“They Laughed at Jesus”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “Foolish Faith”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
July 1, 2018
21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.
22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet
23and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
24So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.
25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.
26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.
27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,
28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”
31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”
32He looked all around to see who had done it.
33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.
34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
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.
We shouldn’t be too surprised that many people view faith as foolish. They laughed at Jesus in his day. There are a lot of reasons people might see faith as foolish and some of them are based on valid logic. We trust in what is unseen, in what cannot be proven by science or explained rationally or logically. Our beliefs can seem foolish to non-believers.
To me the bigger problem is believers who use faith to excuse attitudes and actions that deny the love of God for anyone who isn’t like them or believes like them. Christians seem foolish and worse to outsiders when we act in ways that clearly twist the message of Christ to justify nationalism, or racism, or a political or economic belief that is clearly neither just nor loving.
We celebrate the signing of our nation’s Declaration of Independence this week. Too often it seems we have made false forms of freedom into idols, mini-gods that we believe in more than the God of Scripture. All of us probably struggle with what our faith calls us to do in many situations and it is far too easy to default to the ways our prejudices, politics, or pocketbooks have led us in the past. This morning I want to argue that even though faith may seem foolish when it doesn’t fit our personal priorities, it ultimately is the wise way – not only for the benefit of others but also for ourselves.
So when we turn back to Jesus’ example, from the point of view of logic or self-interest Jesus often said and did thing that seem foolish: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven,” “give away all you have and come follow me,” “the last shall be first, and the one to serve others is greatest of all.” And of course, by common logic, choosing to die on a cross seems foolish, too.
Richard Floyd, a pastor and writer comments on this attitude that seems to permeate our culture today in a StillSpeaking Devotional, [ “Topsy Turvy,” SSD, ucc.org, 6/24/18 ]. He quotes the writer of Ecclesiastes, the philosopher of ancient Israel who opined, back then that there is nothing more to life than to “eat, drink, and be merry.” In a later passage, Ecclesiastes shares this nugget for those who gamble:
“I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all.” – Ecclesiastes 9:11
Rev. Floyd admits that, “The received truth in our society is that the strong must prevail over the weak, and the rich must prevail over the poor. Only a fool would deny it. There is an old joke about our text: the race may not go to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that is definitely the way to bet!
“And yet, and yet! When you read the strange story of the Bible there seems to be another kind of truth. ‘The first shall be last and the last first.’ ‘The lion shall dwell with the lamb.’ The shepherd boy, David, slays the giant, Goliath. Mary, the mother of Jesus sings: God has shown the strength of his arm, God has scattered the proud in their conceit. God has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble. God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.’”
Most of us may not find that exactly good news! Rev. Floyd says, “Can we imagine such a world? A world without income inequality? Without racial bias? A world where might doesn’t make right? Where the meek really inherit the earth? Where the richest can’t buy elections? Where the powerful don’t call all the shots?” Maybe we don’t want to imagine such a world.
Rev. Floyd says, “It astonishes me that the Bible is so often employed to defend the status quo. Because if you pay attention to its topsy-turvy story, it is more often than not a challenge to prevailing norms and received assumptions about the way things are and must be. It is worth reminding ourselves from time to time that the one we follow and worship, whose realm and reign we pray for, came in humility and died on a cross in a state execution.” So that said, perhaps we can see why people laughed at Jesus even in his day.
This morning’s Scripture is two scenes wrapped up together as one and in it people are laughing at Jesus, virtually and literally, for some of the stuff he says. First, Jesus is begged by one of the local religious leaders, like a deacon or a trustee in our day, to come heal his daughter who is near death. On the way Jesus is touched by a woman who has had an issue of blood for 12 years without anyone helping or healing her. This happens in the midst of a crowd of people pressing in to touch and to get Jesus’ attention. He feels power go out, the Scripture says, and asks who touched him. The disciples – and you can hear the incredulity in their words – are almost laughing at his question. “How can you ask that when you see all the people pressing up to get a piece of you Jesus?” Then he gets to the home of the religious leader and the little girl is apparently dead, but Jesus disputes this and those there mourning her literally laugh at him according to Mark. Anyone can see she is dead! Foolishness! Faith often seems to be a foolish enterprise. And the so-called “miracles,” like healings, can seem the most difficult to believe in.
I like what Mary Luti says about healing [ “How We Heal,” SSD, ucc.org, 6/27/18 ]. She says, “The truth about human beings is that we’re broken. The larger truth is that we heal. The even larger truth is that we heal each other. We have the power, often by the simplest of acts, to help each other heal. The gospels’ most vivid stories are about healing. We call them ‘miracles,’ and they are, but not just because the lame walk, the blind see, and the deaf hear. It’s the way those things happen, so close, so human. Jesus lifts people to their feet, applies salve to their eyes, touches their ears.
“The miracle isn’t the healing. The miracle is that one person decides not to stand apart from another person’s pain. The wonder isn’t that people are healed, it’s that they’re loved like that. The greatest need we have is to be treated with care, treated like human beings, but because that’s so rare, when it happens it seems miraculous. We say, ‘If you have your health, you have everything.’ That’s not true. Some people aren’t healthy, but they have something many healthy people would gladly trade for—people who pray for them, accompany them, don’t forget them, a circle of care. In such circles even people facing death may experience a kind of healing, even the dying find the blessing of life.”
She goes on to say, “Jesus didn’t heal everyone, but he showed us a new kind of life that can be ours when we don’t retreat into one-person worlds. He gathered the church as a circle of care to give that new life away, hand to hand, heart to heart, suffering body to suffering body. It’s how we heal—by the company we keep.” It’s time we understand that we, each of us, can be that circle of care.
In his treatment of these two people, a grown woman and a young girl, Jesus shows us that God cares about those most of us consider less than fully human. Women in Jesus day were less than second-class citizens at the very best. Children were a burden except as farm hands or to carry on the family line. And anyone who was ill, or worse dead, was considered a danger to people of Jesus’ faith. To touch such a person was to make oneself untouchable by others. But Jesus allows himself to be touched – we might say God allows herself to be touched by our illness and mortality – so that we might be healed by God’s presence in our lives.
As we come to Independence Day here in this country, to me there is no doubt our nation needs healing. First, we need healing in the way the hymn we sang suggests: “may all success be nobleness” and “may God thy gold refine.” I think both of these suggest that what we call success in this nation and in most nations and the gold or wealth we glorify and worship neither automatically produce nobleness and certainly needs refining because while we say everyone has the same opportunities and is equal that is flat out not true. So while I consider myself patriotic I believe that God’s values and the values I believe Christ demonstrated are higher values than free market economies, capitalistic consumerism, and the devaluing of people because of race, nationality, income, gender, orientation, or disability or ability. At the same time we need healing from the discrimination against, and even hostile violence toward those who aren’t white, male, straight, rich, evangelical Christians.
Let us work to heal and to create circles of care that reaches out to our community and our world maybe we can turn the laughter that is a bark of derision into the laughter of joyful communities where all people are honored as God’s children and all people can find healing and hope. Now don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge evil attitudes and actions, or that we should act like doormats when others are being treated in ways that are unChrist-like. But we can challenge those things, work to change those things, because we want to heal our nation and our communities.
They laughed at Jesus. His vision of the Kingdom of God – the realm and reign of love and compassionate justice for all seemed foolish. But we can follow his way and create those circles of care that heal, that bless, and that can change the world the way those first disciples did. We are free to do that, and it is not foolish to try. AMEN.