In the darkest days of World War II, in the shortest and one of the most powerful addresses he ever delivered, Winston Churchill famously admonished the boys of Harrow School to: “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.” Not surprisingly in this week’s gospel, Jesus easily tops Churchill in both brevity and content, when he tells us: Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.
The cynic in us says advice is cheap. But Jesus is the font of grace, not of platitudes. For our salvation, he not only talks the talk, he walks the walk… all the way to Calvary and beyond. He never gives up and neither should we. And that’s the lesson he teaches in this week’s gospel. To illustrate the point we witness two very different miraculous cures that have a common thread. The sufferers are in extremis. Everything else had been tried and failed. But they never give up… overcoming stigma and risking rebuke, they turn to Jesus.
To appreciate the first of these miracles, we need to get a little background on the social taboos of the day. The hemorrhaging woman was judged by Mosaic Law to be unclean. She was untouchable. She had suffered through twelve years of isolation and anemia, rejection and decline. All her money had been squandered on useless nostrums and cures. But she never gave up. When she heard about Jesus, hope stirred in her. She was not permitted by law to speak to him. He was not permitted by law to lay hands on her. But her faith and her hope were such that she felt: If I can but touch his clothes, I will be healed. And she was. With perfect humility and perfect clarity, Jesus explains to her and to us: You are made well because you believed.
If only we had the faith to hear and believe the whole gospel message that Jesus preaches here today. Belief is both the means and the ends of our cure. Relief of pain, reversal of pathology, extension or even restoration of life are all merely bonuses. A vigorous spiritual life, a tenacious will to believe, acceptance of Jesus as Savior… that is what it means to be made well. Everything else relates merely to the amenities we either enjoy or endure on our journey home.
In the second part of this gospel, pity poor Jarius falling at the feet of Jesus. He is a leader of the synagogue. And his colleagues consider Jesus a blaspheming fraud. By seeking Christ’s help he risks making himself a laughingstock and an outcast. But his daughter is dying and he is desperate. Prostrate in the dust he begs Jesus over and over to save his daughter. And then the worst news a parent can hear: It’s all too late; his daughter is dead. Amid the wailing, Jesus again teaches us to never give up. He lovingly goes to the child’s side. He whispers to her and gently raises her by the hand. And as if waking from a nap, she comes back to life.
How many times have we given things up for dead? How many good intentions have we failed to act on? How many relationships have we neglected? How many chances to forgive have we ignored? How many chances to ask forgiveness have we let slide? How many calls for help have we ignored? How many opportunities to witness Christ’s love have we passed up?
Sometimes we give up in frustration… sometimes we give up in fear… sometimes in anger; and perhaps most often, it’s just plain laziness. For most of us, these silent sins of neglect are a far greater danger than acting out bad behaviors. Giving up is habit forming. It stunts our faith and shrinks our souls. It mocks the Cross. That’s why Christ calls us to act with the courage of Jarius, to persevere with the faith of the afflicted woman and to endure with the resolve of Churchill. Never give up…especially on Jesus. He never ever, ever, ever, ever gives up on us.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
Image: By History2007 at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons