Red Letter Year: 7/19

Luke 8:40-56

40 On the other side of the lake the crowds welcomed Jesus, because they had been waiting for him. 41 Then a man named Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come home with him. 42 His only daughter, who was about twelve years old, was dying.

As Jesus went with him, he was surrounded by the crowds. 43 A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding, and she could find no cure. 44 Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped.

45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”

46 But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” 47 When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. 48 “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

49 While he was still speaking to her, a messenger arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. He told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”

50 But when Jesus heard what had happened, he said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.”

51 When they arrived at the house, Jesus wouldn’t let anyone go in with him except Peter, John, James, and the little girl’s father and mother. 52 The house was filled with people weeping and wailing, but he said, “Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”

53 But the crowd laughed at him because they all knew she had died. 54 Then Jesus took her by the hand and said in a loud voice, “My child, get up!” 55 And at that moment her life returned, and she immediately stood up! Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were overwhelmed, but Jesus insisted that they not tell anyone what had happened.


Here again Luke leaves Mark’s narrative mostly unchanged, in this case a story-within-a-story with strong parallels between the two intertwined vignettes. Consider the similarities:

  • Daughter. Both are referred to as “daughter”
  • 12 years. The girl’s age and the length of the woman’s suffering
  • Incurable conditions
  • Unclean
  • Restored to community

Those last two go together. The woman suffered from ongoing gynecological bleeding and was thus perpetually unclean. Excluded from all communal and religious events, celebrations. Excluded from community. Living completely isolated in a crowd. For twelve years. The girl was dead. Jesus returns the girl to her parents and removes the barrier between the woman and community. The power of Jesus always ends isolation. Always builds community.

Luke keeps verbatim what Mark records Jesus saying to the woman. This is also exactly what Luke reports Jesus saying to the woman who washed his feet with her tears in 7.50. Luke wanted us to connect these women mentally. They share an understanding of desperation. The woman of the city was overcome with gratitude for salvation she encountered before the scene. We are present for the salvation of this woman. She had spent all she had on cures that didn’t work. Failed attempts and snake oil salesmen had exploited her weaknesses and left her destitute. Unlike the woman of the city, this woman couldn’t even prostitute to earn a living. Her condition prevented even that. I am not sure how she survived such total isolation. The earlier woman’s tears of joy were undoubtedly shared by this woman. They probably both joined Jesus’ group of women followers. Supporting his ministry and sharing her marvelous story.

Just as Luke links these two women, he also links the demon possessed man from yesterday with Jairus. This connection seems less likely, but both run to Jesus and fall at his feet. Luke is not disparaging Jairus. The crowd welcomes Jesus because we are still in Galilee. As we have seen before, Jesus was popular there even among the synagogue elders. Jairus was either one of those advocating for the centurion or he at least sanctioned that solicitation, since he was the head elder. Both he and the Gerasene man fall at Jesus’ feet because they share the desperation of the women above. He didn’t know his daughter was dead, but he knew the situation was grave. No time for decorum. No time for saving face. The head of the synagogue dropped to the dusty ground at the feet of the only hope his daughter had.

The range of his emotions is hard to overstate. Jesus agrees and sets off with him, only to be stopped by an equally desperate woman. After a weird pause for questions, they resume only to be met with the most unkind messenger imaginable. Never mind, she’s dead. Thank you Mr. Blunt. Undeterred and unperturbed, Jesus pressed on, probably half-dragging, half-supporting the grief-stricken father along. Then his mourning turned to dancing. Instead of kissing a cold corpse goodbye, he held his only daughter (echoes of the only son from Nain and the only Son of the Father) in a warm embrace. Dave Matthews is right, “you should never have to watch your only children lowered in the ground, you should never have to bury your own babies.” (Gravedigger) Twice now Luke has shown us Jesus agreed.

And back to that interruption, which marks one change Luke made. Mark describes Jesus knowing what happened. Luke tells us Jesus felt power go out of him. That might sound weird to some, but my Vineyard and Pentecostal friends can relate to a degree. It is not uncommon to feel power go out of your hands as you pray for someone and they are healed (yes, this still happens, try it sometime). What is uncommon (to me at least) is for power to go out when I’m not praying, but just walking along (even in a tight crowd as was the case here). As Peter observed, a lot of people were touching Jesus. Hard to imagine that one woman was the only one who had a need. Why wasn’t power going out of Jesus to many? Why only her? She was the only one who touched him in faith. No other answer seems available to us. The rest were pressing along, experiencing Jesus to a point, but not all the way. Not in faith. Not in desperation. Not in trust. Only she did that.

So let’s recap the group of desperate people Luke has put together for us in chapters 7 and 8. A dead boy and his mother. A woman who could not stop crying and kissing Jesus’ feet. A group of wet, drowning men, including at least one self-described sinner and one tax collector. A naked man possessed by thousands of demons. A woman sick and completely rejected by all society. A dead girl and her bereft parents. That is a desperate crew. Jesus brought the power of the Spirit to bear on them all. These desperadoes, these alienated from the world, they become citizens of the kingdom. Jesus recruits and attracts desperate people. If we want to grow his kingdom (not our own fiefdoms), we should find the desperate people. They don’t belong to the world. The world is not worthy of them.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 4/10

Matthew 12:1-14

At about that time Jesus was walking through some grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. But some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Look, your disciples are breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.”

Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”

Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, 10 where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.)

11 And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. 12 And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! 14 Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus.


Matthew gives us two stories of Jesus breaking the Sabbath and discussing that with Pharisees (the religious leaders who were most offended by such action). It is interesting that in both instances the Pharisees cite the Law as forbidding what Jesus is doing, but only in the first instance does Jesus join them in biblical discussion. In the second story, Jesus appeals to compassion and common decency (or perhaps common sense). In both cases, the Pharisees have a strong(er) biblical argument. The Law was considered more primary than the history of prophets that Jesus mentions and we can see what a big deal this was to them because they immediately begin scheming about how to destroy Jesus. 

They do this because Jesus clearly sets himself above the Law as one with authority over it. The Sabbath is for our benefit, it is good for us to rest from work, recover, and heal. Munching on grain and healing a man’s hand are quite in keeping with the principle that Jesus has extracted from the Sabbath regulation, but he is clearly using a different method of interpretation from that of the Pharisees. He begins with the principles of love, goodness, compassion, trust, and hope and reads the Bible so that it accentuates or at least does not hinder the practice of these principles. This moves Jesus quite far from a literal reading of the Bible. For literalists, the Pharisees clearly have the superior reading, which helps explain why so many Christians go back to slavishly practicing things Jesus set us free from. We read the Bible like Pharisees more often than we read the Bible like Jesus. Which is a shame, since Jesus’ way leads to people being fed and healed. We should try reading the Bible compassionately more often. Good and powerful things would probably happen.


New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.