dead bugs out of it.

A seed has life built in, no matter whether it’s corn, or butterbeans, or sunflowers. It doesn’t have to wonder what to do, it “knows” to grow. The faith for growing is entertwined in the life…

But there is something else about seeds. They need stuff. Like soil, food, water, fertilizer, and protection from pests. Today, vegetable and flower seeds are sold in stores with a coating of plant food and/or bug killer surrounding them, so you have a head start on getting a good crop. Smart idea.

Jesus told his disciples, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you can tell this mountain to be removed and be cast into the sea, and it would obey you. (See Matt. 17:20)

Now, a mustard seed is really small. And Jesus was saying they didn’t have even that miniscule amount of faith.

They could have, though. It was offered to them as a gift when Jesus said, “Have the faith of God.” It took Jesus making a gift of it to get it back then, and it still does. That’s how we get saved, born again, in the first place (Eph. 2:8).

And that seed of faith Jesus gives us contains life, just as seed corn contains life.

But some people leave it like that, tiny, encapsulated and dormant, and then they wonder why no mountain ever moves for them.

Mark 4:14-20 explains part of it. Seeds have to be nurtured and cultivated. No self-respecting farmer would plant corn in an uncultivated field full of rocks and briars.

Seeds have to be planted in good soil, soil deep enough to allow for roots to get a good start. And weeds need to be weeded, rocks removed, and critters prevented from getting in.

When my children were small we lived on a mini-farm outside of town, and one summer we planted lots of field peas and corn at a distance from the house. When it was time to pick them, we discovered the raccoons had taken a bite – just one bite – out of every ear of corn. And the deer had made a good meal out of the field peas! The critters won that round and we learned a good lesson. Electric fencing solved that problem the next year.

II Peter 1:5-8 continues the explanation. Faith seeds also need to be fed, watered, and fertilized with virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, kindness and love.

Well, all that takes work. And you have to deal with “critters” like fear and doubt, fatigue or depression, and ordinary every-day distractions from a lot of different sources.

Faith has all the life it needs built right in, just like a seed of corn or field peas. And the nature of life is to grow, mature, and eventually replicate itself.

It takes work to get to that place, but the one who gave us the faith in the first place is still present to instruct us and help us grow it, if we’re willing to do the work.

The Apostle Paul commended the church of the Thessalonians, because “your faith groweth exceedingly…” (II Thess. 1:3)

I would love to receive that compliment some day, wouldn’t you?

Thy will _________________ be done

“The Lord’s Prayer” from Matthew is so familiar that we usually use those verses as a prayer, rather than as a model for prayer.

The disciples had asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and he gave them those phrases as a learning tool. It occurs to me that if we really learn the principles of those few lines, we’d pray “Thy will ____________________ (insert specific request here) be done on earth…” and we’d actually insert specific requests.

We’d know what Father God wanted to do on earth because we had sought his will first, conversed with him, listened to his voice, and then prayed that, allowing him to go to work to fulfill his will.

Suppose God wants to end the floods in the midwest or the forest fires in California? We’d insert “end the floods in the midwest” or “end the forest fires in California” as a specific request. Amid the praise and the requests for personal provision, we’d pray for him to carry out his desires in specific situations by praying his specific will.

Dead people don’t praise God, the Bible says. Saving bodies is sometimes necessary before saving souls can be done. So if floods and fires threaten the lives of people, let’s don’t assume God wants to drown or burn everyone in their paths. Insurance companies call those events “acts of God,” but mercy is truly an act of God! Jesus fed the 5,000 as well as preached to them, after all. He knew growling stomachs interfere with listening ears.

I’d like to recite the Lord’s Prayer in a new way, pausing to fill in the blank: “Thy will ________________________ be done on earth…” That will take more time and work, of course. But the results of the seeking, the finding and the praying of God’s will no doubt will be worth it.