29. The Widow

People who met Jesus : 29 :  The Widow

Lk 7:11-15 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out–the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

This story appears nowhere else in the Gospels. Perhaps it appears in Luke’s Gospel because, as he was sifting the stories he had heard, trying to decide which ones to include, this one struck him, as a physician, for its shear beauty. Luke is clearly a people-person who feels for people and the story of the widow of Nain is a moving story. It is thought that Nain is probably in the south east of Galilee, and Jesus is obviously on his tour of the towns of Galilee bringing the love of God to them. Why he went to Nain we don’t know. Whether he knew what was about to happen, again we don’t know, but otherwise it is a coincidence that he arrives at the moment that a funeral procession is coming out of the town gate on the way to the local cemetery.

Look at the terrible description of the dead person: “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” This isn’t just a funeral; this is a portrayal of the devastating nature of life. We don’t know how old the son was but there is no mention of a wife in attendance which may suggest both he and his mother are of younger years, yet he is described as a man at the end of our verses.  But she is a widow. She has already lost her husband. Life has already dealt her one cruel blow and now it is dealing her another, for her only son has just died. She is now all alone. This is a most pitiful picture.

There are no reasons given in this short account for the death of the husband and the death of the son. Job’s comforters would have claimed that they must have been a bad family and they were only getting what they deserved, but it doesn’t work like that! If we got what we deserved all of us would be dead. Yes, some sins do bring about illness or even death, but people who are not sinful in any big way die for no apparent reason beyond the illness or bodily failure that took them. Life in a Fallen World is like that, it goes wrong and people die. Ultimately we die because of sin in the world but the reasons why specific people die are often a mystery. It isn’t judgment; it’s just that we live in a Fallen World where things go wrong.

Yet into this world comes the Son of God with all power. He doesn’t exercise that power indiscriminately but uses it as moved by the Father – or by people! In this story we read, When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.” Jesus acted as he did because he was moved by compassion. Compassion is an expression of love and we are told, “God IS love,” (Jn 4:8,16) and Jesus is the perfect expression of that love, and Jesus constantly expresses love, and we see it in different forms in the Gospels. Here we see it in the form of compassion that moved him into action.

We are told something else about the woman: a large crowd from the town was with her.” She was a popular woman and her plight caused anguish in the town. When Jesus sees her and sees the crowd, he is moved. He understands her plight and he feels for her, and what he feels moves him to act.

There are three phases to what he does. The first is to reassure the woman: his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Initially she may not have realised what was happening. All she knows is that suddenly this preacher accompanied by his own large crowd steps up and interrupts the funeral procession, and he starts with her. Phase one is a subtle indication that he is going to do something. Next he goes over to the procession and puts his hand on what was probably an open-top coffin. Those carrying it stop. This man obviously wants something and he carries and air of authority about him, so the funeral procession is stopped and they come to a halt. Jesus is bringing this ‘death activity’ to a halt. It’s as if he is implying, that’s enough, this has gone on long enough. The third phase is a word of authority spoken to the dead body and that word has effect so that the body comes alive and the man sits up and starts speaking.

I suspect that those carrying the coffin didn’t know what to do with themselves at this point! No doubt they put the coffin down, if they hadn’t already done that when Jesus stopped them. From the wording it would appear that Jesus probably took the confused (?) man by the hand and led him back to his mother who must have now been standing there in tears. Luke just records, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.It is a purposeful act of reuniting them. Mother and son are back together again. Wonderful!

This is a story where nothing is asked of Jesus, and no one came to him. He simply came upon this funeral procession and stepped in, moved by compassion. There are times when we pray our hearts out to get God to move on our behalf, and there are times when He just comes on His own volition. Why does He come? He comes because He loves us and is moved by our plight. Hallelujah!

28. Weeping Mary

People who met Jesus : 28 :  Weeping Mary

Mt 26:6-13 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

I have often had to make comment about contradictions in the Bible – or rather the absence of true contradictions. If there is an account that might come in the line of fire of those who are looking for contradictions, this passage is one such.  There is a similar account in Luke 7:36-39 and another in John 12:1-8. The key point about contradictions is that they need to be specific opposites of information. Simply different information is different reporting styles. Let’s see what we have here.

In Matthew and Luke there is an unnamed woman who comes with a jar of perfume. In John she is named as Mary, presumably the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who were both there. Matthew and John both identify the location as Bethany. Matthew says it was the home of Simon the Leper, while Luke says it was the home of a Pharisee and John doesn’t say whose home it was. In Matthew she pours the perfume over Jesus’ head, in John she pours it on his feet and in Luke we aren’t told what she did with it.

In Matthew the disciples object to the waste, in John it is Judas who is identified as the objector (and Jesus does use some same words in both), and in Luke it is the Pharisee who questions Jesus’ ability to discern the state of this woman. In Matthew the woman isn’t described, in John she is simply described as Mary, but in Luke she is described as a woman who had lived a sinful life. My own view on these accounts is that there are such similarities that we must be talking about the same incident – in Bethany, at dinner, perfume, and a woman.

I may be wrong and I know some commentators think we have different incidents here, but I have no problem synthesising the information in the three accounts. So Simon, who had previously been a leper is now a Pharisee. Mary, sister of Martha, didn’t have a good history (often in the Lazarus; account in Jn 11 we just think of them as nice people, but that isn’t necessarily so). It is quite probable that the Synoptic writers don’t name to woman to protect her, whereas John was writing so much later it is probable that she (and Lazarus) were no longer alive when he wrote.  The rest of the points are simply different emphases being made by the different writers.

So let’s focus now on the woman. Let’s suppose she was the Mary we’ve already considered in the Luke account of Mary and Martha in an earlier meditation. She had previously sat at Jesus’ feet and if Luke 7 is the same incident, she bathes in the love of the Master who has accepted and forgiven her past (had Martha previously invited Jesus to their home to talk some sense into Mary?)

THE crucial thing about these accounts and about her is that she had expensive perfume and she poured it out on Jesus as she wept over him. Was she weeping for her own sins or because she sensed that something awful is about to happen to Jesus. Here we have a woman moved by emotion into an extravagant action that received censure from both some of the disciples and the host. From Jesus she only receives acceptance. He is simply blessed by her action.

For those of us who have nice controlled unemotional lives, we may struggle with this woman. In fact we may struggle with anyone who expresses emotion in their spiritual life. I remember the testimony of one of our (now) elderly members who, when he first came to us many years ago, was embarrassed by the emotion he found being expressed by the congregation in worship. Worship should be a volitional and emotional expression if it is real worship. The psalms are full of emotion and emotions must have been fully operational when Jesus was performing so many miracles on a daily basis. Thankfulness, praise and wonder must have been the order of the day.

There is an even lovelier reason for raw emotion to be expressed which Jesus highlighted when he chided his guest in Luke’s ongoing account: Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” (Lk 7:41-43) and then referring to her past Jesus declared, “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Lk 7:47) Wow! There’s the truth. Those who are conscious of their past sins are really grateful when they are forgiven and saved. Those who think they are all right, love little for, as John was to write, “We love because he first loved us.” (Jn 4:19)

This is an account of a woman who had an unsavoury past but who was loved and accepted by Jesus and so was thankful, so thankful that she literally poured out her love over Jesus, using perfume. Extravagant love is what God looks for. May He find it in us!

27. Mary Magdalene

People who met Jesus : 27 :  Mary Magdalene

Lk 8:1-3 After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

Although Mary Magdalene features strongly in modern myth about Jesus, we know relatively little about her from the Gospels, and documents outside the canon of Scripture are so suspect as to be ruled out as sources of truth. The speculation that arises, tends to be about Mary’s relationship with Jesus, yet if anything of modern speculation were verging on the truth, that would surely have been picked up by the Gospel writers. If she had a strong place in the apostolic band, it would certainly have been referred to – but it isn’t. In terms of descriptions of her, these verses in Luke are really all we have. She is just another figure who was with Jesus, and the Gospels give no hint of anything beyond that.

The first possibly surprising piece of information that Luke gives us is that when Jesus exercised his itinerant ministry, he didn’t only travel with the twelve men, but there were also a number of women who travelled with him as well. Their role is clearly that of a support team. The provision for this band would have come from people they met along the way, but it is also from the women who now travelled with Jesus. Whether Mary had much to contribute we don’t know. We don’t know her background at all, apart from the fact that the name ‘Magdalene’ supposes ‘from Magdala’, a town thought to be on the Western shore of the Sea of Galilee, south of Capernaum. We don’t know whether she had had a husband, whether she was rich or poor or what.

The only thing we do know about her, that Luke the doctor picks up, is that she had previously been severely demon possessed. In fact, he says, she had had seven demons cast out of her by Jesus. Now we have, in previous meditations, commented that it is our belief (though not mentioned in Scripture) that for a demon to take up residence in a person (possession), their life had to be of a nature that invited Satan in. It has to be a life given over to the occult, or to sin, in a serious way. For there to have been seven demons in Mary, suggests a very bad life previously. What is intriguing is why her deliverance does not feature in the Scriptural accounts. It suggests that the Gospel writers often drew a veil over circumstances involving individuals, perhaps to protect them from publicity. Surely this is the only reason Lazarus’s raising from the dead is not mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels. Many of the people who are picked out for a mention are not named. Thus Mary’s background is hardly mentioned.

Yet, here she now is, as a faithful follower of Jesus, serving the apostolic band. Again we don’t know for how long. The whole of the three years? Just part of it? We just know these sorts of things.

The next mention of her is by Matthew and it is at Jesus’ crucifixion: Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” (Mt 27:55,56) He also makes the point that they had travelled with Jesus and the team, to care for their needs. The rest of the disciples may be in hiding, but these women are drawn to watch the terrible last hours of Jesus.

Her final role as seen in the Gospels is of one of the key people who first saw the risen Jesus. Matthew records, “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.” (Mt 28:1) The add on section of Mark’s Gospel records, When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.” (Mk 16:9) John also records this: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” (Jn 20:1) and then Jesus appears to her (v.13-17) and she returns to tell the rest of the band: “Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.” (Jn 20:18)

Mary Magdalene shows us a woman with a very difficult past, who fell into utter darkness, met Jesus and was utterly restored to normality – yet we are told virtually nothing about that. We are told that she became a faithful follower and stood by Jesus even in the darkest hour and perhaps for that, was granted the privilege of being the first to see Jesus when he rose from the dead. Modern mysticism wants to make more of her but this is all we are told in the Gospels accounts. She brings us hope – restored from the depths by Jesus. She is an example – a servant/provider for Jesus who stuck with him. She provides a testimony of the risen Lord. Beyond that – nothing!

I am amazed, when I read Abraham’s story in Genesis, how little we are told of him considering all the years he had encounters with God. It’s the same sort of thing as we see here with Mary Magdalene and so many others. They had a real, living, vibrant relationship with the Lord but we are told so little about them. They simply are players in the great story about Jesus. Yet they ARE significant! And isn’t that how it is with so many (if not all) of us? In terms of history, most of what we were and did will not be remembered, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that day by day we walked with the Lord and as far as He is concerned that is important. Every now and then we will do something really noteworthy but mostly, for most of us, life isn’t like that. We are simply faithful followers – and God is blessed. It doesn’t matter that we don’t get great acclaim for lots of ‘big’ things!  Be blessed in who you are as his follower!

26. Adulterous Woman

People who met Jesus : 26 :  The Adulterous Woman

Jn 8:3-6 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

I have to confess that this is one of my favourite stories about people who met Jesus. This is about a lady who neither came to see Jesus of her own volition nor was sought out by Jesus. No, this lady was dragged to Jesus by the ‘ethics police’, the Pharisees, and what is especially bad about it is that they brought her to Jesus and questioned him about her “as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.” Now we have to also note before we get under way that in our Bibles we have a note: “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.” i.e. this story may not have been in the original form of this Gospel. So why do we use it? Because it ‘fits’ with all we know of Jesus. Possibly it was added in later as one of the stories that had been passed down by others that maybe John spoke about but hadn’t originally included. But it fits!

So, the Pharisees come with this ‘lady’ who has been caught in an adulterous relationship. We observed in the previous meditation that the Law, when it was being upheld, demanded that those caught in adultery be stoned, yet the moral and spiritual state of the land as shown in the Gospels, doesn’t appear very good (when you have so much sickness and so much demon possession among a people who have been promised health by God, you know things aren’t right!). Thus I suspect that that law was very rarely applied. But now the Pharisees have heard of this woman who has been caught in adultery. The question naturally arises, where is the guilty man? They aren’t concerned with him, just with this woman. She is enough to put Jesus in an awkward position.

Now why would that be? Well if on one hand Jesus agreed with the Law then he would be seen to be siding with the Pharisees (who were unpopular) and may appear as hard hearted. On the other hand, if he let her off he would be seen to be rejecting God’s law. They are out to get him and they care nothing for the woman and her feelings or her future. They are quite happy to have her stoned to make a point! Heartless!

So how is Jesus going to deal with this situation? “But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.” (v.6). We don’t know what he wrote or why he wrote. Perhaps it was something about the Pharisees; perhaps he was just doodling to give himself time to think. Then, “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.” (v.7,8) They press him to give an answer to he stands up and looks at them and basically says, “OK, yes this is what the Law demands so let’s see if there is any one of you who doesn’t equally deserve punishment. If that is you, you can cast the first stone.” And then he crouches down and writes in the dust on the ground again.

The response is good: “At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.” (v.9). In the silence that follows, minds are working furiously. The older (wiser) ones of his accusers get the point and sidle away, followed soon by the younger ones. They know that they dare not say, “I’m perfect, I’m sinless, I don’t deserve punishment, I’m fit to bring judgment on others!” Now their original accusations become an embarrassment and they quietly leave. Soon it’s just Jesus and the woman left.

“Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (v.10,11) This is grace and mercy. No, I’m not going to condemn you. I’m giving you a second chance, so don’t blow it. Break off this adulterous relationship and don’t get into this sort of mess again. Suddenly, I suspect, we have a very grateful woman and one with a new lease of life who will stay out of wrong relationships, a restored woman.

I especially like this story because it goes to the heart of our own judgmentalism. How often do we look down our ethical noses at those who have sinned and want judgment? Now we are not to condone sin; we are to recognise it, but having done that we are so seek for restoration of the sinner: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal 6:1) This is God’s desire for us, to bring restoration not judgment. When the woman came to Jesus she was utterly helpless. Yes, she had been caught in her sin. Did Jesus just let her off it? No he gracefully gave her a second chance but it did come with the warning “leave your life of sin.” Because grace and mercy had been applied, that was now possible.

Every one of us are just like the Pharisees in this story and we cannot point a finger without first facing our own inadequacies, our own failures and thus our own lack of qualification to judge and condemn others. We are just the same as them. Our sins may be different, they may be less damaging in society, but they are still sin, whether they are pride, bad thinking, critical judgmentalism or whatever. I dare not stoop down and pick up a stone to throw – and neither can you!

25 Samaritan Woman

People who met Jesus : 25 :  The Samaritan Woman

Jn 4:4-10 Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar …..  tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well….. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

As we come to consider the lady in our verses today her very designation is what makes her stand out. Like the crippled lady we considered previously she is someone who Jesus approached, not someone who came to Jesus. The first part of her designation is quite natural. This is the province of Samaria and so anyone who came from the little town would be likely to be a Samaritan. Nothing strange there! The emphasis is made because Jesus was a Jew and the Jews and Samaritans never got on. There is not space here to go into their history; sufficient to say there was hostility between them. We see Jesus here crossing racial, cultural and social divides in approaching this woman and her response to his request confirms this.

Now Jesus doesn’t simply say something like, “Oh, racial divides mean nothing to me.” Instead he drops an enigmatic bombshell in front of her. There are two areas where you are ignorant, is what he is saying gently. First you don’t know what God wants to give you and, second, you don’t realise that I am the one who can bring you that gift! If you had realised these two things, you wouldn’t be questioning me about social niceties, you would be asking for the gift that I alone can give you.

I think if Jesus had said that to me out of the blue I would have stood there with my mouth open wondering about it. What is he talking about? This woman ploughs in where angels fear to tread and takes what he says literally and starts questioning him about the practicality of him drawing water for her. Jesus doesn’t respond to that but declares, Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (v.13,14)

Now she may not understand this for her answer seems to suggest that she is still thinking in material terms, but who knows, she might be glimpsing what he means: “The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (v.15) Now she may be unclear but Jesus decides to take her on in the process. To receive eternal life, something else has to happen first so he asks something (even though he knows the answer), “He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (v.16) to which she replies, “I have no husband.” (v.17). Well that’s the first sign of honesty, of willing to face her situation.

But then Jesus reveals that he knows all about her: “Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (v.17,18) When we come to Jesus, when we start thinking about becoming a Christian, coming to God, however else you might express it, we need to realise that He knows all about us already, so there is no point in trying to hide anything from Him. To this she responds that he must be a prophet and in the dialogue that follows the subject of the Jewish Messiah comes up and Jesus declares, “I who speak to you am he,” (v.26) one of his most specific claims. Her response was to go and tell the people back in the town what had happened.

As with so many of these encounters, they often reveal more about Jesus than they do about the person meeting him, yet there is more to be considered about her. Yes, she may be summed up as a lady with a less than stable background. The fact that she’s had (and been rejected by five husbands – for that is how Jewish divorce took place) indicates that here is a lady who either feels rejected by life, or who doesn’t care what people think anyway.

We make that latter comment because, of course, another reason for her being divorced five times is that she could have been found guilty of adultery. Now according to the Jewish law that should have resulted in stoning but it seems fairly clear from the Gospels that the moral state of the land was not good when John the Baptist came, so it is not unlikely that that was not followed. Her willingness to dialogue (argue) with Jesus almost suggests that the latter is more likely. She does not appear to have low self esteem, which would follow from being rejected five times. It seems more that she is forthright and has actually been in control of her destiny. It is her folly, therefore, that has brought her thus far – where she is living (as it used to be said) ‘in sin’ with yet another man.

Now what is remarkable about all this is that Jesus clearly knows all about her and is not in any way put off. Indeed, to the contrary, he seeks to minister to her need and show her the way to eternal life. This is Jesus who not only steps over racial and cultural boundaries but who steps over all boundaries to seek the lost. He will not do or say anything that makes him like the people he seeks to reach, but he will love and accept them just like they are as he reaches out to them. Only thus can they receive God’s love and be changed.

However ‘bad’ our life, Jesus loves us and desires to reach out and save us. That must be one of the primary messages of this account. The challenge to us who are his disciples is, will we do the same?

24. The Crippled Woman

People who met Jesus : 24 :  The Crippled Woman

Lk 13:10-13 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

The human spirit is quite amazing sometimes – it has to be, living in a Fallen World where things go wrong. Sometimes we cope in amazing ways – simply because we have to. Previously we considered the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and we considered the limitations of that, recognising that it was one of those embarrassing things that we suffer that we don’t want others to know about. But then there are those sorts of afflictions that are patently obvious and the whole world looks on and feels sorry for us – or not! The woman in our verses today is like this. She is bent over and cannot straighten up – and she’s been like it for eighteen years! In other words she can remember a time when she wasn’t like this.

Now there are some interesting points in this story that make it stand out. The first thing is that Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues. No longer is he merely a visitor; now he is a welcomed teacher. They give him space to teach. The second thing to note is that this woman is there in the synagogue and it would appear that she is no stranger and not just there because Jesus is there. If she had not normally attended synagogue then it is more likely that she would have waited for Jesus to come out if she had wanted to ask him for healing.

Two things flow from this: first she doesn’t approach Jesus; he approaches her. This suggests she has grown to accept her state and almost doesn’t think to ask for healing. This is a very common state for those of us who suffer with some form of affliction that we’ve had for a long time. Many years ago my mother smoked, had a smoker’s cough, and had bronchitis every winter. I suggested to her that she ask the Lord to heal her and set her free from smoking. I had already shared the Gospel with her but she wasn’t yet a Christian. The suggestion came almost as a surprise to her and she shrugged it off with, “Oh, I expect He’s too busy with important things than worry about my smoking.” So I left it but, when I visited home several months later I found she was not smoking and not coughing (and she never had bronchitis again!). She confessed she had asked Him, He had answered, and she had then become a Christian! But how many of us tolerate these things, stoically thinking it must be God’s will. I am challenged and embarrassed by the incredible accounts of Jesus healing all who came to him in the Gospels – and some, like this woman, who didn’t come to him.

The second thing that flows from this woman’s presence in the synagogue, as we commented in the case of the man with the shrivelled hand, is the inability of the religious leaders there to do anything about it. This was a powerless religion! Is ours similar?

But there is something else there that is strange. The text says she had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.” Now intriguingly it doesn’t say ‘an evil spirit’. Sometimes we may refer to ‘a spirit of anger’ or ‘a spirit of bitterness’ or ‘a spirit of unforgiveness’, and although this may eventually involve the demonic, it starts out at least, by a strong attitude that we take on which takes us over. Now such things, experience tells us, can physically incapacitate us.

Now this interpretation of this situation is strengthened by the fact that Jesus did not drive out and evil spirit from her but simply spoke healing. Now in such situations we might seek for repentance in this lady from whatever wrong attitude brought about this infirmity before we prayed for healing, but Jesus just seems to read her and, we must assume, read her willingness to turn from that past attitude, and thus he speaks healing over her, which follows as he places his hands on her. This latter action, we assume, is either to strengthen faith within her, or to impart power, the same power we saw and spoke about in respect of the lady who had been bleeding for twelve years. Perhaps this change of attitude that Jesus, we assumed, reads, is confirmed by the fact that she gives glory to God immediately she is healed. It is a simple thing, but I wonder how many of us are truly grateful to God when we are healed of something, whether by the miracle of direct healing or by the work of doctors?

There is yet a further rider to be considered to this story which would suppose, as we said earlier, that ultimately, even if it is just brought about by our initial wrong attitude, Satan does have a hand in such things, and is able to use our wrong attitude to bring worse. In a dialogue that follows, as Jesus scolds the leaders of the synagogue for their hardness, we find: Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen.” (v.16). We have a mystery here but the truth seems to suggest, as we have noted at least twice, that if we open ourselves up to sinful attitudes which we maintain, we open the door to Satan to come and lock us in to them. The lesson is that we need to deal with all wrong attitudes and ensure that they do not persist and open the door for worse to come. May we hear that!

23. Mary & Martha

People who met Jesus : 23 :  Mary & Martha

Lk 10:38-42 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I sometimes think if we could watch frequent videos of ourselves, we would probably be very different people. This little episode before us today seems like a sort of short afternoon quarter-hour play on TV. It is very simple and very graphic.

We have two sons and although there are similarities, there are also great differences between them. That is often how it is with children. Our daughter has two children and, again, they are very different from each other. The good part of this is that we are each unique. Even identical twins, who are perhaps the most alike, nevertheless are unique and that uniqueness is added to by their own life experiences. So here we have an account of two very different sisters. They have a brother but he doesn’t figure in this little cameo. The only other reference to this little family is found in John 11. Mary and Martha appear as alike as chalk and cheese. Let’s see what happens.

Jesus arrives at a village which, John tells us, was Bethany. This isn’t a story about healing, as in the recent meditations; this is about hospitality and about priorities. Jesus arrives in Bethany, and the word has no doubt gone out about him, and people are out in the road to see him arrive. Martha is one of those and she invites Jesus into her home to rest. Now of course how I have described it is purely speculation because Jesus could have invited himself in and she simply graciously welcomed him in, for all we are told is “Martha opened her home to him.” That conveys a beautiful picture of hospitality. Not everyone would be comfortable in having Jesus come into their home. Do you envisage Jesus coming into your home? Would he feel comfortable and at ease there? Would he find peace, order and blessing there, a place where it is easy to rest?

Now unfortunately there is a down side to this hospitality thing. We’ve had a few ‘big names’ stay in our home and my wife on each occasion thoroughly cleaned throughout and made sure everything was just right. That was Martha, except she could only start doing it once Jesus had arrived because she had had no warning that he would come. So now she is in hyper-hospitality-mode, clearing up, getting food ready and so on. She is going to be a great hostess. I’m put in mind of weddings here, Christian weddings. I’ve been to quite a few and I think they resemble what went on here. Great preparations, lots of scurrying around to make sure everything is just right, but unfortunately it’s not.

One of our preachers in our church recently spoke about our “upside down God”, God whose values are often so different from ours. Whether it be straight forward hospitality, preparing for a party, or preparing for a wedding, our priorities are to make sure the place is clean, the food is perfect and there are enough drinks and we’ve created just the right environment for people’s enjoyment. We do all that – and leave Jesus out. Thus it becomes a godless or semi-godless occasion, and we miss out.

I can say all this in the light of the different reactions from the two sisters to Jesus coming into their home. Martha, we see, is into ‘hostess-of-the-year’ mode, which we’ve just been considering, and many of us are identifying and empathising with her. But now look at Mary, the other sister. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to all he had to say. Martha is stressed by this and asks Jesus to scold her and get her to come and help. When you ask Jesus to do things for you, you always have to be prepared for him to point out a better course. Look; Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Wow! Look what he is saying. There’s only one thing needed here, and Mary has gone for it!

Let me take what might appear to be a slight diversion. Suppose you had such a thing as a time machine and could travel anywhere you liked in history – but you can only visit one person. Which of these would you go and visit: Einstein, Solomon, Gandhi, Jesus, or Florence Nightingale? Any answer other than Jesus shows you haven’t understood who he is yet!

For Mary, having Jesus in her home was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, an opportunity that rarely comes and so when it does it must be grabbed. In years to come she would be able to tell of the words she had heard come from the very mouth of the Son of God in her own home. Martha would remain silent.

This is a story of hospitality versus opportunity. Hospitality is good; grabbing the opportunity is better. This, I suspect, applies to many circumstances in our lives. How often to we miss opportunities to encounter the Lord because we are too busy, too tired or whatever. I think of the times of worship or prayer etc. in our church that I have been in when the Lord has turned up, and I have grieved for those who were too busy or too tired to have got there and who, subsequently, missed out on meeting Him. We only have one life and we need to grab every opportunity that the Lord gives us. May it be so!

22. Woman of Tyre

People who met Jesus : 22 :  The Woman of Tyre

Mk 7:24-26 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

Now if you have a map in the back of your Bible, you will see that Tyre is in the far north. This is another of those parts of the Bible where you wish more was said. For instance we don’t know why Jesus travelled there. We don’t know whose house it was that he went to and we don’t really know why he went there and why he didn’t want others to know he was there. Perhaps part of the reason will come out in the story. But why he went to this particular house in the far north is a mystery, and yet Jesus always did things with a purpose. Some might say he went so as to meet the woman we’re going to consider but a) he still had to know the person whose house it was and b) why didn’t he go directly to the woman’s house if his Father was sending him to her? No, he has travelled north to see the people in this home for a reason – they are important to God! What a beautiful thought, that Jesus travelled all that distance just to visit some people who were important to him!  Had they been south previously, and invited him to come up and use their home as a retreat for a rest sometime? That’s a nice thought as well!

Anyway, Jesus gets to Tyre and his friend’s / acquaintance’s house but somehow someone either, sees him arriving and recognises him, or someone gossips. Whatever it is the word gets to this lady who has a need. Now I have to say I have a problem with her need. My understanding of demon possession is that it can only happen when someone has opened themselves seriously to Satanic / occultic things. This suggests that this family has a dark background, yet the woman has become so desperate that she recognises that she needs help. She knows what is wrong and she knows she needs someone with a deliverance ministry and the word on the street, from those in the know, is that this is what Jesus does. As frustrating as it sometimes is, we have to sometimes wait until people do become desperate about their situation, sufficiently desperate that they will seek out help and sufficiently desperate that they will receive the help being offered.

So she comes to Jesus but it is the way Jesus responds to her that is significant. We find a dialogue opening up: “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (v.27) It is normally accepted that Jesus is speaking enigmatically about his calling. The ‘children’ are God’s children, Israel. The trouble with Scripture is that it doesn’t convey the tone of voice or look on the face. It is possible that Jesus was speaking ironically here, saying what the Jews usually thought of others who were not Jews, when he referred to dogs. Now I think if that is so then it is quite possible that he says it with a grin on his face so that the woman knows he is really making fun of Jewish snobbishness. She obviously understands it and almost banters back, “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (v.28). If it is banter, note that there is nevertheless respect in it, for she calls Jesus “Lord” which is the only time it appears in this Gospel. It is a term of respect. I think banter fits far better here than any form of hardness in Jesus. He knows she is in need, he knows she is desperate and he knows she has come in faith. If he wants to test her commitment to belief he doesn’t have to be hard. I know how he has always dealt with me and although it has often been firm and distinct, he always speaks with the fruit of the Spirit – gentleness! How we so often lack this in the Church.

His response to her is to simply reassure her that her child is now freed from the demonic influence. “Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” (v.29,30) Now we may read this so easily but do we realise the incredible authority that is being exercised here. In the Creation account we read, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) i.e. God simply speaks and it is done. That is what we find in this account here. Jesus simply says it is done – and it is!  How staggeringly different this is from some of the deliverance ministry that is seen today that is noisy and prolonged. When Jesus is present, exercising his will, it is simply done with no great fuss. This is yet another expression of the kingdom of God on earth, with His authority being seen even more powerfully.

Note in this account that there is no great theological dialogue about belief. The woman simply comes, obviously in faith that Jesus can deliver her child and so after a little preliminary banter that makes her declare her belief in him, he delivers the child simply by the statement that it is so. This is Jesus, saviour of the whole world, not merely of the Jews. Yes, he came to them first, but he is saviour of all people who will come to him – with no exceptions. Hallelujah!

21. The Ill Lady

People who met Jesus : 21 :  The Ill Lady

Lk 8:42-45 As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

For most of my life I have been blessed with strength and good health. It was only as I got a lot older did I find I ached and things didn’t work as well as they once had. I write that because I came to realise how so many of us take our good health for granted. I watch young boys on skate boards and envy their fearlessness that partly comes from a sense of strength and well-being and the knowledge that they ‘bounce’ reasonably well! I have sought to empathise with those I know who have struggled with long-term poor health, but it is not easy. You really have to walk that path to appreciate it.

The lady who is the subject of our study today walked the path of ill-health. For twelve long years, the text tells us, she was subject to bleeding. There is a note in your Bible that says that some manuscripts say that she had spent all she had on doctors. Our text above simply says “but no one could heal her.” Both of those comments indicate in a measure, the depth of human despair that sometimes accompanies such things. Probably those who know this most are those who have tried unsuccessfully for children and have been to every sort of specialist possible with no avail. Life in a Fallen World is sometimes very difficult!

The ‘bleeding’ spoken of suggest some form of hemorrhage and for a Jewish woman this meant that she was separated off from the religious life of the community, which was a very significant thing in that society. Lev 15:19- indicated in the Law that when a woman was experiencing her menstrual discharge she was to consider herself ‘unclean’. Now this did not mean ‘dirty’ as some might think, but simply that for that time she was not qualified to perform the usual religious rites. That, I suggest, was God’s gentle way of telling her that while she was in that state and feeling debilitated, He understood and there was no need for her to make the effort to go to the Temple.

Now that is all very well for a week, but for twelve years, it was just another aspect of this disability that would have made her feel somewhat of an outcast.  Any one of us who suffers from some form of embarrassing disability feels this in a measure. When you are struggling with some physical ailment, which you don’t wish others to know about, it makes a separation, in your mind at least, between you and others. For her, this had been going on for twelve years – and then Jesus came to town!

It is because of this ‘embarrassment factor’, I suggest, that we find her sneaking up behind Jesus to touch him. She has a high level of faith, this lady! She recognises that Jesus has a power within himself that heals. It isn’t that he uses magic; the healing comes because of HIM.  Now many of us don’t even realise this! When healing is granted it is because God Himself touches us and His life imparts a life-energy in us that kills off germs, viruses or whatever, and recreates cells to make the body well again. There is not some magical, mystical force in the world; it is God’s very own presence that brings the life and healing. Somehow this woman had understood that, so she knows that, if she can simply make contact with Jesus physically, she will be healed of this long-term affliction.

So, in the midst of the crowd she touches him. Power flows out of Jesus and she is healed – and Jesus knows it instantly! Jesus knows that someone has reached out in faith and the Father has brought healing to someone. Now comes a slight mystery. Why did Jesus call out for the person to come forward? Surely he would have known exactly who it was? The text says that when she touched Jesus “immediately her bleeding stopped.” Something had happened and although outwardly she might not have been aware of change, inwardly she obviously knew what had happened. So when Jesus looked round, something would have shown on her face it least. Relief? Pleasure? Joy? Gratefulness? So why did he bother to ask?

The only answer that I can suggest is that he wanted her to openly confess what she had done and what had happened. The Bible indicates that there is something significant about speaking out the truth and about confessing what has happened. For her, it may be part of the healing process. Thus we read, In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (v.47,48)

Do you notice that final part: “Go in peace.” i.e. all of the stress and the anguish of the years has gone; you can go and enjoy life now. She is no longer a dweller in isolation. She can come and be a full member of community life again, without any restraints. Some of our disabilities mean that our social activities are strictly curtailed. That is no longer true for her. Isn’t that wonderful; what a relief! Hallelujah!

20. Mother-in-Law

People who met Jesus : 20 :  Peter’s Mother-in-Law

Mt 8:14,15 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

Do you think God knew about mother-in-law jokes? What is it about mother-in-laws (mothers-in-laws?) that creates humour?  There is often a strain of relationship where the new wife is threatened by the years of experience of the mother-in-law. Verse 14 above tells us a lot of basic information about Peter. He has a house. We assume it is his, yet it could be his father’s house but the absence of a father’s name in Simon Peter’s designation suggests that perhaps he has died. Peter is only ever designated as Andrew’s brother. The only times we hear the name of Peter’s father is when Jesus speaks to Peter on the lakeside after his resurrection: “Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John,” (Jn 21:15).  So, what we have is a suggestion that Peter’s father has died and has left him the fishing business and the home.

But now it gets more complicated. We now come to Peter’s mother-in-law. Peter is obviously married, because you don’t have a mother-in-law unless you have a wife. (The first ‘pope’ was married!!). Now one possibility is that she was just visiting and was taken ill and given a bed to lie down in, but a more likely scenario is that her husband (who is not mentioned) has died and she now lives with Peter and her daughter. The phrase ‘lying in bed’ suggests a little bit that this was her bed, her normal bed.

What an embarrassing position to be in when an honoured guest arrives, to be in bed, presumably in a room that is easily visible to people coming in (for Jesus saw her when he came in – there is no indication that he ‘went upstairs’ having been told of her illness. We aren’t told much about this incident; it is all very low key, and so we have to make a lot of assumptions. The Gospel writers are usually pretty careful about noting down details and words that Jesus spoke to bring healing, but in this instance there is nothing dramatic, nothing boldly spoken. All that happens is that Jesus goes over to her where she is lying incapacitated in bed, and touches her.  In her case, the healing that follows comes from nothing but a touch.

So why is it that sometimes words seem to be such an important part of the healing process that Jesus brought, but here they aren’t? I suspect the answer is to do with faith. Faith, we said previously, comes through hearing God’s word and is responding to it. Somebody, we said, has to have heard that it was God’s will to bring healing and very often Jesus’ words are linked to the faith of the other people concerned. Sometimes when Jesus spoke words of command to bring healing, it was to stir the faith of the person being healed. But there is none of that here!

Why might that be? Is it something to do with the nature of what needs healing?  Not wanting to diminish blindness or paralysis in any way, but in both of those cases the person in question is fully alert and has clear thinking. When you have a ’fever’, you tend to be delirious and not in your right mind. In such situations it is very difficult to think clearly, it is very difficult to either hear God or rationally respond to Him. Thus Jesus doesn’t bother to speak any words against this fever, he just touches her and his power is conveyed to her that brings the complete healing.

It may also be that he is fully aware of what she is feeling, having an honoured guest in the house and be unable to provide hospitality for him. He doesn’t want to draw attention to her and to her plight so the healing is very non-dramatic so she simply finds she is suddenly well and able to get on with her duties as a good hostess providing hospitality for guests. If that is so, it is another of those cases where Jesus shows his sensitivity to the feelings of other people.

I suggest it raises the whole question of how we deal, as church, with people who need healing or deliverance. In situations I have seen in the past and which, I am sure, still continue in the Church, especially in the case of deliverance, but also sometimes in the case of healing, the minister bringing deliverance or healing does it in such a way that the person being healed or delivered is being made a public spectacle and is actually being demeaned. Now, yes, Jesus did most of his healing and deliverance work publicly, but much of the time he was demonstrating it for the sake of his disciples who were to continue what he was doing. Yet again and again, we find Jesus being sensitive to the needs of the person being healed. Yes, there is value in letting the healing being seen publicly to stir faith in the watchers, but does it also demonstrate the goodness, love, kindness, concern and care of Jesus in the way we do it? Questions that are worth considering!