What Were They Thinking? (Second Sunday after Pentecost)

Sometimes, I read Gospel stories like this and I wonder, “what were they thinking?!”  Really, what were they thinking?  Their logic makes no sense.

First, there’s this father who barges into the dinner, clearly and appropriately distraught over his daughter.  I can understand why he’d do that.  But then he says to Jesus, “my daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her and she will live.” Why would he think Jesus could raise the dead?  Before this story, Jesus has cured lots of people of lots of diseases.  He’s cast out demons.  And he’s forgiven sins.

But he’s never raised anybody from the dead.  And, spoiler alert, this is the one and only time that Jesus raises anybody from the dead in Matthew’s Gospel.  In Mark’s version of the story, the daughter is sick, but dies as Jesus is going to help her.  But as Matthew remembers the story, the daughter is already dead before the father goes for help.  Yet somehow he thinks that Jesus merely needs to lay his hand on her, and she’ll be raised from the dead.  He has no reason to think that. His logic makes no sense. What was he thinking?

And then, on the way, there’s this woman who’s been sick for 12 years.  And she says to herself, “All I gotta do is touch his cloak, and I’ll be made well!”  But why would she think that?  After all, Jesus HAD cured people of all kinds of diseases before, but never because they touched his cloak.  And, also spoiler alert, there’s nothing in the Bible that says if you touch the cloak of a holy person all your troubles will be gone.  Like the Dad, her logic makes no sense.  What was she thinking?

Honestly, I don’t know what they were thinking.  And their logic really didn’t make sense.  If it had, then everybody from here on out would simply run up and touch Jesus’ cloak.  And everyone would figure they could just ask Jesus to lay his hand on any random dead person, and they’d be raised.  But as far as we can tell from Matthew’s story, those things never happened again. And that’s because it wasn’t their logic that made things better.  It was their faith.

This is what Jesus tells the woman when he turns around and speaks to her, “your faith has made you well.”  It wasn’t the cloak of Jesus.  It wasn’t the logic of figuring out how you could tap into the power of God.  It wasn’t even the touch of the cloak or even the hand of Jesus, per se.  It was faith.

And it’s important to realize that “faith” is not believing in magic touches.  Faith is not suspending logic and believing that God will do what you really, really want as long as you want it bad enough.

Instead, “faith” is the trust that God not only can help you, but will help you.  And while I don’t know exactly what these two were thinking, it is clear that they had both heard about Jesus.  They had come to realize that Jesus was the agent of God’s help and power in the world around them.  And because of the stories of the character of Jesus and of others being helped by Jesus, they believed that Jesus not only could help them, but would help them.

And so even if their logic was flawed, they both approached Jesus with the confidence that through Jesus, God could and would help them.  They were not alone in their grief or their sickness.  And because of what they knew about Jesus, they were sure that God would not forget about them either.

That was what faith was about.  And it was because of that kind of faith – the trust that God could and would help them through Jesus – that both of these people:

  • Approached Jesus and asked for help, instead of simply staying home and wishing things were different for them… (sometimes, the difference between getting help and not getting help is that you ask!)
  • Were open to Jesus’ help, even if it had come differently then they might have expected it … (the Dad didn’t care if people thought his daughter was just sleeping; and the woman would have probably been just as content if Jesus had told her, like the man born blind, to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam instead of just touching the cloak…)
  • Became part of the story of Jesus that helped others to trust that Jesus could and would help them, too … (the stories of others had helped them to trust and believe, and now because they had faith, their stories became a source of hope and faith for others; and that’s why Matthew wrote these stories down for us…)

And that’s really what faith is about for us, too.  Faith is not about trying really hard to convince yourself that something you want is true.  And it’s not about getting the logic correct, or even suspending logic.

Instead, faith is about growing in confidence and trust that God can and will be there for you and that God will help you.  And that kind of faith requires time and nurture.  And it’s why, whenever we have a baptism, we ask parents to promise to do things like living with their children among God’s faithful people, bringing them to the Word of God and the holy supper, and nurturing them in prayer and in their own faith.

And those aren’t just things we ask of parents to give them more stuff to do!  In fact, this is how all of us can nurture faith all the time.  For like these two folks in today’s Gospel reading, faith isn’t about getting the logic right or believing some set of ideas.  Instead, the point of faith is for each of us to be able to so trust in Jesus’ willingness and ability to help us that we’re open to:

  • Asking for God’s help, instead of just hoping that things get better or trying to figure stuff out for ourselves … (that is, we don’t add to our problems by making ourselves more and more isolated by, for example, staying away from God and God’s people, or from the “Word of God” and the “holy supper”…)
  • God helping us in ways we don’t expect … (the wrong message to get from this Gospel reading is that if I just buy a lottery ticket and press it inside my Bible, Jesus will make my numbers win!  But Jesus will help me, even if it’s not according to my logic or ideas…)
  • Becoming part of the story that helps others to trust in God’s love and help … (and in the end, this is the point of asking parents and godparents and the whole congregation to support those who are baptized – it’s that each of us adds to the story that helps others to experience God’s presence as a real and living experience in our lives who can be trusted to love and help each one of us…)

For folks in the Bible, and for us, faith is not something that gives us whatever we want whenever we want it.  Instead, faith is a relationship of trust with Jesus that we should continue to grow in and nurture each day.

For it’s the relationship of faith that gives us the courage and hope to know that we’re not alone in our problems, and to seek and ask for God’s help.  It’s the relationship of faith that opens us up to seeing and living into God’s help, even when it’s not the help we expected.  And it’s the relationship of faith that makes us agents of God’s hope and healing in the lives of others, when we become part of the story that empowers others around us to trust and experience God’s presence and love.