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"The Problem with Miracles"


35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:35-43, NRSV)

Episcopal priest and professor, Barbara Brown Taylor, writes, “Sometimes I wonder if the miracle stories in the Bible do more harm than good. They are spectacular stories, most of them, and there is a lot of comfort to be had from watching Jesus still the storm, heal the sick, and raise the dead. His miracles remind us that the way things are is not the way they will always be…He is living proof that God’s will for us is not chaos but wholeness…Every healing, every revival, every banishment of evil is like a hole poked through the opaque fabric of time and space. The kingdom breaks through and for a moment or two we see how things will be…and then it is over. The disciples go back to their rowing, the once-blind beggar walks off to look for work…The problem with miracles is that it is hard to witness them without wanting one of your own.”[1]

I didn’t write these words, but I agree with them so much that I wish I had. I agree with them as a minister, who sometimes feels the need to foolishly try and defend or explain God. And I agree with them as a person, a person who, like you, sees pain and suffering in our world, in our friends, and in our family, and feels at a loss to make it better. The miracle stories can encourage us, but they can also make us ask not “why me” but instead, “why not me?” So, as people of faith, we turn to one of these stories today, bringing with us both our hopes and dreams.

In today’s scripture lesson, it is no small miracle that each of the two main characters, Jarius and the unnamed woman, approach Jesus in the first place. They each overcame barriers, crossed roadblocks of gender and social standing, to reach out to Jesus for help. Jarius was a well-respected leader in the local synagogue, a group of people who in all likelihood looked down on Jesus, the itinerant rabbi. Yet Jarius put his self-respect aside when he found Jesus and begged him to help his dying daughter. Jarius likely felt relief when Jesus agreed and started the journey to Jarius’ home. Jarius’ relief was short lived because of an unnamed woman.

She interrupts Jesus’ mission of mercy by reaching out for healing herself. She takes a chance and reaches out despite the religious laws and social constraints of the day. Jesus feels the power go out of him and wants to know who touched his robe. His disciples say in essence, “Jesus, that’s a really dumb question. You’re in the middle of a crowd. Lots of people touched you.” It wasn’t a stupid question of course. It was in fact a compassionate question, only the woman did not know it. For all she knew, Jesus would reprimand her for sneaking up behind him to touch his robe. For all she knew, Jesus might call the religious authorities and report her for violating the purification laws. Only Jesus harbored no ill will. On the contrary, he wanted to address her with a heart full of empathy and compassion. The newly healed woman came before Jesus in fear and trembling and threw herself at his feet. She then told Jesus the whole truth of her life, the years of pain and isolation. After listening with his heart as well as his ears, Jesus tells the woman her faith has made her well. She can go in peace and be healed.

I wonder what Jarius was doing the whole time Jesus spent dealing with the unnamed woman. I’m sure he must have felt very impatient, eager to get Jesus home to see his dying daughter. If Jesus didn’t hurry up it could be too late. And so it was. While Jesus was still talking with the woman, word came that it was too late for Jarius’ daughter. She was dead. “Don’t trouble the teacher anymore. He can’t help you now,” they said.

Jesus overheard the servants and reassured Jarius saying, “Do not fear, only believe,” which had to be the craziest words Jarius ever heard. “Believe what? That the people from home were mistaken, that they wouldn’t know a corpse if they saw one? Believe what? That if Jesus hadn’t wasted so much time with what’s-her-name who touched his robe that he might have made it to Jarius’ house in time to save Jarius’ daughter.”

Religious leader though he was, poor Jarius did not know what to believe so he just went home, Jesus still at his side. When they got there a commotion surrounded the house as people openly mourned, tearing their hair and rending their garments. When Jesus told them the young girl would be fine, the mourners scornfully laughed at his ignorance. Jesus cleared the house except for the girl’s mother and father, as well as Peter, James, and John. Jesus took the girl by the hand, a violation of the religious purification laws against touching a corpse, and said in Aramaic, “Little girl, get up!” Immediately she got up and started walking about. Jesus’ finishing touch was telling them to feed the girl.

These stories contain more miracles than meet the eye. Sure, the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage and the raising of Jarius’ daughter are the biggies. But what about the religious and social barriers that Jesus willingly crossed to help people in need? What of the miracle of the faith that the woman showed after suffering for twelve years? The fact that she was willing to seek healing says something about her indomitable spirit. Regardless of past failures, going from doctor to doctor until she was penniless, she did not give up. She kept the faith and believed that God could still change her life, even if nobody else could. So she gave Jesus a shot. What did she have to lose? Her faith is no small miracle. How she kept the faith in spite of every obstacle is miraculous. Keeping the faith in life’s deepest, darkest moments is itself a miracle. When we could give up, but we don’t, when we could quit the race but we keep running, this is a miracle of the human spirit.

What if things had turned out differently? What if Jesus had spoken to the woman and said, “I cannot heal you, but I want you to know this, God has been with you these past 12 years and God will be with you in all your years to come. In God’s eyes you are not unclean; you are a beautiful child of God. Go in peace.” Could a miracle occur from something as simple as a divine pep talk from Jesus? Yes, I think so. If this woman took Jesus’ words to heart and believed them, her broken heart and shattered spirit could be made whole. She could be healed in a way she might never have imagined. Yes, day in and day out she would still face the hemorrhage, but she would be facing it with a new understanding of God and a new understanding of herself. Perhaps these insights would help her keep the faith and not give up in the difficult days ahead.

And what about Jarius’ 12-year-old daughter? What would have happened if Jesus had walked in the room pulled the sheet up over her head?[2] What good would his words be to Jarius, “Do not fear, only believe?” Hadn’t Jarius believed that Jesus could keep his daughter from dying, only Jesus was sidetracked by the suffering woman and didn’t make it to Jarius’ house in time? And even if Jesus had not raised Jarius’ daughter from the dead, Jarius would still have had plenty to believe. Perhaps he could believe that God was still God, that God was still love, that God was the God of the living and the dead and that somehow everything would ultimately be okay. If Jesus had not raised Jarius’ daughter, he still might have found enough faith to believe that his daughter was in a better place, being held securely in the loving hands of God. And if Jarius could find faith to believe despite all evidence to the contrary, that would surely be a miracle of faith.

So many times that’s the best we can hope for in the middle of a tragedy. We can pray that our loved one will be healed, but many times it simply does not happen, at least not as we had hoped. But sometimes the healing we do get is just as important, the healing of our broken hearts, the strength to pull ourselves together and face another day, the wherewithal to take one more step even when it is a struggle. These too are healing miracles.

“Do not fear, only believe” says Jesus. But how can we not? How can we not fear when someone we love is in danger? I think that the point of faith is that we do have it despite our fear. Faith in God is something we hold on to regardless of the storm howling around us. Faith does not mean we can avoid life’s problems any more than the next person. It doesn’t mean that we have an easier go of it because God is doing us special favors. We all experience heartache. The miracle is that we don’t give up on the good in this life and we don’t give up on the good that God will do in the life to come.

Whatever barriers we face, God will reach across each and every one of them. Remember the parable of the lost sheep. The Good Shepherd was not willing to lose even one sheep. He went out of his way and risked danger, to find the one lost sheep. Regardless of how lost we may feel, God is here. Regardless of the emotional barriers we erect trying to keep God away, God is here. God crosses all barriers, and remains by our sides even on our worst days. And God crosses all barriers to bring us home when our days on earth are finished.

This is the hope we have today. With God’s help, we can believe, some days more than others. And in the end, we might not get the miracle we want, but instead we just might get the miracle we need. AMEN.

Written by Rev. Jimmy Only

September 30, 2018

The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)


Loving God, draw near to us in our need and bless us with your presence. Quiet our fears and surround us with your grace. Lift us up in this time of worship and draw us near to you. Open our eyes to the power of your transforming presence as we reach out to you, aware of our need and of our shortcomings. Cleanse our thoughts and actions so our love may be genuine and our dedication to your service, complete.

Through Jesus Christ we pray. AMEN.

This prayer was adapted from Lavon Bayler’s Whispers of God, pp. 102-103.

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Bread of Angels, pp. 136-137

[2] Ibid. 140

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