Reading with different eyes
A recent reading Luke’s combined stories of Jairus and the woman with a hemorrhage (Luke 8:40ff), prompted me to ask God to read them with new eyes.
In the past I read stories like this assuming there were only a few options:
- Read them as literal accounts (I still believe the miracles happened), which left me wishing miracles like this would happen for me.
- Read them with the expectation (read pressure) to manufacture enough faith, or the right kind of faith, that would produce similar miracles. This led to a couple of outcomes: 1) wishful thinking that surely if I keep trying I could figure out the formula to make such miracles happen; and 2) frustration and discouragement because I could never pull it off.
- Read them in from a dispensational framework. Miracles happened only in Jesus’ time because God treated people then differently, more specially, than He does today. Plus, they needed such miracles because theirs was a simpler, more gullible time. Now that we are so much more enlightened, we don’t need miracles. We have the Bible, after all.
- Read them as fairy tales. Legends of miracles are helpful for little kids and those immature in their faith. But such miracles didn’t and don’t really happen.
None of these are particularly satisfying.
This time I found myself wondering what it would be like to read these stories from a first century, middle-eastern mindset? After all, it was such a perspective they were originally told and written. I still don’t know what that would be like.
But a new thought did occur to me. What if I read the stories from a shame perspective?
This seems consistent with their context. The Jewish world was one of hierarchies. People were put in categories and their qualification to merit God’s favor was ranked in order of most deserving to least. Those on the lower end were shamed by those in the upper level.
Both Jairus and the woman were facing their own form of shame that made approaching Jesus a monumental task of faith and courage.
I relate to that perspective. It takes the impact of the story to a deeper level than the extraordinary miracles that both experienced.
I find myself particularly relating to Jairus.
His stretch consists of facing the shame of admitting his need. He’s a respected religious leader with influence. Yet he faces a need that his position and reputation cannot solve. His knees buckle.
If he wants help and healing, his only recourse is to humble himself and go to Jesus.
The same Jesus that no doubt has been criticized and vilified in his synagogue.
He swallows his pride and confronts his sense of being “right” and goes to Jesus. He names and owns his need, his weakness.
Been there and done that.
I know what it’s like to have position. I know what it’s like to believe I’m above the problems others have. I know what it’s like being convinced I’m right.
I know the crushing reality of failure. Of facing brokenness. Of experiencing pain that brings me to my knees.
I know the fear of naming and owning. The power of shame in those moments can be lethal.
Thankfully, I’ve also discovered Jesus doesn’t play the shame game.
Jesus is more than happy to accept Jairus and respond to his need . He’s more than happy to take me in as well.
The story doesn’t end there. The woman with the hemorrhage interrupts the action. She has her own shame battle, but that’s a story for another time.
Jairus’ courage seems to be slapped in the face. Just when it appears all is going well and hopes are raised that his daughter will be spared, the woman butts in line and steals Jesus’ attention and power.
I hate to admit it, but I project my own thoughts and feelings into Jairus’ experience at this point.
I’ve had those times when I’ve been jealous and angry that others seem to get immediate answers and blessings from God. I’ve gone through the pain and angst of having my knees buckle, cry out to God, face my shame, name my failures and flaws, receive initial assurance of grace, have my hopes raised and then . . .
I expect circumstance to change quickly. I assume the pain and discomfort to ease immediately.
But they don’t.
Sometimes, nothing seems to change at all.
While I wait, others seem to get immediate answers. New job opportunities appear out of nowhere. They get promotions they didn’t ask for. Somehow they figure out how to plan their future and success seems to follow. They have clarity. They reinvent. They get what they want.
And I wait.
I imagine Jairus doubting. At some level, it doesn’t seem fair. Why did this woman have to show up at this time and interfere? Why does she get preferential treatment? Why are her needs met immediately?
In my better moments, I’m still conscious that I have much to be thankful for. But that doesn’t always keep these thoughts from coming. It doesn’t keep me from being jealous or angry. I doubt God’s fairness and goodness.
Back to Jairus, I find myself hearing Jesus tell me to not fear but keep trusting (v. 50).
What does this mean for him?
I don’t believe that Jairus immediately turns a switch that changes his thoughts and feelings and doubts and pain. I don’t believe he’s suddenly convinced, confident and elated.
Interestingly, Jairus doesn’t say a word. He just follows Jesus back to his home and his now dead daughter. My hunch is that while walking home, following Jesus, he’s filled with grief, his mind swirling with anguish, confusion and pain.
But, still he follows Jesus.
That’s where I find myself at times. Even when it seems others have it figured out and are getting more immediate and clear answers from God, I still hang in there with Jesus.
Answers come in increments. Hope is revived a little at a time. Just when I’m ready to throw in the towel, a breakthrough, however small, surprises me. I am encouraged. So I keep following.
That’s how I understand faith.
Reading the gospel story in this light makes sense. I find connection and meaning.