It is apparent from the events of today’s Gospel that our Lord’s fame had spread far and wide. Certainly this was to be expected in light of the miracles which He worked—particularly those in which He healed the sick. Two thousand years ago even the best medicine and the best doctors were extremely limited in their abilities. Today, we take “wonder drugs” like penicillin for granted, but in our Lord’s time many people died from wounds and illnesses and complications that were simply untreatable with the medicines at hand. That our Lord was able to routinely and certainly heal the sick made Him a miracle worker of the first class—and His name had to be on the tip of every tongue.
Today we see the entire spectrum of attitudes toward this miracle working God-man. At one end, we see the totally convinced. Even more than the centurion who told Jesus that He need do nothing more than “say the word and my servant will be healed,” the woman with the incurable hemorrhage knew that she didn’t even have to say anything to Him—all she had to do was touch the hem of His cloak and she would be healed. She did just that and power flowed out of our Lord and healed her on the spot: “Take courage daughter, thy faith has saved thee.”
Then we read about the ruler of the synagogue, a man identified as Jairus in the other Gospels, who had just lost his twelve year old daughter. Jairus was a little more cautious than the centurion, as he wanted Jesus to come and see his daughter in person: “Come and lay your hand upon her.” This was no lack of faith on his part, just something that naturally goes with the territory when something bad happens to a father’s little girl. (Even when she is older than twelve, by the way.) And, of course, Jesus did go—and by all of the accounts, she was already dead—but He took her by the hand and raised her to life.
But we also read about the non-believers in this morning’s Gospel—those who “laughed Jesus to scorn,” when He suggested that Jairus’ daughter was just asleep and that He could wake her. The phrasing here is important—Matthew, Mark, and Luke use identical words—“they laughed Jesus to scorn.” That is to say that they didn’t just chuckle a bit, or merely shake their heads in disbelief—“they laughed Him to scorn”—which is to say that they labeled Him as an incompetent fool who had to fail in His mission. It is to say that they kept laughing at Him without interruption, in the manner of men who have nothing intelligent to say, but just keep making noises to silence their opponent until he gives up in disgust and just goes away.
Of course, Jesus didn’t go away. He just had Jairus put the hecklers out of his house, while He went about the business of bringing the little girl back from the dead.
It is significant, I think, that, on one hand, the Gospel reports two kinds of believers: one, the woman, who expected something quite unusual, as though it were the routine; and the other, Jairus, who hoped for something unusual, but recognized it as a very wonderful favor that ought to be asked for with “please” and “thank you.” There are two kinds of believers. But the Gospel reports only one kind of unbeliever; the kind who becomes hostile because of his unbelief. I don’t think this is an oversight, because experience tends to lead toward the idea that unbelievers become hostile when faced with the truth of Jesus Christ. That is to say that there are few unbelievers, if any, who simply don’t care what Jesus came to say or do.
Generally, we see that the unbeliever bristles at the idea that Christ might be a King, with rights over the way in which civil society is run—with some say about the sanctity of innocent human life, the education of children, the sanctity of marriage, and the permanency of the family unit. The unbeliever becomes upset over the idea that there is a moral law—he is even upset with those who voluntarily strive after moral perfection. He even becomes agitated when people merely invoke the name of Christ in public affairs, or suggest that Christian principles might be of public benefit.
The unbeliever often tries to “laugh the believer to scorn.” Unable to explain why the believer might be wrong, the unbeliever just repeats meaningless phrases over and over, with the hope that the believer will become exasperated and go away. The unbelievers in Jesus’ time accused Him of blasphemy, and of working His miracles through “the Prince of devils.” Modernist unbelievers accuse believers of “hatred,” or “schism,” or “bigotry,” or any of a few dozen other meaningless terms and groundless accusations.
We might ask ourselves: “What can we do about the unbelievers and their active dislike for Christ and Christianity?” You may recall that, shortly after the events of today’s Gospel, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, suggested to Jesus that He ought to bring fire down out of the sky onto a Samaritan village where they were treated with similar unbelieving contempt! Our Lord, of course, reminded them that: “The Son of man came not to destroy souls, but to save them.” (He also nick-named James and John “the sons of Thunder”—a very apt name for people with such “ham-handed” solutions to spiritual problems!)
The answer is not to call fire down upon those who criticize us for being followers of Jesus Christ. Rather, we must seek to convert them by our good example, we must pray for them, and perhaps even do penance for them. The denial of Jesus Christ in the modern world is a terrible evil, for which reparation must be made. We who are believers can make that reparation on behalf of those who are not. And let us not forget, that through our own failings, we bear some of the responsibility for this unbelief. Just think of the positive effect we could all have if we carefully followed the advice in Saint Paul’s epistle today—think of the positive effect it would have on the world if every believer in Jesus Christ was an enthusiastic and public believer, and not just someone wanting to “fit in” among the unbelievers.
At one time or another we have all felt a bit alone, and outnumbered by the unbelievers around us. Perhaps today’s Gospel is intended to fill us with a positive assurance of God’s willingness to deal with worldly unbelief if we just have faith in Him. If we just strive to touch the hem of His garment, His power will flow to us, so that the unbelievers may become believers.