Faith is a mysterious thing.
We sing about it every Sunday. It sounds good.
But here’s the thing: until real challenges or difficulties hit us, we don’t know if we really have faith or not.
When our lives are nicely put together, or when things are going well, there’s no need for faith.
The writer of Hebrews states:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)
If the things you can see are all good, why believe something you CAN’T see?
But when real difficulties hit us;
when we are blindsided by an unexpected tragedy or a major setback;
that is when we know whether we really have faith or not.
At those moments, some people somehow seem able to persevere, keep carrying on and even smile through difficult experiences, while others crumble and fall into despair.
The woman in today’s story had no reason to have faith.
Everything she could see was a dead end.
For 12 years, she suffered and endured so much
She lost all her money
Her condition was no better after all these years and only getting worse
Not only that, socially she would have been extremely isolated, not being able to go anywhere in public, nor being able to tell people about what was afflicting her
There was no visible reason for her to have faith that things would get better.
But somehow she pressed on. She didn’t wait for Jesus to come to her, she went to him!
What made her keep pressing on?
I realize that when we’ve hit a dead end;
When hope seems lost;
When there is really no light at the end of the tunnel;
Faith is not something we create
Rather, faith is a gift.
When circumstances are so bleak, there’s nothing in those circumstances with which we can manufacture faith.
Faith is a gift that somehow enables us to keep striving, straining and waiting patiently despite the bleak circumstances that are visible and real.
At that moment we don’t even know that it’s faith that keeps us going on.
It is often only later on that we realize it was faith.
This gift of faith is what enabled the woman to keep pressing on and eventually reach out to Jesus.
At our retreat this past weekend, we were blessed by the wonderful and powerful testimony of Bob and Irene.
We heard all about their journey that began with Irene’s bleeding cavernoma in her brain.
They shared about the difficulties, uncertainties and challenges they faced and still face.
They shared the devastation at finding out that things would never be as they used to be.
They don’t know when, or if, Irene will be able to walk again
But they also shared the mysterious faith that somehow kept them going.
Although circumstances have been difficult, and they themselves often don’t understand why it is they’re going through what they’re going through, they nonetheless have been given the gift of faith that keeps them pressing on.
Why some people have it in these circumstances, while others do not, is a great mystery.
What I realize is that whether we have faith is not really in our control.
Faith is truly a gift given by God, not something we create out of our own resources.
But if faith is not in our own control, then is it just the luck of the draw as to whether I have it or not? Do I receive it by random chance?
As I reflected on this passage as a whole, I realized something: this passage is not only nor mainly about the woman.
If the passage was only about her, we might admire her faith, but could we really relate to that?
Yes, faith is a gift, but how many of us could really relate to that kind of faith?
But I believe this passage is actually more about Jairus, the father of the sick girl.
The story of the woman comes right in the middle of the story of Jairus.
Mark often does this – sandwiches a story within a story. And there’s often a message he’s trying to convey.
Jairus was a leader of the synagogue.
This meant that he was an upstanding man who was seen as faithful to the law.
He was respected by his peers and his community.
Life was probably pretty good until his daughter became gravely ill.
His world had crumbled. Everything he thought as important probably crumbled in light of this devastating situation. This leads him to desperately ask Jesus to come and save his daughter.
But his desperate plea to Jesus seems to have been for nothing when his people come to say that his daughter has died.
At this point, Jesus says to Jairus: “Do not fear, only believe”!
The issue, and the suspense in this plot, then, is: will Jairus have faith?
On the face of it, it’s game over. His daughter is dead. What is there to believe?
In almost any circumstance, I think he would have folded.
“My daughter is dead. Thanks Jesus, but let me go home to mourn and grieve.
Really, what can be done now?”
This isn’t any ordinary circumstance. Jairus has just witnessed something.
This is what he saw: (5:33)
“But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.”
In other words, in front of Jesus and the whole crowd, she gave her testimony!
She gave an account of all that she had been through: the hardships, her isolation, her despair, her many dark moments, yet a mysterious will that kept her going, and a crazy and illogical faith that if she somehow reached out and touched Jesus’ cloak, that she would be healed, and how indeed it had been so!
Jesus’ response to this testimony of faith was simply: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (5:34)
What a testimony! What an experience it must have been to witness this account!
This testimony did something to Jairus.
After Jesus’ command of “Do not fear, only believe”, we don’t hear any response from Jairus.
We do hear about the people around him
Those who told him not to trouble the teacher any longer
Those at his house who were weeping and wailing loudly and causing a commotion
Who then laughed when Jesus said she was only asleep
But we hear nothing about Jairus
I imagine he probably had many different thoughts going on
I’m sure he was shocked, stricken with grief, and confused by what Jesus had said
I’m sure he had doubts about what Jesus was doing
But what we do know is that he allowed Jesus to lead and do his thing
He simply followed Jesus’ lead
I believe that at this point he too received the gift of faith!
Not a faith free of doubts, but a faith that trusted nonetheless
Where did this faith come from?
I believe that it came from the woman’s testimony
The gift of faith that the woman received helped her carry on with her own struggle
But her faith also became a gift of faith for Jairus, to help him in his own struggle to cope with the news and believe and trust Jesus
We see here a deep interconnectedness of faith, where one’s own faith deeply affects the faith of another
At the retreat, we learned about spiritual gifts
In particular, we learned 2 Greek words used in the New Testament for gifts: charismata and pneumatika
Charismata are gifts given to individuals
They are innate talents or abilities that you are born with
So some people are gifted in music, others in serving, some in speaking, etc.
Our own talents belong to us and can be used solely for our own benefit or for the benefit of others
Pneumatika are gifts of the Holy Spirit
They are gifts of the Spirit that don’t belong to any one individual, they are possessions of the Holy Spirit
These gifts are manifested through individuals at particular moments
The purpose of these gifts is to build up the community of believers
Bob began his testimony by saying public speaking is not his gift
And maybe you’re right, Bob – maybe public speaking is not your charismata, your innate talent or ability
But Bob and Irene: your testimony of faith became God’s spiritual gift for this community
Through your honest and raw telling of your struggles and challenges, many of us received the gift of faith through your testimony to find strength for our own challenges and struggles
For that, we thank you, and we thank God
The good news about this gift is that it is not randomly given. The gift of faith is available for all of us in the community of faith.
When Jesus left the earth, he promised to send his Holy Spirit
That Spirit moved among his believers to create the Church, the body of Christ
The Church is God’s gift to us
We are just normal people who face the same struggles, challenges and hardships in life just like anyone else
We are also flawed and broken just like anyone else in this world
But we are people who cling to a belief – sometimes desperately, often foolishly – that God looks out for us
But this foolishness of faith becomes our strength for life
In the community of faith, our struggles to hang on, to keep going on, become our testimony of faith
We become testimonies of faith for one another
And so in the Church, we receive the gift of faith through one another
God gave us a gift of faith through Bob and Irene’s testimony, but they also shared how they were able to find strength and faith from this community. Bob said that he saw God in us.
In the community of faith, there are times when we are testimonies of faith for others, and times when we draw on others’ testimonies for strength
That’s what it means to be a community of faith – sometimes I need you, sometimes you need me – and we are all there for each other
What a blessing this is, so different from a world that preaches self-reliance, self-sufficiency, not depending on anyone else but me. What a myth and fallacy that is.
But what gifts God has given to us!
The gift of faith within the gift of community
Our testimony of faith – our account of how we persevered and waited through our challenging moments – becomes good news for others
Bob shared a letter that he wrote to Irene when she had to remain all alone in the hospital, not knowing what would lie ahead but knowing that everything was now different
He titled it “Banana Bread”, because Irene has a gift for making amazing banana bread
At the retreat, our sister Kris was reading from 1 Corinthians and she accidentally pronounced it as 1 Koreans
Well, maybe this letter can be called 1 Koreans, because it’s a profoundly theological letter that we can draw strength from
Bob and Irene graciously allowed their full testimony, including the letter, to be posted on our website
I encourage you to all go there, under the “News and Views” section, read it and comment on it to share how it has affected or touched you
This letter is their testimony, their account of their journey of faith, and I believe this is good news for us
He begins the letter by talking about the banana – it starts green, then gets yellow and ripe, which is when everyone loves it, but then becomes bruised and then thrown into the green bin
But instead of getting thrown into the green bin, he offers good news
I’ll read just a portion of it here:
Babe. I fell in love with you. My banana. You are different, everyone loves you. You are yellow like a banana! I fell in love with you when you were your best. It was easy to love you when you were ripe!…everyone loves a banana when it is ripe. However…like some banana’s, you started to spoil earlier than you should have. You started becoming dark and bruised. However…instead of expiring and going to the green bin. God had a greater plan for you.
He hand picked you to transform you into something else, rather than letting you go to the green bin. He had to peel away your outsides but kept what I fell in love with. Your insides.
God then mashed you into something you couldn’t even recognize. He broke you. He broke you so he could mold you like clay into something even more beautiful. He added different ingredients to make you whole again. He then put you into a pan which is the Hospitals. Then was the hard part that only you can do alone.
He put you into the oven which represents your wilderness. It’s somewhere only you can go alone like Jesus did. The heat around you that is testing you is the devil…just like Jesus our savior had to endure. Right now you are being tested and I know how much you hate being alone. But the oven is a place only you can bake alone.
After all the baking is done. No matter how long it takes…you will become a banana bread! You will become someone new! You will not be the same banana you were. But be grateful and give Glory to God that you didn’t go to green bin. You will be whole again. You may not be the same banana but a new creation that was baked by God.
This is the gospel.
What amazing news this testimony is.
We are all bananas that are bruised, ready perhaps to be tossed into the green bin.
But God has taken us from the refuse pile, placed us in the oven where we go through our own wilderness, only to transform us into something else, a new creation, delicious banana bread.
May God grant us the gift of faith to carry on through all that comes our way.
May our own stories of struggle, perseverance and hope be testimonies of faith for one another, and may we draw strength from them in this beautiful community of faith.