[May 17, 2009] Today we consider two entwined stories in Luke 8:40-56. These are part of a group of four miracle stories (8:22-56) that Luke inserted between parables about the Word—and Luke has been showing us both the power of the Word and the need for us to heed it—and the sending of the Twelve with the Word—a miniature of the mission (“apostolate”) of the church. These are all set within a larger section (7:1—9:36) having to do with showing us who Jesus is.
The four miracle stories in chapter 8 demonstrate the power of Jesus’ Word: He stills the storm, cures the man with the legion of demons, and raises a dead girl to life; but they also demonstrate that the basis of this power is who He is. For the sick woman is healed without a Word, by merely touching the fringe of His garment. The fringe has a special significance. Numbers 15:38-39 says, “Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to make for themselves fringes on the borders of their garments throughout their generations and to put on the fringe of each border a cord of blue. And it shall be a fringe for you so that when you see it you will remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, so that you do not seek after your own heart and your own eyes.” The blue signifies what is heavenly (as in the Lord’s Prayer: “as in heaven, so on earth”), in this case, the government of heaven. The fringe on the border of Jesus’ garment signifies His obedience to God and His being under the rule of heaven: His faithfulness to God when all others have failed. This is what the woman touched, and that which healed her.
They demonstrate then the power of Jesus’ Person, which comes to us by means of the Word and our faith, but they also demonstrate the kind of Person our Savior is. He takes care of the frightened disciples in the boat; He heals a miserable man who was insane with demons, whom everyone had abandoned; He heals an isolated woman who was perpetually unclean, without a cure; and He raises the synagogue president’s only daughter who had died. These four cases demonstrate the Lord’s care and compassion for us in the face of hopelessness. The word “compassion” speaks of the feeling of a mother for her child. That is what Jesus demonstrates in each of these cases. In the face of hopelessness, however, He does not just feel compassion—He exercises the power of resurrection. Resurrection is the power of eternal life, life that overcomes death. Jesus does not just have this power in Himself. This power is communicated by His Word. As He raises Jairus’ only daughter, earlier He raised the only son of a heart-broken widow.
The Word We Hear
Go ahead and make the connection to the Word of the Gospel that we hear today, for you are meant to. After Jesus ascended into heaven, He continues to be present through the power of His Word. Luke shows us this in the Acts of the Apostles, the continuation of his gospel. The Word that we hear communicates the compassion that He feels towards us and the power of His Person, and it imparts to us the power of eternal life, of resurrection, when we face the hopelessness of our situation under the condition of judgment that we all share. Like then, we now also need to pay it heed: exercise faith and obedience in response to it.
So these four stories are really an introduction to the mission of the church in Acts and in our own day, illustrated in miniature by the sending of the Twelve in Luke 9:1-6. As cases, they illustrate these aspects of the Word that goes forth in our own proclamation. The factuality of these stories is demonstrated by their eyewitness character. These stories are also in the Gospel according to Matthew, but they are shorter. Luke had Matthew’s gospel in front of him when he wrote, but he also had spoken to some of the eyewitnesses—including Jairus—and so he could flesh out the stories with more details.
Nevertheless, these four stories are also symbolic of the entire mission of the church. This kind of allegorizing was common in Matthew, less so in Luke, but we still see it. We saw Luke utilizing this in chapter 7, when Jesus healed the God-fearing centurion’s slave from the distance, with only a Word, on account of the centurion’s faith. That story represented the Gospel going out to the Gentiles. The following story was about a widow who lost her only son, whom Jesus raised. The prophets compared Israel in exile, under God’s historic judgment, to a widow. After the time of the Gentiles, God will restore to Israel her only Son, thus, in a way raising Israel from the dead.
Here, in chapter 8, we have four stories that function in a similar way. The crossing of the sea speaks of the church’s mission among the Gentiles, and the casting out of the demons represents the Gospel’s power over the idolatrous powers of the Gentile world. Today we have two entwined stories that suggest God’s faithfulness to Israel. Jairus is the president of the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus had cast out a demon earlier. He pleads for his twelve year-old daughter, symbolizing the people of Israel. In Romans 9:1-5 Paul says, “I have great grief and unceasing pain in my heart … for my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” At the time Jairus’ daughter was born, a woman developed a hemorrhage, a continual loss of life (blood) that no doctor could heal. She recognizes Jesus as the faithful and true Israelite, puts her faith in Him, and is healed. She represents the remnant of the Jews who believe in Jesus now. When Jesus comes to Jairus’ house, the girl is dead—as dead as the bones in the valley that Ezekiel saw in his vision. But the coming of Jesus—for us, His Second Advent—and His Word of life, raises the girl and she is given food to eat. Eating is always significant for Luke. It is strongly associated in Deuteronomy with God fulfilling His promises to Israel. This resurrection of Israel is not the fruit of the present-day Zionist movement. Israel does not bring it about by its own strength. It waits for the coming of the Messiah.
As significant as these allegories are, the stories speak directly to our hearts of Jesus’ love for us. Jesus had found a home in Capernaum. Jesus preached in the synagogue there, and so was welcomed by Jairus, the president of the synagogue. This is the same synagogue that was built by the Roman centurion whose slave Jesus healed. Peter’s home was literally across the street, and it seems as though Jesus either lived with him or had an apartment in the same courtyard. We saw in 4:40 and 6:19 how people brought their sick to Jesus and He healed them all. Now Jairus’ daughter is dying. Jesus at once moves to heal her.
We wonder why Jesus does not always heal our diseases when we pray. We need to understand that Jesus’ presence in Israel was a sign of the coming kingdom. He healed people to foreshadow the age to come. The kingdom of the heavens had drawn near in His Person, as both He and John the Baptist proclaimed. It was a sign, therefore, and not a permanent feature. Healings continued to take place in the book of Acts and in the epistles (see Galatians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 12:12; and Romans 15:19), but not with the same frequency (“all”). They were also signs, a foretaste of the age to come, but no longer do we read that Jesus healed all or everyone or each one. Rather, we read that people frequently had to endure sickness and some were sick close to death (Philippians 2:26-27). Even Paul needed a doctor (probably Luke—Galatians 4:13-14; Colossians 4:14) when he was in Galatia. Jairus’ daughter, like Lazarus, was allowed to die. The same thing happens among us. Sometimes God will miraculously heal us, but oftentimes we have to endure sickness and sometimes die.
The woman who comes to Jesus in the crowd had a flow of blood. A flow of blood made a woman unclean and everything the woman touched became unclean until the evening (Leviticus 15:25-27). This practically isolated the woman for twelve years. Not only so, but she had no health insurance and had spent her entire livelihood on doctors, without any relief. When she came to Jesus, it was with a sense of shame, because she had no “right” to be touching people in the crowd. She probably hid her face. She could only imagine how people would react if they found out. In any case, in the midst of a crowd “crushing” Jesus, she had to stoop almost to the ground to touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment.
The fringe of Jesus’ garment was symbolic of His faithfulness to the Torah, His being under the government of heaven, and of His holiness (Numbers 15:40). Because she recognized these qualities about Him, we can see that it was her faith in God that motivated her to touch Him. By touching Him, she put herself at God’s mercy. To her surprise, she was instantly completely healed.
Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me? Someone touched Me.” Peter was surprised at this statement. “Master, the crowds are pressing and crushing You.” Many people love Jesus, flock to Him, call themselves Christians, and boast of great things (Matthew 7:22). Jesus was and still is quite popular. Hardly nowadays, but sometimes it seems as though the crowd is crushing Him. But, “Who is the one who touched Me?” To touch Jesus apparently is different than pressing against Him. Obviously there are two kinds of “touch.” Only this woman, unknown to everyone else, actually touched Him in any way that mattered. Her touch was the touch of faith; not because she had confidence in herself or had positive thoughts (though these things do not hurt), but because she recognized who Jesus is, and reached out to Him. She “saw,” and acted on what she perceived. Nothing happened until she took a big risk. This is what Jesus is looking for from us. Are we willing to risk something for Him. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
No sooner than this wonderful thing happened, that terrible news arrived. Jairus’ daughter has just died. “Do not trouble the Teacher any longer.” The other situation has become hopeless. What frightens us so much about death is that it is so final. Yet Jesus says, “Do not be afraid—only believe, and she will be healed.” For Jesus, death is like sleep; she can be awakened. This makes no sense to us. But this is our clue as to the kind of life and power at work in Jesus. It is life that overcomes death; it has a power that death cannot stand up to. Ultimately, our faith in Jesus enables us to overcome the power of death. We are not talking about some kind of afterlife, a continuation of our soul in some sort of immortality, on an ethereal plane of semi-existence. We are talking about the overcoming of death. It is the ultimate affirmation of creation, of life in a community of persons, in embodied created existence. This is the power of the Gospel, of the Word that embodies Jesus to our spirit and imparts life to our soul. It will also give life to our body.