Once there was a severe drought in a country. Rain never came down. People could not plant anything. Their harvest failed. They became hungry and malnourished. So they decided to hold a prayer meeting, asking for a rain. It was going to be a huge prayer meeting, inviting the most famous preachers and pastors. The news spread the entire country. People were advised to pray earnestly at home before the meeting and to have faith that after that prayer meeting, God would certainly give them rain. So thousands of people came to the open field where the prayer meeting was held. The leader of the prayer meeting then asked the people, “Do you have faith that rain will come down right after this prayer meeting?” The people then responded, “Yes, we believe.” Some others shouted, “Amen!” Then this leader asked them, “How come I don’t see any umbrella, accept for that small boy over there?” In fact, among the entire people who came to the prayer meeting, only that one boy came with an umbrella, for he is the only one convinced enough that there would be rain right after the prayer meeting.
In our reading today, we find two people with strong faith. The first one, simply called a ruler, came to meet Jesus and knelt before him. He was asking a very impossible request, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” In fact, he was asking Jesus to do something against the Torah, i.e. to touch a corpse. In the entire Old Testament, there was only one story of resurrection among the dead. It was the prophet Elijah who prayed to God so that the son of the widow in Zarephath would come back to life (I Kings 17). Elijah was considered one of the greatest prophets in Israel. This ruler must have been very desperate that he asked Jesus to resurrect his daughter. Yes, Jesus was a miracle worker. He healed many people with all kinds of sickness, but it was a totally different story to ask Jesus to resurrect his daughter. We know now that Jesus could resurrect dead people. At least, I can recall three instances; here is the first one, then the son of the widow in Nain, and Lazarus. But this man asked for that miracle before Jesus showed that he could do it. And interestingly, both the son of the widow in Nain and the sisters of Lazarus actually never asked Jesus to resurrect the dead people. It was impossible! But not to this ruler in Matthew. He has faith, big enough to ask Jesus to resurrect the dead. This ruler might just have heard about Jesus from people talking about him on the streets. He never read the Gospel. He did not know about the power of Jesus to resurrect people, as before his story, we did not find any record of Jesus doing so in Matthew. This man, brothers and sisters, translated his faith in Jesus to real action. He met Jesus and he asked that Jesus come to his house.
As customary in Jewish culture at that time, the house of this ruler was already full with mourners. We find in verse 21, there were flute players. These flute players were professional mourners—people who were hired to play the flute during a mourning period. In the Chinese culture, we also find professional mourners. In my house, we call them Caima, I don’t know how you name them. These Caimas are called by the deceased’s family to mourn and pray for the dead. In the Jewish culture, there were the flute players. It is understandable why they laughed at Jesus when he said that the girl was not dead. These professional mourners, whose job is to come to deceased people’s houses, could tell the difference between a dead girl and a sleeping girl easily. And when Jesus touched the girl and brought her to life, we can only imagine how surprised they must have been. To us, this ruler’s faith poses a question: Do we have faith big enough to be translated into action? We who have heard the Gospel being preached hundreds of times, do we have the ruler’s faith? Or we just love to listen to the Gospel but stay away from having faith to the God of the Gospel?
It would be super silly to do now. And I don’t advise people to do so as well.
But the point is clear. Her faith was not just idle and stopped as knowledge. She did something out of her faith to Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Your faith has healed you, or in KJV, “Thy faith has made thee whole.” It is her faith that healed her, Jesus said. The faith that we have inside us holds great potentials, if we just translate that into action. This is the kind of faith that is whole. It does not just stand still, but it takes actions. This faith is also the whole faith, because unlike the faiths of many of her fellow Jews, she believed in Jesus Christ and his mighty power to cure her physical body. We are thankful that Jesus Christ does not only bring physical healing, but also eternal salvation for those who trust in him. It is clear that the most important thing is not having a great faith in the first instance. It is having the right faith that is more important, the faith to Lord Jesus Christ. For only God in Jesus Christ is capable of doing these mighty acts.
So, what does that mean for us? What do the two stories tell us to do? Isn’t GKI’s teaching that we don’t put priority on healing and miracles? Well, let’s put things into perspective. The stories do not tell us to go against our logic nor to tell us to just believe in miracles and divine healing. The stories point us to the fact that Jesus, the object of faith of these two people, really has the power to heal and to resurrect. This happens not just because Jesus was compassionate but this also happens thanks to the active faith of the ruler and the sick woman. Their faith really made them whole. If we have faith in Jesus, we can also take part in his power, which is greater than our imagination or our humble prayers.
So what can we do to have better faith? Richard Foster, a renowned Christian writer, suggests that we begin by praying for small things with our small faith. For instance, praying for our own sickness before we get to the doctor. That’s a sign that we put our trust to God first, not to the doctor. He gives examples how through these small prayers, he could have greater faith in Jesus and how Jesus answers his prayers. The experience of having answered prayers helps us to have greater faith to ask for God for even greater things.
But isn’t it true that those who put their faith in God may also feel disappointed when their hopes or prayers were rejected by God? That is true. I have been asking for a scholarship to continue for my PhD since 2006. And I always sent my scholarship applications every year starting from 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. In 2006, I was rejected. And in 2007, I was also rejected. In 2008, I thought God would probably say yes, but I was rejected again. There was a time when I felt that I was not just meant to get a scholarship. Last year I said to God that the year would be my last year of attempting a scholarship. Knowing that, I prayed to God more earnestly and regularly. I prayed at each stage of my application and when I knew that that would be the time when the scholarship committee held meetings to decide who would win the scholarship, I prayed more seriously and specifically, I remembered I said to God, “God, I know someone in Australia right now is reading my application, I hope you would make his or her mind consider that I am worthy for the scholarship.” In the end, around the day of the announcement, I eventually changed my prayers. I said, “God, I know that you love me so much, and I know that my life is in your hand, either with a scholarship or not with a scholarship, I have put my faith in you.” But, I was also more than thrilled when he eventually said yes to my request. I began with a bit of “forcing God” to do what I want, but eventually ended with faith in him, whose plans and ways are certainly the best for me. Yes, I was disappointed because I have put my request in God’s hand but he rejected my request for many years.
So we find here the paradox of faith and hope. The more we are hopeful, the more we can be disappointed, when our hope does not happen. The more we are hopeful, the more we can be rejoicing, when our hope eventually happens. But it is only wise that we don’t stop to put our faith in God after one failure, or even after multiple failures. We can only imagine if Jesus said no to the request of the sick woman and the ruler. What would happen to their faith, will they still be following Jesus? We don’t know. But we do know this, Jesus healed them and hope that we put in God does not disappoint us. Yes, we may experience failures, yes, our faith may be small, yes, we may not bring an umbrella when we are expecting a rain from God. But let’s still put our trust in God alone, for everything is possible with God. I recently found a beautiful hymn, entitled “Father, hear the prayer we offer” one of the stanzas reads:
“Be our strength in
hours of weakness,
Let us live with this kind of faith and prayer. That even though there are problems along our way, and there are failures and dangers, we live with faith securely anchored in our Savior, who once healed a woman who had been sick for 12 years and who once resurrected a girl from her death. Our faith may not be perfect, but by having faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord, our faith will be made whole.Agustian N. Sutrisno