Do Not Fear, Only Believe

Weekly Lectionary is a series in which I look at and reflect on one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. This week: the gospel passage of Mark 5:21-43 in which a woman is healed by touching Jesus and he raises a girl from the dead.

There is presently a lot of hand-wringing, anxiety, jubilation, and celebration going on. Two landmark Supreme Court decisions will do that (parenthetical aside that will undoubtedly upset some people: I'm pleased they ruled the way they did but that's a story for another time). We're also still grappling with the tragedy in Charleston last week. Today is the funeral for State Sen. Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel AME. As a country, we've been put through the emotional wringer this last week and a half.

Last week's gospel passage featured Jesus shouting down the storm and the disciples bewildered at the wild power they saw emanate from their teacher. I think last week was a good time to see Jesus rage at the storm. It was a reminder that God is far bigger than these problems that storm our horizons.

This week we see Jesus just as powerful but that power is funneled through compassion. There was a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. She had spent all that she had to get better. This is conjecture on my part (meaning I don't have any commentaries to consult as I write this in spurts at the waterpark), but I imagine that such an illness would be seen as shameful. Yet despite the aid of physicians, despite the time, she only grew worse. Jesus was a bit of a gambit for her. Actually it was more than a gambit, because she seemed to believe that merely touching him would do what twelve years, all of her money, and doctors could not.

You have to wonder if her heart sank when Jesus asked who touched her. She knew that she had been healed but was she worried that wholeness could be taken from her just easily as it had been given? Yet the woman admitted that she was the one who had touched the teacher. Then he said, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease."

The affection and power in those words is staggering. She was commended for her faith, which likely ran headlong against over a decade's worth of people questioning her faith. And she was told that she could go in peace, in wholeness, and in new life.

Yet that is the middle of the story side. The bookends are a tale of a young girl dying and a desperate father named Jairus. He comes to beg Jesus to heal his daughter and the teacher goes. On the journey the woman touches him, which I like because it suggests that healing is something that often happens along the way. Yet before Jesus and Jairus can get to the girl, someone comes and informs them that she has died. Don't bother the teacher anymore, the messenger says, there is nothing he can do.

Then Jesus says something that makes hope spring up: Do not fear, only believe. My God, I love that. I think those words echo throughout the history of the faith and to every person born. Do not fear, only believe. If there are cruel men who hate: do not fear, only believe. If you are seen as less than human: do not fear, only believe. If the world changes so fast that you do not know how to react: do not fear, only believe.

Jesus went to the girl's house and said, "Little girl, get up!" And she, a girl whose life of twelve years equaled the span of the healed woman's disease, got up. She did not stay dead, she lived. Resurrection and new life won the day as it always does with God in the end.

Wherever you find yourself, do not fear. Do nothing in anger or hatred. Do not paint people on the other side as dehumanized caricatures. Do not assume you know everything that the other person is about. Do not fear the ways in which the world may storm and rage. Only believe. It is not simply a mental assent. It is a radical trust. It is living life leaning in the direction of the God who heals, who loves, who has compassion, and who ultimately makes all things right.

Whenever I am uncertain about my faith, whether I just should chunk the whole thing, I am reminded of these moments with Jesus. These moments where I see God's powerful compassion and grace. I love these moments. I am grateful for them. My tired soul needs them. Because there are times when I fear. I fear my mistakes and I fear what people will think of me. Fear can sometimes bury me deep. And then belief comes in like a gust of fresh air. It is grace.

So wherever you are and whatever state you are in: do not fear, only believe. May Christians who disagree about these issues, disagree with grace and seeking understanding. May each side not let fear of the other pull them under, but may they believe in the God above our myriad of differences. Do not fear, only believe.


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