Every morning (or just about every morning), my husband and I read the Bible together, following the daily lectionary as laid out in the Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal Church). I think it’s helpful to have a Bible reading plan; I don’t necessarily think it matters what that is, whether it’s from this lectionary, another one or any devotional you choose to follow, but a plan helps us shape the direction of our reading–and I would even venture to say that plan is often used by God to speak to our hearts.
This morning, the Gospel reading was from Matthew (9:18-26), telling the story of the synagogue ruler who came to Jesus, announced his daughter had just died and asked Jesus to come lay hands on her. Jesus goes, and along the way, a woman with a hemorrhage touches his cloak. Jesus turns and proclaims her immediate healing before he goes on his way to raise the daughter of the synagogue ruler from the dead.
(If this story sounds slightly off to you, it might because you’re used to reading it in Mark, where there is more detail: the synagogue ruler is named as Jairus, he asks for Jesus because his daughter is dying, not dead; after the woman touches the cloak of Jesus, he stops and asks who touched him, prompting a rather sarcastic response from his disciples: “Who touched you? Who hasn’t touched you in this crowd?” Jesus spends time speaking to the sick woman, proclaiming her healing in a longer way than described in Matthew, before he proceeds to Jairus’ home, where he chides the mourners and heals the young girl.)
My husband and I noted the differences in this story in Mark, Luke and Matthew, and in the process, I remarked that there was a big difference between Jairus asking for Jesus to minister to his dead daughter versus his dying daughter. It seems there would be more urgency if Jairus didn’t know she’d already died. That led to me musing over the Mary, Martha and Lazarus story, too: I imagined Martha at some point, realizing that Jesus went with haste to the bedside of the dead/dying daughter of Jairus, yet he lingered for days before coming to Mary and Martha when he knew that their brother Lazarus was sick unto death and then dead.
“If I were Martha,” I declared to my husband, who is by now used to my commentary on Scripture, “I would be upset. I would think to myself, ‘Here Jesus rushes off to heal the daughter of Jairus, this guy he doesn’t even know, and yet with us, people who love him and have supported him and given him a place to stay and meals, when he hears our brother, one of his good friends, is dying and then dead, he drags his feet to come help.’ ”
And then I stopped speaking, because I’d heard the words that had come out of my mouth.
“He drags his feet to come help.”
And this time, it was me crying.
Because, you see, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working hard to be patient. Things have been tough here. The low sales months of the summer combined with a drop in donations and paid funeral gigs have hit us hard, meaning we’ve had to make some difficult decisions. One of those has been to turn off our phone service, because we can’t pay the bill right now. We don’t have a land line. We can use our phones for text with other Apple phones when we’re in WiFi coverage, but not any other time, and we can’t make or receive calls at all.
To make it worse, our youngest daughter just moved three hours away to take her first real-world job on a farm. They don’t have WiFi there, and without phone service, communication has been difficult if not impossible. We can message if she gets to a spot with WiFi, but we’re not able to talk, to hear about how things are going, to share what’s happening here.
It also means that the people to whom my husband ministers can’t get in touch with us, so if there’s an emergency, we can’t respond. One of our dear ones passed away last weekend, and we didn’t know it in time. Clint hasn’t been able to be contacted to do funerals, which are a big source of income for us, so the problem is compounded. I have had to tell people why they can’t get in touch with us, and that’s more a little mortifying.
Is it life threatening or the end of the world? No. This is without a doubt a first world problem. But that doesn’t make it any easier when we’re trying to be good stewards and find answers, too.
As nothing has worked to raise money to pay the bill and we’ve been living on the barest of essentials, I’ve tried to be cheerful and not give in to despair. I’ve concentrated on faith and trust. I’ve prayed for more faith when mine is flagging. But in the last week, I confess, there’s been a seed–okay, more than a seed–of resentment growing.
And then I heard my own words.
” . . . yet with us, people who love him and have supported him and given him a place to stay and meals, when he hears we’re in trouble, he drags his feet to come help.”
And I was convicted, not in judgement or condemnation, but in love and gentle, merciful humor.
I went back to John 11 and read the rest of the Lazarus story again.
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
God has blessed us, time and again. If I could tell you how often we’ve wondered how we were going to go on and something unbelievably amazing and unexpected came through, you’d think I was making it up. Over and over, blessings heaped up to allow us to continue to do his work, to provide for our family, to allow us to be at Cate’s graduation, at my father-in-law’s funeral, to further the work given to both of us. An embarrassment of riches, really.
Is God dragging his feet this time? Maybe, but if he is, there is a reason for it. Everything God does is for our benefit and for his glory. I know this. I know everything works together for the good for those who trust in God. I know he has a plan for me, a plan to prosper us and not to harm us.
I might not know the reason in this world, but this morning, at least, I can trust that the reason exists.
John 11:43: When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Mark 5: 39: He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.
His timing is not our timing. His ways are not ours. But it is good.
And in the end, there is Life restored.