Jairus and the Woman who Interfered

Last night in the small group I was leading we studied the story of Jairus and the woman who “interfered” with Jesus coming to heal Jairus’ little girl (Mark 5:21-43).

I put “interfered” in quotations because it had never before occurred to me that that may be exactly what an anxious father might have thought in that situation. “Why are you doing this? Why now? My daughter is dying and we need to get there!”

I’ve had to take my daughter to the hospital and know what it is to have a very sick child, one sick enough that I couldn’t do anything to help her. I also know the frustration of having to wait at admissions to get her checked in when she’s fighting for a breath.

I wonder what Jairus thought as he waited on Jesus to finish with the woman who had delayed the Lord. I wonder if he thought the chance to heal his daughter was passing by, perhaps the same way Martha felt about Jesus delaying to come to help her brother Lazarus’ (John 11).

I wonder if Jairus worried that Jesus might use up all his miracle working power on this woman and not be able to help the little girl. I wonder if he rejoiced in the Lord’s mercy on the woman who had suffered for 12 years. Or was he too focused on his own situation?

As I began to think about these things last night, I realized that rather than find anxiety in the delay, Jairus, the desperate father should have found hope and encouragement, even as he waited. After all, he witnessed the healing of a woman who had suffered terribly for 12 long, painful years. I hope Jairus said, “If he can do that for her, imagine what he can do for my daughter.”

I’ve been really encouraged lately as I’ve met some men whom Jesus has worked the “impossible” in their lives. And their testimonies encourage me to be hopeful in the way I hope Jairus was hopeful.

What Did Jesus Call Joseph?

A number of years ago, I received the following inquiry.

We had a discussion in Sunday School about what Jesus called Joseph. We know that he call Mary Mother, but we don’t think he called Joseph Father. We think he just used Father when he was talking to/about God. What do you think?

My response:

Here are my thoughts regarding your question. Pass it around if you like, but remember my word isn’t the last word. I simply submit to you my thoughts.

If the class doesn’t think Jesus called Joseph father, how did He address him? Were there any suggestions? I can only guess that this question stems from one of two things: Jesus’ statement in Matthew 23:9, or a belief that Joseph was somehow less than a “real” father to Jesus since there wasn’t a genuine biological connection. (I reject both.)

Though we have no record of Jesus ever addressing Joseph at all, I believe it is safe to “assume” that Jesus addressed him in the manner that was appropriate and respectful. For Jesus would certainly follow the 6th Mosaic command to honor father and mother (Ex. 20:12).

We must also remember that while Joseph was not the physical father of Jesus, he certainly was Jesus’ legal father and he functioned as both legal and physical father in all normal aspects of fatherhood apart from conception.

We have no grounds to assume that there was any type of sibling rivalry which is often the case today in “step-parent/step-child” relationships. Neither do I have reason to believe that Jesus ever said, “I don’t have to do that, you’re not my father!” or that Joseph ever said something like, “If you were my child, I’d . . . ” I say this because I believe Jesus treated Joseph exactly like a biological father should be treated according to Mosaic law – with honor. Granted, I’m arguing from silence here, but from the other aspects of Jesus’ life and personal relationships, I think it is safe to draw such conclusions.

So, how did other children respectfully address the man to whom their mother was married? The only thing we see in the New Testament for this relationship is the word father. In the New Testament the only Greek word used for this person is “PATER”. There are NO exceptions regardless of who is speaking, Jesus or “regular” people.

I think there are two important issues to pursue so that we can understand this question: the particular context of the “prohibition” and Jesus’ acceptance or rejection of the use of the word “father” elsewhere in the Scripture.

First, let’s deal with the latter. Immediately, Matthew 8:21 comes to mind. In this passage Jesus is dealing with a certain scribe about the COST of true discipleship, a small part of the cost being “leaving everything behind.” Then another of the disciples interrupted by saying, “First, let me go bury my father.” Jesus’ response was not, “Don’t address anyone on earth as father!” Why? Because the context and issue at hand was different than that in Matthew 23.

Also in Matthew 15:4-6 we see Jesus himself quoting the commands which had been penned by God and brought down from Sinai by Moses: “Honor your father and your mother; and He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.” In this case Jesus is rebuking those who had abused their responsibility toward their parents, thus breaking the command. If, as some assume from His statements in Matthew 23, we should never refer to our male parent as father, why did Jesus not CORRECT rather than PROTECT what Moses delivered? He couldn’t because there isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with addressing the man married to your mother (whether you are his physical descendant or not) as “father.” Family relationships are not at stake in Matthew 23.

If family relationships are not at stake in Matthew 23, then what is going on? Jesus is giving a scathing assessment of the religious leaders of the day. He summarizes their offenses in verse 5, “All their works they do to be seen by men.” In other words, they are hypocrites seeking vain glory and honor from those over whom they have charge. They are seeking titles of power and prominence in this world.

Notice the three titles he forbids: rabbi/teacher, father, leader. All of these could be considered “power positions” in this context which are NOT forbidden elsewhere in Scripture. In fact, the writers of Scripture use them in a positive sense. For example, Paul writes to the Ephesians that “teachers” were given to the body for her edification. As mentioned above, Jesus positively quotes the 6th command which identifies the male parent as “father”.

Jesus is trying to underscore for the multitudes and disciples the distinction between true religious faith and religious “power brokering.” Jesus says: “You are all brethren (vs. 8).” “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant (vs. 11).” “He who humbles himself shall be exalted (vs. 12).” He is highlighting the abusive power system that was in place and exhorting the people to breakout of such by recognizing their teacher, leader and father who comes from heaven. Those whom they were currently following were certainly not from heaven.

If we understand this prohibition in this manner, then we can easily reconcile both Jesus’ and other NT writers’ positive use of these terms with Jesus’ command not to use them in Matthew 23.

The application for us today is very real. Many men and women fill positions of church leadership as religious power brokers. In many cases there is no difference between our day and Jesus’. Therefore we should receive Jesus’ warning not to follow in the footsteps of those who abuse their position for the purpose of being seen by men. Neither should we submit to such phonies.

Gone for a Moment, Gone Forever

This morning, I needed to move Grace’s car seat from my truck to Colleen’s car, but realized I didn’t have Colleen’s key only after I had the seat out of my truck. So, I sat the seat down on the driveway beside the car door and ran inside to get the key. On my way back out the door, the phone rang and I was detained about 5 minutes, which was plenty of time for someone to come by and take Grace’s car seat. I was gone for only a moment and Grace’s car seat is gone forever.

I’ve already had to wrestle with a lot of emotions. I felt violated on behalf of my daughter. I honestly think it would have been a softer blow had the thief taken something of mine and not Grace’s. Particularly, a safety device like her car seat.

It’s hard to estimate what a 3 year-old will perceive in situations like these. In this case, Grace thought she was somehow at fault and said, “Sorry, Papa, it’s my fault he took my seat.” I was really angry that he stole our stuff and forced us to change the plans of our day, but I was more angry that his actions gave Grace cause to feel guilty, in spite of the fact that she was the victim. I searched the neighborhood for a short while, but never saw any trace of the thief or the seat. In the big picture, it is probably better that I didn’t find him. Replacing the car seat was not cheap, but I have no doubt it was much cheaper in every way than a physical altercation with the thief would have been.

The response that worries me the most is the result of my neighbor identifying the thief as an Arab: racism. I use that word cautiously and in a very nuanced way. After all, I have some very good friends who are Arabs whom I trust without reservation. I don’t think all Arabs are thieves, but have struggled today, with thoughts of keeping an eye out for any Arabs in our neighborhood. Few areas in Jerusalem are integrated, and we live in a Jewish area. So, the default attitude in our neighborhood is that any Arabs in the area are suspect. Even though Arabs regularly work in the neighborhood, because they don’t live here, they are suspect? They are assumed either to be stealing stuff themselves, or casing the area for the benefit of their friends. My experience today, encouraged me to embrace such assumptions wholesale. That bothers me.

I’ve struggled with thoughts about an elderly Arab man, a day laborer that comes by every few weeks asking to work in the garden. His “sales pitch” is the same every time: “I need some work. I have 10 kids and no food in the house.” It’s a compelling story, particularly to those who really want helping others to be one of their core values. However, the first time he came by, I didn’t have any work for him, but I did give him some money for food. Enough money, in fact, to feed his family of “10 kids” for a couple of days. I explained to him that I was giving this to him because I love Jesus and I wanted to bless him. His response was stunning: He started cursing me, saying that what I gave him wasn’t enough. And this, in spite of the fact that it was more than he could earn in a day AND he was getting it without lifting a finger.

He has come to mind many times today, and I’ve wondered if he really is in need of work, or that’s just his “pass” to move through the neighborhood looking for things that can be lifted by his friends. There’s no direct connection between this man and what happened today. At least, not that I’m aware of. It’s not like I leave Grace’s car seat on the driveway next to the car on a regular basis, so he couldn’t report that to his friends. But still he has come to mind many times. That bothers me.

Finally, I’ve wrestled with the meaning of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-20: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (NKJV).” Do my reactions to this event indicate that Grace’s car seat was a treasure laid up here on earth? Obviously, I want to say “no.” But, I wonder. There seems to be a fine line between “laying up treasure here on earth” and being careful about the resources the Lord has given into our care. And I want to better understand the difference between the two.

Watching Their Flocks By Night

December 25 has long been the recognized date for western Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Please take note of the wording of the previous sentence: “…recognized date…to celebrate…” I didn’t suggest that it is the actual date of his incarnation, though I’m not opposed to the possible accuracy of such a date. The distinction is important because there seems to be annual discussions surrounding the inaccuracy of the December date, and these discussions typically include two points of proof: The alleged pagan origins of Christmas and the details about the shepherds in Luke’s birth narrative.

So common is the assertion that Christians simply co-opted the date of the pagan celebration of the winter solstice, even among many pastors, that it is almost unthinkable to consider another possibility. As evidence of the pagan origins of the holiday, the date and the use of trees in the traditional celebration of Christmas are generally the main offerings.

The use and decoration of trees in the celebration of Christmas, may, in fact, be evidence of an effort of Christians to redeem some elements of a pagan holiday. However, William J. Tighe suggests that we are only getting part of the story by focusing on the presence of the tree. His research indicates that rather than Christians co-opting a pagan holiday, it was pagans who appropriated a date thought significant by early Christians. He stops short of claiming there was a formal Christian celebration of Christmas on December 25, but he does suggest that it was recognized as a possible date of the birth of Jesus prior to Roman Emperor Aurelian instituting the pagan festival “Birth of the Unconquered Son” on December 25, 274. (You can see Tighe’s article here.)

Clearly, this isn’t incontrovertible evidence that Jesus was born on December 25, but it should cause one to pause before accepting as fact that celebrating Christmas on December 25 is simply following a pagan custom. The second issue is more interesting to me for the symbolism that it offers.

According to the Gospel of Luke (2:8), on the night of Jesus Christ’s birth, in the region of Bethlehem, there were shepherds out in the fields watching over their flocks. In the annual discussions about the actual date of Jesus’ birthday, Luke’s account is frequently offered as proof that clearly eliminates the possibility of a December 25th date for the birth of Jesus. Those who use Luke in this manner typically point to two facts: Location and time. The shepherds were in the fields at night.

It is interesting to me that people offer this as “proof” that Jesus couldn’t have been born in December, as though the weather patterns in and around Bethlehem are as definite as, for example, those in the Arctic Circle. The fact is that the weather in this area is not so definite. No doubt, sometimes December nights might be too cold and wet for shepherds to be in the fields. This year, interestingly enough, might be one of those since snow is in the weather forecast. However, while December is clearly within the period correctly designated as the “rainy, winter season,” it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the weather conditions around Bethlehem will be either rainy or cold. On this ground alone, this is a weak argument against the possibility of a December 25th birth of Jesus.

More interesting to me, though, is what I discovered some years ago as I considered this topic. According to Alfred Edersheim [1], his reading of the Mishnah [2] led him to conclude that the sheep kept around Bethlehem were, in fact, kept in the fields through the winter because they were sheep designated for slaughter at the Temple during Passover.

Consider the symbolic significance of Edersheim’s suggestion: The shepherds standing watch over sheep destined for the Passover sacrifice were suddenly visited by the angel of the Lord who was announcing the birth of the Savior, who John later identified as the lamb of God. Yes, Jesus, the Lamb of God, destined to be sacrificed for the sins of the world at Passover, was born in Bethlehem, where the Passover lambs were traditionally raised.

So, next time someone tells you, “We know that December 25 isn’t the actual date that Jesus was born” you might offer that the evidence may not be so clear. In any case, wish them a merry Christmas and make sure they clearly understand the significance of the fact that God became flesh – that the Lamb of God was born in Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas!

[1] Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA. n.d. Book I, pp. 186-187.
[2] The Mishnah is the Jewish oral law, and is now collected in written form.

Since writing this post, I have found some others who have integrated Tighe’s assertions in a good way. See the New Covenant blogspot here.