By faith not by sight Mark 5-21-43 Pentecost 4
Who likes to label and categorise everything? Labels give us certainty, we know what we are dealing with, we know what to expect. Truth in labelling is a very big factor in our purchasing preferences. Labels help us to make choices. I have some things here with labels. (write up some labels and stick them to people). Attitudes and judgements, ideals and morals are all based on labels, they go hand in hand, its the way of life; labels sell, labels tell, labels define and most of all labels stick!
Yes, I think you know what I mean by the last statement, labels stick. I don’t just mean the rego labels that are near impossible to get off your car windscreen, the labels that stick are the ones we give to people. We see a person in a black suit and instantly we give him a label ‘well to do’, educated, important, honest,…what else? Then, as we turn our head, we see another person, dark skinned and wearing old clothes, we instantly label him ‘loser, trouble, no hoper, untrustworthy’…what else…if we are honest enough.
Labels stick! Once we have labelled someone, they are categorized for life. We all know someone we have labelled, without really finding out if the label is true and have acted toward them according to our label; either positively or negatively; either welcoming them into our lives and groups of friends, or cutting them off. What is just as tragic is we have all been ‘labelled’ by someone. Each one of us carries around a label put on us by another person. ‘He’s a so and so person’, or ‘she’s a this or that person’, is said about us behind our backs. While we don’t mind labelling others, being labelled ourselves is risky business. Its risky because labels are often untrue and unfair and we are treated accordingly, either unduly well or undeservingly bad.
In the gospel reading this morning we have Jairus, a synagogue ruler. The label he most likely carried was ‘religiously important, godly, theologian, above reproach’. He was labelled as someone you would want to have as a friend; someone who could keep you religiously connected, ceremonially clean and upright before society in the Jewish world.
Then we have ‘a woman’. No name is given to her, just that she was ‘subject to bleeding’, which is an indicator to what sort of label she had on her; unclean, sinner, unimportant; desperate, ungodly. She was someone you definitely wouldn’t want as a friend, leave alone touch and have around for tea! A person like her was ceremonially unclean and therefore cut off from religious life.
The Jewish religious community saw and labelled Jairus as godly and important. They saw and labelled the woman as ungodly and unimportant. It is scary to think how in the church, our religious society, very little has changed in 2000 years, the labels still stick! Yet we should not be surprised as this. Our sinful human nature to be judge over another person, to play god and praise one while condemning another, still co-exists with our new baptised self. It is the old Adam in us wanting control.
This is not the case with God. Religious labels are stripped away before God…surprisingly. He sees things differently and judges differently. Religious labels, the high standing in religious circles, or the despised and rejected, are all alike before God, because he looks into the heart, as written in Hebrews 4 ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.’
We see an example of this in the gospel reading when our two desperate people, each with different labels in society, approach Jesus for help.
Jairus pleads with Jesus ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” And Jesus immediately complies. The crowd may have expected Jesus to respond because this man was labelled ‘religious’.
However, Jesus sees Jairus for who he really is, knows his heart and can see he has not come to him labelled as a ‘synagogue leader’, not come boasting of godly works or religious status. Jesus responds to Jairus because he has come by faith alone, trusting that despite the odds, Jesus had the power to save his daughter. Jesus’ care for the weak and hopeless man, who comes only by faith, fulfils what was prophesied about him in Isaiah 42:3 ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.’
Almost at that very moment, as if to demonstrate to the crowd that God judges impartially and does not save according to our labels, the bleeding woman touches Jesus cloak. Instantly she is healed. Unlike Jairus, who publicly fell to his knees before Jesus, the woman comes secretly, from behind, hidden from his sight. She comes in a different way, in fear and shame, even embarrassment, yet she comes sharing the same faith as Jairus; a faith that depends on Jesus alone for salvation. And Jesus rewards this faith, healing the woman and setting her free from the bleeding and from being ceremonially unclean.
Directly after setting free the woman with no name, Jairus’s daughter is brought back to life by Jesus. Fulfilling his own words to the desperate dad ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’; two miracles, two acts of mercy, freely given to two totally different yet desperate people. One was labelled by the religious to be worthy of Jesus, the other labelled as an outcast of religious society. Yet Jesus attends to both their needs.
Labels don’t stick for Jesus, and thank God for his mercy, or we would have no hope! Jesus went to the cross because he knew clearer than any of us, that all of us, because of sin, are like Jairus or the woman, desperate and in dire need of a Saviour, as St Paul reminds us in Romans 3:20 ‘no one will be declared righteous in the sight of God by observing the law, rather through the law we become conscience of sin.’
It is our sinfulness that Jesus dealt with on the cross. By dying to pay the dept of our sin and rescue us from the wages of sin, which is death, Jesus treated us all the same; he saw no difference, no labels, no one deserved to be saved. In the book of Romans, Paul writes ‘God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood.’ That means, God sacrificed his Son, poured out his blood to atone for, pay for, cover over, or better still, ‘re-label’ us from being sinners to being saints.
This is where the real labelling happens for you and me. This is the gospel, the good news, the core of our Lutheran teaching and faith. We are re-labelled as saints before God by faith alone in the forgiving blood of Jesus. Even though we are still sinners at heart, by nature sinful and unclean, we are re-labelled by Jesus as saints, declared righteous and innocent so that God sees everyone who believes in Jesus the same. If you really wonder sometimes what church and religion is all about? Well, here it is.
Jesus instituted his church to re-label sinners as righteous by the living Spirit in his preached word and in the partaking of his sacraments. Faith is what makes the label stick. Faith is the glue which apprehends this gift, this label ‘to me’. Faith believes that the label Jesus gives us is all that we need to be saved, even though we still fall into sin.
Luther, in his commentary on Galatians writes ‘On account of this faith in Christ, God does not see the sin that still remains in me. For so long as I go on living in the flesh, there is certainly sin in me. But meanwhile Christ protects me under the shadow of his wings and spreads over me the wide heaven of the forgiveness of sins, under which I live safely.’
By faith today you go from Jesus in the same way as that woman…healed and with this blessing from Jesus ‘Brother, daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be free from your suffering.’ Amen