Message preached on
July 1, 2018
[This message is shared as if I was the Biblical character, Matthias.]
We were inseparable - my friend Barsabbas, my baby sister Galyah, and me. We called ourselves the “Three Maccabees,” remembering those great heroes of the faith. With sticks as our swords, we pretended to drive God’s enemies out of Israel, to cleanse the Temple of all the filth that those dirty Greeks had brought into it. At other times, we would stand beside the sea with our staves and imagine parting the water, just like Moses, and letting God’s people go free. Or we would go up into the hills and march around some rock we pretended was Jericho, and blow our imaginary horns until the walls came tumbling down in our minds.
It’s great being a kid. I loved growing up in Magdala. At first, I wasn’t so keen on including Galyah, but I didn’t have much choice. When your mother tells you to take care of your little sister, you do. Fortunately, Barsabbas didn’t have a problem with it, so there we were. Since our fathers were fishermen, like most of the men in town, your life gravitates toward the water. The “Three Maccabees” spent a lot of time in a boat, pretending to fish. Oh, we caught some, mind you, but it was all in fun - practicing, I guess, for the day we would join the men at sea.
Childhood is great! Unfortunately, the day came - all too quickly - for Barsabbas and I to sail upon the sea with our fathers and learn the trade. I still remember the first time we went out, looking back at the shore and seeing Galyah standing there all alone. My heart went out to her, for she would never know this part of life. This was men’s work, after all. The “Three Maccabees” were no more. A threshold had been crossed. From that day forward, a distance grew between me and her. It’s only natural, you see, for boys and girls to grow into men and women - and what once was … changes forever.
Galyah soon didn’t look like my baby sister. She filled out and became quite an attractive young woman. I noticed a different glint in Barsabbas’ eye when he saw her, to which I’d poke him in the ribs and say, “watch it, that’s my sister!” I never lost that big brother attitude, you see. The voice saying, “take care of your little sister,” came from the inside.
Not that she needed my protection. She had the spirit of a Maccabee, which she put into starting a business. In spite of Mother’s disapproval, she became quite successful. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, something happened. She and I never talked about it directly. It’s not the sort of thing men and women discuss together. All that I knew was that her “time of the month” never ended. You know what the Torah says about such things. A woman is unclean during those times, it says. Everything she touches becomes unclean also (Leviticus 15:25-30). I overheard my mother once say that it gave her an excuse to pull back once a month and let someone else do the work. “A woman’s curse,” she said, “sometimes has its blessings.”
Even though I had little idea what it meant to a woman, I could see little blessing in Galyah’s curse. Little by little I watched her pull away, forced into a lonely life. What man, after all, would want a woman with such a problem? Not only that - I noticed the women in town slowly pull away from her, also. She spoke with Rabbi Jairus about it, but he could offer little help. The hemorrhaging needed to end before the requirements of God’s Law kicked in. She tried everything she could, went to every doctor she knew. They all had an answer, a treatment, something to do - for a price. She wasted all her savings on it, never getting any satisfaction.
I felt so helpless. As her big brother, I was supposed to take care of her. But even I allowed the distance to grow between me and her. When I visited in her home, I sat on one side of the room and she on the other. It became so very formal between us. I hated it, but I couldn’t seem to do anything different. The Torah didn’t say to keep this much distance, but I did anyway. Oh, for the days of the “Three Maccabees.” We would have drawn our stick swords and attacked this enemy who defiled the temple of her body, driving it out. But that’s just child’s play.
I told her about how me and Barsabbas had discovered this new rabbi named Jesus, how we became his followers. Our fathers were none-too-happy that we left the fishing nets behind, but what could they say, we were men now. I periodically came home, and when I did, Galyah and I would talk about Jesus - at a distance, mind you. He was so good with words. When he spoke about God’s kingdom, it was like you could almost reach out and touch it. Such authority in his voice! With a word he drove out the unclean spirit from a man - just like that (Mark 1:22-28). I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. He healed the mother of one of the twelve (1:30-31). A leper along the way was healed, also (1:40-45). Get this - the friends of a paralyzed man even broke open the roof of a house Jesus was in and lowered him in through the hole before the rabbi, who then made him well (2:3-12). I shared all this with my baby sister.
After a day of teaching beside the sea (4:1-34), Jesus wanted to head out to sea. As we had one of our boats there, Barsabbas and I volunteered to go along. Partway across, a big storm hit. We were all afraid, even those of us familiar with the sea. Jesus just slept through it all, so they said, until they woke him up and with a word he stilled the storm (4:35-41). Why he crossed over to the other side, I don’t know. People there we just considered ignorant. They didn’t believe in the God of Moses. They were Gentiles, for heaven’s sake. Anyone who raises pigs should know better. No self-respecting Jew would be caught dead with those unclean animals (Leviticus 11:7-8, Deuteronomy 14:8). There was a crazy man over there, possessed by a legion of unclean spirits, whom Jesus healed. He sent the spirits into a herd of swine - if you can believe that- who then fled off a cliff. I believe it, cause I saw it with my own eyes (5:1‑20). When we returned, I immediately went to my sister and told her all about it.
Back down by the sea in Magdala, Jesus was teaching when rabbi Jairus came to him. “My daughter is very sick,” he said. “Please come.” It was on the way to Jairus’ house that it happened. The whole crowd went with us. Not being one of the twelve, I followed from a distance, wedged within that mob. And then I saw her. Galyah was part of the crowd. On the one hand, I was thrilled. This was the first time she had come to see Jesus. On the other hand, I was afraid. She was, after all, contaminated. She shouldn’t have been in that crowd. Everyone she bumped against was made unclean. This was reckless behavior. If someone recognized her, she would have been in big trouble. Rabbi Jairus was just up ahead with Jesus.
I wanted to call out to her, but I couldn’t. For one thing, with all the noise, she might not have heard me. More important, my yelling might have drawn attention to her. I didn’t want to risk her humiliation. As best I could, I pushed and pulled to get closer to her. I could tell, though, where she was headed, and she was making better progress than I, that third Maccabee! I was getting frantic. I had to stop her before she got to Jesus. If she touched him, he would be defiled. Right there in front of Jairus. I wanted to protect him. I wanted to protect her. I wasn’t thinking rationally, I know that. After all, I’d prayed so long for this day, but it was turning out more like a nightmare than a dream.
I saw her reach out and touch him, and then pull back into the crowd. Good! Maybe nobody would notice. Then my heart sank as Jesus stopped and looked around. He had noticed. I could see him talking to some of the twelve, who also started looking around. They were shrugging their shoulders. Then, I heard Jesus say, “Who touched me?” The crowd stopped and listened. Then I saw my sister step forward and talk with him. “Oh, God,” I thought, “this can’t be happening.” I envisioned my sister being humiliated or, at worst, being stoned for what she did. Then, wonder of wonders, I saw a smile on Jesus’ face. I will forever remember that smile. He put his hand on her shoulder, and she turned and left. And there was a smile on her face, also.
I tried to make my way to her, but just then some runners came up to Jairus. We all heard them say, “your daughter is dead. Don’t trouble the teacher any more.” A gasp went up from the crowd. Poor girl. Poor Jairus, our faithful town rabbi. It was a tragedy, but such is life. However, Jesus wasn’t finished. In the stillness of that moment of shared grief, I clearly heard him say, “Don’t be afraid, Jairus. Just believe.” Then he told the rest of us to stay, while he, Peter, James, and John continued on with Jairus to his daughter’s side.
“Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” Those words ran through my head as I made my way to my sister’s house. I hadn’t been able to take care of her all those years. Her illness, which I didn’t understand, nor could I as a man, had made me afraid. I had allowed it to come between us. Why hadn’t I taken her with me to Jesus before this? She had had to do it on her own. What kind of big brother was I, anyway? “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”
When she opened the door, I did something I had not done for a long, long time. I reached out and hugged her. We then sat and talked. She laughed when I told her of my fears. “Matthias, you twit. I’m a big girl, now. You don’t have to protect me. This was something I needed to do on my own.” She then told me about how, when she touched the edge of Jesus’ robe, something happened. She knew in her body that she was healed. When he asked who had touched him, she didn’t return because she was afraid of him or anyone else. She stepped forward, instead, out of awe and wonder over what she knew deep within.
“What did he say to you,” I asked. “He called me a daughter of God, and said it was my faith that had made me whole. ‘Shalom,’ he said, ‘be healed of your disease.’ That’s all.” We sat there as brother and sister until sunset, enjoying the moment, in awe of the goodness of the Lord. It was like God’s kingdom had come.
We later heard that Jairus’ daughter was just fine. By then, we met up with Barsabbas, and together we joined in the growing entourage of disciples following Jesus to the next town along the way. The “Three Maccabees” were back in business. The rest, so they say, is history. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Just believe.”