Desperate Deeds & Deeper Love
I have found that I tend to react with irritation toward people who do desperate things.
A man was standing at the side of the highway throwing clumps of mud at cars passing by. Finally one irate driver stopped, stepped out of his car and yelled, “Hey, Man, what’s the idea?”
Before he could say anything else, the man who had been throwing the mud cried out, “Thank you for stopping! I tried to wave others down, but no one would stop. My son and I were hunting, and he accidentally shot himself. He’s over here in the bushes. Please help!”
When people are acting their worst, it stirs up my irritation. But often when they are acting their worst, they are desperate for help. I see their “worst” and get irritated, but Jesus sees their need and responds to their desperation with deeper love.
Mark 5 records the story of two people who approach Jesus out of desperation. The first is a synagogue leader named Jairus, whose twelve-year-old daughter is dying. He pleads with Jesus to heal his beloved daughter, and Jesus hurries off with him toward Jairus’ home.
Along the way, though, another person takes desperate action. A woman “who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years” was already well acquainted with desperate actions. Mark reports that she “had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had” but had only grown worse. Not only had she been suffering physically from the consistent loss of blood, she had also been suffering emotionally. Jewish law stated, “Any bed she lies on, while her discharge continues, will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. Whoever touches these will be unclean, he must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening.” (Leviticus 15:25-27).
This left her in a rather miserable predicament. She was virtually cut off from connection with other people, and absolutely cut off from public worship of God. To take it a step further, tradition of the time blamed such bleeding on immorality, and required a husband to divorce his bleeding wife. She is assumed to be immoral, and is forced into a life of rejection, ostracism, loneliness and shame.
In desperation, she had probably moved beyond the legitimate doctors to the cockamamie folk cures that were popular in her day. One folk cure had promised healing if a bleeding woman carried the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen bag in summer and in a cotton bag in winter. Another promised healing if she would carry a barley corn found in the dung of a white female donkey. Can you imagine her finding a white donkey, feeding it barley corn, then following it around for days to dig through its excrements to pull out a digested barley corn she could carry around with her? Can you imagine the pain and anger and frustration she felt when every crazy effort failed?
Because of her bleeding, she should never have been milling about in that crowd of people, but she is desperate—desperate enough to enter the crowd, desperate enough to maneuver her way close to Jesus, and desperate enough to grab one of the tassels that hung from the edge of Jesus’ robe as he hurried along the road.
Aware of what has taken place, Jesus stops and asks who touched him.
This question strikes tremendous fear in her. According to religious law and social custom, she should not have touched Him. If she comes forward, will Jesus scold her? Will the crowd humiliate her? As she stands there terrified her heart pounds, “Boom-boom! Boom-boom! Boom-boom!”
But Jesus responds to her desperate act with deeper love. He has no interest in adding to her embarrassment or isolation. Rather he waits for her to come forward in order to restore her. When she comes forward, he says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
For as long as Jairus’ daughter had been alive and loved by her father, this woman had been ostracized. She had been legally banned from physical contact with anyone. Anything she sat upon or lay down upon had been considered unclean. She was regarded as immoral. If she had been married, she had now been abandoned by her husband; if she was not yet married, she was considered unworthy of marriage. She had been alone and lonely.
But Jesus waited for her to come out of hiding and to come out of isolation. When she does so, he calls her, “Daughter.”
“Daughter”…. This is the only time in the gospels that Jesus calls anyone, “Daughter,” so we need to take it seriously. The word is a term of endearment, a title of intimacy, a word of relationship. Jesus looks upon this woman in the same way Jairus looks upon his precious little girl.
In Jesus, this woman’s desperate deed was met by deeper love.
A God who fishes?
Jesus showed up in Simon Peter’s life (and he would show up in our lives) not to be merely a preacher or teacher, but to be a life-changer.
Here is the first piece of evidence: One morning, Jesus showed up beside the lake of Gennesaret to teach a crowd that was “pressing in on him to hear the word of God” (Luke 5:1). It just so happened that Simon Peter and his fishing partners were on the same beach, washing their nets after fishing throughout the night but catching nothing. Apparently Jesus’ teaching on this occasion is dynamic, for he captures and holds the attention of a crowd large enough to pack the beach. Indeed, the crowd becomes so large that Jesus asks Simon to put his boat out a little ways onto the lake and to let him use the boat as a platform from which to speak to the crowd. But as good as Jesus’ teaching was that day, and as committed as Luke is to record many other lessons that Jesus taught, no mention is made is made about what Jesus taught this day. Luke determines that something far more important than a great sermon takes place on Simon’s boat that morning, so Luke leaves out any report on Jesus’ sermon and records only the interaction between Jesus and Simon Peter.
The interaction begins with a request that Jesus makes of Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon is not too happy with the request. He complains, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” But Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law the previous evening, so Simon figures that he owes Jesus a favor. He says to Jesus, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Notice the contrast between the words of Jesus’ request and the words of Simon’s reply. Jesus said to him, “Let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon says merely, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
It seems that Simon makes some quick calculations in his mind: Jesus may be a nice guy. He may be a good teacher. He may even be able to heal people. But fishing? Clearly Jesus knows nothing about fishing. After catching nothing during the night, the prospects now are dim.
Fishing: That’s the skill in which Simon feels that he is tops. It’s the area of life where Simon feels that he is doing well on his own. Let Jesus stick to his religious activities, his fine public speaking, and his wonderful healings, but stay out of Simon’s fishing business. That’s where Simon shines!
But holy mackerel! When Simon lets down his nets they fill with such a great catch of fish that Simon has to call in reinforcements. Even then, the catch is so large that both boats almost sink.
Suddenly Simon realizes what Jesus has been up to on the boat. He didn’t ask Simon to “put out into the deep water” because he wanted to watch a real-life fisherman at work. He wasn’t even out there to catch a fish. He was out there to catch Simon. Jesus went out on that boat to teach a lesson—not to the crowd on the shore but to the fisherman on board. The lesson is that Jesus knows Simon through and through, and he wants to be at the heart of everything in Simon’s life—not just the religious parts.
Simon is shocked and embarrassed. He is shocked by what has taken place. He is embarrassed to discover that Jesus has seen right through him—right into his doubts, presuppositions, and arrogance. He says to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
But Jesus doesn’t leave. Jesus invites Simon into a new and greater adventure in life. He says to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
The lessons we find here are that Jesus knows us through and through, that he wants to be God over the whole of our lives (not just the religious parts), and that submitting the whole of our lives to him is a good thing, for Jesus is committed to doing great good in and through our lives.
Early in his ministry (in Mark 2:9), Jesus asked some scribes a vital question—perhaps the most important question of his entire ministry—pertaining to the difficult nature of forgiveness. He asked, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?”
Here is the context to the question: A paralyzed man was brought to Jesus to be healed, and Jesus began by forgiving the man’s sins.
The man’s paralysis was of immense concern. The man’s paralysis was most likely both new and life-threatening. The challenges of living long as a paralyzed person are difficult enough in our modern world, with the tremendous advancements of medical care. At the time of Jesus, it would have been unlikely for a paralyzed person to have been able to survive long. No wonder the paralyzed man’s friends were willing to take the desperate steps of ripping a hole in a homeowner’s roof in order to get their friend to Jesus.
By raising the question as to whether it is more difficult to heal a person of paralysis or to forgive a person’s sins, Jesus makes it clear that forgiveness of sins is also a matter of immense concern.
The question about the difficulty of forgiving sins is raised at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry; it is not answered until the end of his life.
As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest and crucifixion, he pleaded with God, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Luke tells us that he prayed in such agony that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:44). Such agony gives evidence of how difficult it was going to be for Jesus to endure what it took to forgive our sins.
Upon the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Such anguish gives evidence of how difficult it was for Jesus to take upon himself the full calamity of our sins.
Because Jesus was willing to take on the great difficulty of forgiving sin, he was able to say to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). And he is able to say to us, “Beloved child, your sins are forgiven.”
These two matters (forgiveness and adoption as God’s own children) are inextricably bound together. “Inextricably” is defined as having to do with two or more items being “so involved that extrication is impossible” or to being so connected that they “cannot be disentangled.”
Forgiveness and adoption are so connected that they cannot be disentangled. Indeed, ancient Roman law stipulated that adoption involved the canceling of an adoptee’s previous debts.
Because of what Jesus was willing to endure on the cross for us, we are forgiven and we are adopted as God’s beloved children.
The identifiable mark of God
A fingerprint provides evidence that a person was at the scene. Moreover, a fingerprint is the identifiable mark of a person; it identifies who the person is.
In Jesus, God came into our world not merely as a spirit, but as God-in-human-flesh who would leave fingerprints on all he touched. Over and over again, Jesus’ fingerprints left evidence that God was not merely hovering for a while above our earth, but that God was actually on the scene at particular places at particular times with specific people, and his fingerprints consistently left behind the identifiable marks of God.
The second time we have a report of Jesus touching something or someone in the Gospel of Mark, the recipient of his touch is highly unexpected!
Mark begins the story by telling us that a man with leprosy knelt before Jesus and said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”
A leper at that time was an unwelcome person, banished by law from society, and not permitted to live in or to roam the streets of any walled city. A person with leprosy was a feared individual. A leper was required to stay at least six feet away from uninfected people. If he came too close, people could throw rocks at him to drive him away. A leper was considered to be untouchable. Indeed, anyone who touched a leper would be classified as unclean for seven days and must abide by all the restrictions that applied to a leper.
As he knelt before Jesus, this leper’s words to Jesus expressed his confidence that Jesus could heal him of leprosy if Jesus would choose to do so. That is a significant expression of faith in Jesus’ power, for the rabbis taught that it would be as unlikely for a person to die and come alive again as it would be for a person to be cured of leprosy. But this man had more faith than the rabbis. He believed Jesus could do it. His only uncertainty was whether the one who was able to heal him would want to heal him.
Mark records Jesus’ reply: “Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean.”
The Greek word used here for “moved with pity is splagchnistheis, which comes from the Greek word for one’s entrails. It has to do with feeling something in our very gut. It tells us that Jesus felt this man’s agony deep in his own gut. Jesus ached inside with this man. He felt for the rejection, animosity and loneliness this man was living with. He knew the man had probably not been touched by another human being in many years.
For this reason, Jesus did not heal this man from six feet away, but stepped forward, reached out his hand, and touched the man—even though that touch meant that Jesus would be classified as “unclean” for seven days.
When Jesus touched that man, his touch left the fingerprint of God, the identifiable mark of God.
The band Casting Crowns sings a song that asks, “Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt?” But the identifiable mark that this fingerprint left upon a man who had been considered “untouchable” is that God’s compassion is so intimate that Christ feels our agony and so deep that Christ acts for our best interest despite the unpleasant consequences to himself (whether that means bearing the classification of unclean for a week or dying on a cross for us).