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Perhaps nothing is so fearful for people to face than disease and death. Nature can overpower us and evil can invade our world, but we feel most threatened when our own body starts to work against us and our mortality becomes painfully evident. In a world full of AIDS and cancer, images of our slow destruction assault our senses on an almost daily basis. We wonder, "Is that all there is—only a few score years and then dust?"
As Luke continues unfolding dimensions of Jesus' authority, he ends his fourfold miracle sequence with a double miracle that attacks both disease and death. Each miracle in the sequence is increasingly inward. Death, the most intimate and comprehensive opponent, is left for last. But these last miracles teach more than the extent of Jesus' authority. They also offer a lesson about response.
These miracles are audiovisuals of important truths related to Jesus' sovereignty. As important as each event is in itself, even more important is the picture involved. The overcoming of disease and death in this passage is but a foretaste of the ultimate, comprehensive overcoming of disease and death. The event points beyond itself to eternal realities, which put the limitations of this life into perspective. Such lessons are Luke's goal in reassuring his readers about Jesus (1:1-4).
The drama of this scene is virtually matchless. Jairus must have been wracked by intense frustration as events unfolded. It certainly appeared as if all circumstances were working against the synagogue leader.
To begin with, the crowds continue to pursue Jesus. Despite the disapproval of many religious leaders, some do sense that Jesus has authority to perform great and powerful acts. Jairus, a synagogue ruler, is among these. His only daughter, a twelve-year-old, is dying. Jesus responds by beginning the journey to Jairus's home. But as he walks the crowd squeezes in against him, seeking to draw near to him.
One person in the throng is particularly intent on getting to Jesus. This woman has been hemorrhaging for years, which means she has been in a perpetual state of uncleanliness according to Jewish law (Lev 15:25-31; Ezek 36:17; m. Zabim 2:3; 4:1; 5:7). She has been shut out from religious life, a social outcast. Various ancient remedies existed to relieve her condition, like a glass of wine mixed with rubber alum. Additional ingredients might be garden crocuses or onions (van der Loos 1965:511). But these attempts have failed. In despair over her loneliness and condition, she hopes that an underground approach, a surreptitious touching of Jesus, will change her fate. This is why she came up behind him. Contact with his garment, either the edge or the tassels hanging from it, may bring her instant healing. Her solution works, but it brings her more than she bargained for. She is not permitted to retain secrecy.
Jesus turns to the crowd and asks, "Who touched me?" Amazed at the question, Peter points out that many are crowded around Jesus. It is as if a current celebrity or political leader turned to a herd of reporters upon exiting a building and asked, "Who just took my picture?" Peter's reaction is most understandable, especially since no one in the crowd is claiming responsibility and he knows that getting to Jairus's house is a matter of life or death. But Jesus senses things most of us cannot sense. His timing is different from others'. He is able to deal with many realities at once. At this point he knows that someone who had come near to him had done more than get a glimpse of him. He had ministered to them. He knows that power has gone out from him.
For the woman there is no sense in trying to hide from Jesus now. It never is successful to try and hide from Jesus. Trembling, she comes forward to give her public testimony of how she has been healed. Despite the embarrassment of her past condition and the timidity of her approach to Jesus, she declares what Jesus has done for her.
In response Jesus issues a simple commendation: "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace." He makes her faith an example, timid as it was. The one with faith does not need to fear approaching Jesus and his authority. He is accessible and available. Both the woman's faith and her testimony are commended in Jesus' response. Faith trusts in God's ability to meet our needs by his power. God honors such faith.
Or does he? Consider Jairus's mood. Imagine what he must have been going through as this woman impeded Jesus from getting to his daughter and healing her. We can only speculate on what thoughts and emotions swirled through him as this woman became a roadblock to Jesus' work on his behalf. It was rather like the frustration of someone in a hurry to get to a destination who is blocked by a traffic jam. Only Jairus is not just late; he is trying to save his daughter. To make matters worse, now a man from Jairus's home shows up to announce that it is too late. Imagine it: Jesus stops to heal a woman of a nonfatal condition, and as he delays a young life is snuffed out. Where is justice?
But again Jesus responds by reminding Jairus not to jump to conclusions: "Don't be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed." Here trust means understanding that Jesus has authority even over death. Everything about this double miracle points to the need to trust God's power, presence and timing over ultimate human well-being.
Jesus travels on to the house. When he arrives, only the family, Peter, James and John are permitted to enter with him. The mourning, which was customarily public in ancient Palestine, is already in full swing (Rengstorf 1965:724-25; Stahlin 1965:844-45). Jesus attempts to reverse the mood by telling the crowd that the girl is merely asleep. Their skepticism is expressed in their laughter. Popular sentiment is that Jairus has brought a crank with strange beliefs into his home. The consensus is that death cannot be reversed. However, Jesus is not just any visitor.
Sometimes the majority is wrong. Jesus tells the child to arise. Like the only son of the widow of Nain, the daughter rises to life as her spirit returned. Immediately Jesus requests that she be given food. Amazement grips the parents. Jairus's invitation to Jesus to heal, an act of faith, had revealed that Jesus had power over death. Jesus urges silence, even though what he has done was obvious. His goal is not to become a traveling Palestinian miracle show. His ministry is not about such displays of power, but about what they represent. He knows that miracles would become the major interest, not new life and the basic issue of who it is who can heal a woman and raise a young girl. Jesus has taught a major lesson: faith means understanding that Jesus has the power to deliver life and that his timing and sovereignty can be respected. All Jairus's earlier pain and frustration have been transformed into a new perspective that weds faith with Jesus' authority. In fact, this is the lesson of all four miracles of Luke 8:22-56: God's power is absolute. Death is not the chief end of persons. Trusting and knowing God is.