Sermon: Jairus – A Father’s Life
Scripture: Mark 5: 35-43
Well known writer Henri Nouwen, in a book entitled “Reaching Out” relates this story: While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life (at Notre Dame). And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, “You know . . . my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.
I think that could be said of Jesus also. Think about how many times Jesus was on his way to someplace else or preparing to address large crowds of people, and someone interrupted him. A blind beggar, a leper, the woman at the well, the little children, the man lowered through the roof in the middle of his sermon, Zacchaeus up a tree – and the list goes on. I loved what Gloria Gaither said in the video we saw earlier. That the Gospels were always saying that Jesus was on his way to teach the Disciples when someone interrupted Him, and with tongue in cheek she says, I don’t think He ever got to teach the Disciples anything. Which, as an aside, might explain why the Disciples were so often confused and clueless. But the point is that most of Jesus most important ministry moments began as an interruption. This fifth chapter of Mark is kind of the epicenter of this interruption phenomenon. It begins with Jesus just looking for a place that he can escape the crowds and have some quiet time, probably to mourn the death of His cousin John, but every time he tried to get away, the crowds followed Him. So finally He says, let’s sail across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. Now this region was largely inhabited by Gentiles and most Jews would never venture to “the other side of the lake.” So Jesus anticipated that this was one place that the crowds would not follow Him. But as soon as he stepped off the boat, he was interrupted. A demon possessed man, a crazy man, who lived in the tombs saw Him coming and ran and threw himself at Jesus feet. And Jesus ministered to Him, casting out all the demons that tormented him, making him whole again. And when the word spread to the nearby town, Mark says the crowds came to check it out for themselves. So Jesus and the disciples got back in the boat and sailed back to the Jewish side of the lake where the crowds were waiting for Him. And just as He was settling in to teach and preach, a woman who had been ill for 12 years, interrupted Him seeking healing, and while He was dealing with that interruption, Jairus came to Him seeking relief for His twelve year old daughter who was deathly ill. Indeed all of Mark 5 is a series of interruptions. Now we are going to talk more about the woman who interrupted Him next week. But since this is Father’s day, I thought it appropriate to begin with the distraught father Jairus who came to Jesus and said, Pardon the interruption, but my daughter lies in our home not far from here and is near death. The doctors have not been able to help her. I am at the end of my rope. Will you come with me and see if there is anything you can do for my little girl.”
Now, we need to understand what an incredible act it was for Jairus to come to Jesus at all. He was the head of the synagogue in Capernaum. A Jew above Jews. He had gotten all the memos from the priests in Jerusalem about this itinerant Rabbi who was stirring up the masses, preaching blasphemy, laying claim to Messiahship, a sorcerer, a miracle worker whose power was from Satan, not God. He was not to be allowed to teach or preach in the Synagogues of Galilee. And the Jews of Capernaum should be discouraged in every way from following this man. He was not a friend of God. And Jairus was of course, a good company man. A good Jew. Obedient to the Law and the Priests. He had no doubt been on the lookout for this false Messiah. Perhaps even let Him know that He was not welcome in his synagogue. And so Jesus had taken to the streets to minister to the crowds. But then Jairus’s daughter got sick. And everything changed. You see, most of the time when we think about Jairus’s encounter with Jesus, we focus on the fact that he was a “leader of the synagogue”. But I really think that for Mark (and Jesus) it was much more important for us to know that Jairus was a desperate father. And I think it’s all in the use of his name by Mark. Names were so important in Biblical times. And so it is unusual for the people who interrupt Jesus to be identified by name. Most of the time they are identified by what they are more than who they are. And so the implication is that they, in a way, represent a broader group of people. Even the shepherds who came to the manger are not named. Neither are the Wise Men named in Scripture. In this fifth chapter, the demoniac does not have a name. Neither does the woman who was healed. In fact, when a person who encounters Jesus is named by the Gospel writers, it is because that person (or members of their family) has become prominent in the early church. For instance, Simon of Cyrene is named as the person who was compelled to pick up Jesus’s cross and carried it to Calvary. But for that story, his name really ads nothing to our understanding. He was just a man standing beside the road. Certainly not a person of any prominence. Which is really the point. But yet Luke and Mark give us his name when they tell the story of the Crucifixion. And why is that? Well there is no other reference in scripture to Simon. He faded back into obscurity. But his sons evidently became important in the early church. Simon is named in order to establish the credentials of his sons among the early Christians. Here is what Mark says in the 15th Chapter of his Gospel: A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus was passing by on his way into the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. Many scholars believe that the only reason Simon is named here is to give credence to the place of his sons in the early church. You see, for the understanding of this story, it would be enough for us to know that the man who interrupted Jesus was “an official of the synagogue”, but to understand the role that Jairus or perhaps more likely his daughter would play in the early church, it was important that we know his name. It was important that we know that he was a father, and more than that, whose father he was. Jairus came to Jesus because he was a father who loved his little girl more than he did his own life and position. He was willing to give up all that he had worked for and achieved in life, if only his little girl can live and be well. And make no mistake about it, that is exactly the choice that Jairus had to make. Once he approached Jesus and talked with him and asked him to minister to him and his family, I think we can assume his life as a leader of the synagogue was over. In celebrating Jairus on this Father’s Day, we celebrate men who are willing to make such sacrifices for the sake of their children. Children change everything. So we sent our roaming reporter Mark Walz to talk with Aaron Barber about how fatherhood changed his life.
Children change the way we view life and the world. The day that Anna was born, I knew that everything had changed. The life that I had built and planned so carefully was suddenly out of balance. Had become unpredictable. Interrupted. In the short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” by Flannery O’Connor, I think OConnor might have had Jairus in mind when the main character speaks this memorable line: “Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead, and He shouldn’t have done it. He has thrown everything off balance.”
One writer says this: “When the interruption caused Jairus to hear the sad news that his daughter was dead, we might have thought, “well, that’s that”. At best, we could expect the tardy Jesus to make an apology. Or maybe we could ask him to lead the funeral service. But Jesus has never led a funeral. Instead he presides over a resurrection. Thanks to Jesus, everything has been thrown off balance. The world as we know it is becoming “the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” A world in which death becomes only the beginning of life.
Pardon the interruption, Jesus, but my little girl is dying and I really need you. And, of course, Jesus left the crowds behind and went with Jairus, the now former leader of the local synagogue. Because Jairus was willing to give up everything, except being a Dad, if Jesus would just come with him and touch his daughter.
You see, we talk about how Jairus interrupted Jesus, but the truth is that Jesus most often comes to us in the interruptions of our life. Interruptions had become Jesus’s life and work because there wasn’t anyplace He would not go and anyone He would not see. No life He wouldn’t touch.
But going to Jesus was never a part of Jairus’s plan for his life. Just the opposite really. And I am convinced that if Jairus himself had been the one that was ill, he probably would have never turned to Jesus. He probably would have considered his illness just reward for the sinfulness of his life. He would take a sacrifice to the Temple and seek the absolution of the priest. But then his little girl gets sick and ultimately dies, and his life is turned upside down and inside out. His plans are shattered. Everything changes. Suddenly it is no longer about him. This is his little girl. Just twelve years old. She hadn’t done anything to warrant punishment. In fact there were probably those in the synagogue who believed that her illness and ultimately death was punishment for his sins, not hers. So it is all about this little girl that no one on earth can help. Not the doctors. Not the priests. Not even her father, the leader of the Synagogue. Except maybe this Jesus that everyone is talking about. Who in spite of Jairus’s best efforts in his official capacity, the crowds continued to follow. Perhaps they were right. You see, Jairus had learned one of life’s most difficult lessons. When we reach that place where the world can no longer offer us any hope, that’s where we will find Jesus. “Our hope is built on nothing else but Jesus blood and righteousness.” You see, it is not so much that Jesus interrupts our life as it is that Jesus comes with us in the midst of life’s interruptions. And really, if we are honest, our lives are made up of a series of interruptions. John Lennon once said, Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. Henri Nouwen says it this way: Don’t we often look at the many events of our lives as big or small interruptions, interrupting many of our plans, projects and life schemes? Just when we think we’ve made it, it’s smooth sailing,- the storms come, or a spouse leaves us, or the company downsizes you out of a job, or someone else gets the promotion you thought you deserved, or a child starts down the wrong path, or an elderly parent enters into the dark world of dementia and suddenly we become the parent and they the child, or for a myriad of other reasons our world spirals out of control, or. . . . Or … Or. The list of interruptions that life puts in our path are seemingly endless. And those interruptions are no respecter of status or position, or age. Whether we are a CEO or a beggar on the street, interruptions come. Ultimately our life, our fate, is determined by how we handle the interruptions. In this fifth chapter, Mark presents three very different persons. A gentile man who was tormented into a life of insanity and isolation by the demons of the world. Surely that was not how he had dreamed his life would unfold. A woman made barren and unclean by a chronic condition beyond her control. And Jairus, a distraught father. And what does Mark say that they had in common? All three had become so desperate because of the interruptions of their lives that Mark says, they threw themselves at the feet of Jesus. A gentile running to a Jew to be exercised. Throws himself at the feet of Jesus. An unclean woman risking going against the cultural taboo and daring to touch the tassel of the Rabbi. And so she throws herself at the feet of Jesus. And Jairus, risking all that he had achieved, that gave him status and respect, in a sense his life, his identity, in the desperate hope that Jesus could do for his little girl the very thing that Jairus had been warning the synagogue about. Heal her. Restore her to life. And so he throws himself at the feet of Jesus.
For Jairus, it was perhaps the most difficult interruption, but yet one of the most common of all, and one that all of us experience at some point in our lives – that of illness. The only thing he knew for sure at that moment was that his precious child was dying and that none of the solutions of the world and the temple had helped her. Illness knows no status, or class, or income level, or geographic location. It is no respecter of life, but rather illness interrupts all of our lives, not just our physical well being, but perhaps worst of all, it robs us of our hopes and dreams. Jairus had so many dreams for his little girl. But this illness was threatening to interrupt all of those. Jesus does not cause our lives to be interrupted, but He is always willing to come with us and to us in the midst of them. Whenever they come. Whenever we come to Him, Jesus is willing to be interrupted to come with us. Your girl is not dead Jairus, Jesus says, in spite of what the mourners say. In spite of what the world says. She will live again. And so will Jairus. Jesus transforms the interruptions of our lives into victory, one way or another. It may not always be what we anticipated. Not the way we thought our life would unfold. Because it is no longer life as dictated by the world. It is the life that only Jesus can bring. You see, this precious little girl was not the only one who received new life when Jesus came. So did Jairus. He put his old life behind him when he invited Jesus to come home and he, too, received new life.
I don’t know all the interruptions that you are dealing with right now. Some are struggling with illnesses that have no earthly cure. Or watching helplessly as a loved one suffers. Some have been laid off at work. Some are struggling with children who persist in making bad choices in life. Some are caught in the downward spiral of a relationship that has gone bad. This wasn’t what you expected for your life. Not what you planned. Not what you hoped. I don’t know what all the interruptions are. But here’s what I do know. And that is that wherever Jesus is right now for you. No matter what you think He is or is not doing in this world. He is waiting for you to interrupt Him right this moment. For you, in the midst of your struggles and worries and concerns to invite Him to come home with you. To come into your heart this very moment. To give you new life and new hope and place new dreams in your heart. And to change the interruptions of this life into victories for all eternity. And all you have to do is ask. This altar is that place where we push through the crowds and throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus and ask Him to come home to us. Because Pardon the interruption but you aren’t dead. It’s time to get up and walk with Jesus through all the struggles of this world into new life with Him. A life that will last forever.