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When God Does Not Come
A Sermon on the 24th Sunday After Pentecost
We hear in today’s Gospel passage an account of two people coming to the Lord in desperation, each begging for His help in a totally hopeless situation. And it is this fact which is of the greatest importance: despite all evidence — and even in absolute defiance of simple common sense — neither of these two people despaired of the power of God to heal what no earthly skill or craft or knowledge could possibly heal. They each put their faith in Christ — and of course, our all-merciful and all-compassionate Savior did not by any means turn them away.
Imagine the joy that must have flooded the heart of Jairus when Christ agreed to come with him to the deathbed of his only daughter, whom he no doubt loved more than life itself. Yet imagine then what anxiety must have once again overtaken him when they were delayed by the thronging of the crowds, and even more so when Christ Himself stopped to ask a question which, under the circumstances, could not possibly have seemed more absurd: “Who touched Me?” And though Jairus no doubt felt compassion for the woman with the issue of blood, yet at the same time he must have been in an absolute frenzy of grief and fear while Christ tarried to speak with her – and then finally his heart was pierced through by the horrific and dreadful news: “It is too late. Your daughter is dead.” This man was pious and devout, “a ruler of the synangogue,” a man who had dedicated his whole life to the service of God. Yet in the hour of his greatest need, God did not come in time — and that which he loved most in all the wide world was swallowed up by death.
Let us consider also the woman for whose sake Christ delayed. For twelve long years she had been suffering, and had lost not only her health and her strength but also all her possessions, absolutely everything in her life, in a futile attempt to be rid of her disease. The physicians she saw gave healing to others who came to them, but from her they instead only took away everything she had. And even when she came to Christ, she came secretly and in fear — for under the Mosaic law her illness made her unclean, and so not only such public gatherings were forbidden to her, but even all human contact. In addition to her sickness and her poverty, she was also forsaken, isolated, and alone. For such a person each day must have been a torment, and with each passing year her life must have seemed more and more a living hell. And for twelve long years, God did not come.
My brothers and sisters, we must each ask ourselves whether, if placed in either of the two circumstances spoken of in today’s Gospel, we would still have the faith to “commend ourselves and one another and all our life unto Christ our God.” Such faith is not as easy to keep as we might like to think. Yet it is only such faith that, in the words of Christ in today’s Gospel, can make us whole.
And indeed, it was perhaps precisely in order to give such faith that God did not come to this woman for twelve long years, and did not come to Jairus’ daughter before she died — just as He did not come to Lazarus, as St. John’s Gospel relates in one of the most shocking verses in all of Scripture: “Now Jesus loved Lazarus… When He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where He was.” Because, my brothers and sisters, we know that just as God always acts out of love, so too when God does not act, He always does so out of love. And just as His power puts to shame the mockers in today’s Gospel who could see no further than death, so too His love always puts to shame those of us who can see no further than the circumstances of this present life.
For the worldly-minded among us, sickness is merely sickness, suffering is merely suffering, death is merely death, and when it is too late there is no longer any reason to have hope. But it is not so for a Christian. Therefore if we find ourselves in the midst of long and difficult struggles, sicknesses, passions, or sorrows, if we are worn out and in danger of slipping into despondency or despair, if it seems that God has forgotten or forsaken us, if it seems that the Lord has left His promises to us unfulfilled, if it seems that He has not come to us in time, let us call to mind today’s Gospel.
And let us remember that it was ever thus for the people of God. When the Prophet declares in the 88th Psalm: “Of Thy mercies, O Lord, will I sing for ever,” he goes on to recount the many promises of God to His servant… but then cries out:
But Thou has cast off and brought to nought, Thou hast been wroth with Thine anointed. Thou hast destroyed the covenant of Thy servant, Thou hast profaned his sanctuary unto the earth. Thou hast broken down all his hedges, Thou has made his strongholds to be his terror. All have despoiled him that pass along the way, he is become a reproach unto his neighbours. Thou has exalted the right hand of them that afflict him, Thou has gladdened all his enemies. Thou hast turned away the help of his sword, and hast not helped him in the battle. Thou hast made an end of his purification, his throne unto the earth hast Thou cast down. Thou hast shortened the days of his time, Thou hast poured down shame upon him.
Yet in spite of all this, how does the Psalmist end? By declaring with absolute faith and firmness: “Blessed is the Lord for ever. So be it. So be it.” And of course the Lord in due time fulfilled every single promise He ever made to the Psalmist, accounting him worthy not only to become the king of Israel but also to be the forefather of the King of Kings, Who in today’s Gospel at long last brought healing to the woman and raised Jairus’ daughter even from death itself — through their patient and unfailing faith.
It is precisely such faith as this — “blind” faith, hope against all hope — that has always brought the people of God not merely to their deliverance, but to their deification. Never did faith in Christ seem more absurd than when He hung upon the Cross. Yet it was precisely through the Cross that “joy has come to all the world.” So when we ourselves are on the Cross let us neither weary nor waver, but rather remain steadfast in the knowledge that our salvation has never been nearer at hand, as we hear the voice of Christ saying to us once again the words of today’s Gospel: “Be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole.” Amen.