Joy of All Who Sorrow

24th Sunday after Pentecost / St. Paul the Confessor, Bishop of Constantinople

Gospel [Luke 8:41-56 (§39)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear father, brothers and sisters:

In today’s Gospel reading we hear of not one but two healings sandwiched together, the one occurring on the way to the other. The first is the healing of the woman with an issue of blood and the second the healing of the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. In terms of the context within St Luke’s Gospel, today’s reading happens immediately after the healing and exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac on the south eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee that we heard and considered together last week. As you will remember, after our Lord mercifully released the demoniac from his legion of demons, (between five and six thousand demons) because the farmers had lost all of their herd of swine in the process, they tragically begged Jesus to depart, whilst the former demoniac was at his feet in gratitude. In his rich, densely packed and highly spiritualized commentary on St Luke’s Gospel, our holy father Ambrose, Bishop of Milan makes some interesting links between the two Gospel readings, and we will rely on his interpretation to understand our reading today.

And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him that he would come into his house: For he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying. 

After returning back in the boat with his disciples to the northern end of the sea of Galilee, Jesus is immediately met by Jairus whom we are told is the ruler of the synagogue. In his commentary, St Ambrose is keen on uncovering spiritual levels of meaning in the text of the Gospel. Although at a literal level, the swine-keeping Gerasenes were undoubtedly gentile pagans, at a more mystical and spiritual level, St Ambrose sees in their open rejection of Christ, a type or as St Ambrose says, ‘an image of the synagogue’. Likewise, St Ambrose also interprets this poignant scene of the desperate father begging for the life of his dying daughter in similarly spiritual terms as another image for the “dying synagogue” –

For that man, the ruler of the synagogue … prayed for healing of the dying synagogue which was driven to death, because it was abandoned by Christ.   

Abandoned it should be said because as we recall earlier on in the Gospel, when our Lord had taught in the synagogue in Nazareth He had been driven out through their rage and indignation. Likewise, in the figure of Jairus himself, St Ambrose sees a type of the Law of the Old Covenant – begging for Christ – the Author of the Law – to return back to the Synagogue which was rapidly fading away.

But as he went the people thronged him.

So off Christ goes, in St Ambrose’ interpretation, to go and minister to the Jews in the dying Synagogue and return them back to Life and spiritual health. However, at the same time, in St Ambrose’s allegorical narrative –

The Holy Church gathered from the nations, which was perishing through the error of lesser offences, snatched through faith the healing prepared for others.

As I mentioned earlier, our Gospel reading contains not one but two healings, a healing within a healing as we hear in the Gospel about another person amongst that throng which surrounded the Lord also approached in need of a miracle.

And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any, Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.

This poor lady with an issue of blood approaches as one who had exhausted all the solutions all the answers given by this world, and had found that none of them could provide the healing they promised. We can see in this lady also, perhaps, the experience of so many of the religious seekers of our own times, who also seek salvation and healing in the different religions and philosophies of the world whether it be Buddhism, Islam, yoga or the Charismatic movement – but instead do not find the spiritual medicine and balm that their earnest souls are seeking. It is only when these spiritual seekers eventually find Holy Orthodoxy, and the figure of Christ at the end of all their seeking that they find the Answer which they have been yearning for all of their lives.

The holy people of the nations which believed in God were so ashamed of their sin, that they abandoned it; brought faith, so that they believed; shewed devotion, so that they entreated; donned wisdom, that they perceived their own health; took confidence, so that they confessed the alien truth which they had snatched.

St Ambrose recognizes that the woman shows humility and modesty in only deigning to touch the hem, the fringe of the garment of Christ. This differentiates her from the surrounding throng of people.

For the throng do not believe, those who touch believe. Christ is touched by faith, Christ is seen by faith.

The woman with an issue of blood thus reaches out in faith, touches with faith, and by her faith is instantly healed as she had found the True Physician of the soul and the body.

And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.

Obviously when our Lord says this He knows exactly who had touched Him and why, but asks for the sake of the crowd and the disciples so that the woman’s faith might be revealed. And once the woman had come forth and confessed why she had touched Him and how she had been immediately healed, Christ then says –

Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.

Following this mystical healing of the Gentiles in the image of the healing of the woman with an issue of blood, Jesus then approaches the home of another daughter, Jairus’ daughter. In his commentary on the Gospel, St Ambrose draws out an interesting detail that it is easy to overlook, namely the fact that the woman with an issue of blood had been bleeding for 12 years and we are told that Jarius’ daughter was also 12 years of age. What is the reason for this mysterious parity? St Ambrose answers, ‘as long as the synagogue flourished, the Church suffered … so long as the former (the synagogue) believed, the latter did not believe’.  

But at this very moment we then hear from one who had come from Jairus’ house that it was too late, the one who had been dying is now dead. St Ambrose notes that spiritually the ones who spoke thus demonstrated their lack of faith in the resurrection.

‘Still, they too, were without faith in the Resurrection, which Jesus foretold in the Law and fulfilled in the Gospel’.

When Jesus finally arrives, being cautious about making such an open scene, He takes only Peter, James and John with Him as well as Jairus and his wife. This is reminiscent of various healing miracles and other miraculous events in the Gospels where our Lord only takes a few of the disciples with Him to be witnesses to the miracle.

And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.

Whoever, St Ambrose says, ‘does not believe, jeers. For those who think them dead will weep for their dead, but when there is faith in resurrection, there is the appearance not of death, but of repose.

Indeed, we can see here that our Lord teaches us, and all those who claim to believe in the Resurrection that the correct way of referring to the departed, is that they are not dead but reposed, or fallen asleep.

Finally, at the end of this doubly miraculous reading, we hear that despite the scoffers, our Lord went in to the house and with just one word from his Holy mouth – ‘Arise’ – the little girl arose and we then hear –

And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat. And her parents were astonished: but he charged them that they should tell no man what was done.

The command to give the child something to eat is reminiscent of how the Resurrected Christ, at the very end of St Luke’s Gospel, asks his eleven astonished disciples for something to eat when he appears to them, and then ate of broiled fish and a honeycomb.   

Dear father, brothers and sisters: today’s doubly miraculous Gospel reading holds many lessons for us. The raising of Jairus’ daughter reminds us that for us Orthodox Christians, our loved ones who have departed from us are not, in our Lord’s words, dead but sleeping. On this day of the resurrection, let us ignore the wailing and noise of the world and hold fast to our faith in the Resurrected One Who has destroyed death. In St Ambrose’s beautiful and spiritual interpretation of the Woman with an Issue of Blood, let us – who are all from the Church of the Gentiles – follow her meek and humble example and heed the injunction of the Bishop of Milan who says – ‘if we wish ourselves to be healed, let us in faith touch Christ’s hem’. And as we draw near to receive holy communion today, before the Royal Doors of the Sanctuary let us remember that beautiful prayer of St John of Damascus which we recite in our prayer rule before Holy Communion –

I stand before the doors of Thy sanctuary, yet I do not put away my terrible thoughts. But O Christ our God, Who didst justify the Publican, and have mercy on the Canaanite woman, and didst open the gates of Paradise to the Thief, open to me the depths of Thy love for men, and as I approach and touch Thee, receive me like the Harlot and the woman with an issue of blood. For the one received healing easily by touching the hem of Thy garment, and the other by clasping Thy sacred feet obtained release from her sins. And I, in my pitiableness, dare to receive Thy whole Body. Let me not be burnt, but receive me even as these; enlighten the senses of my soul, and burn the stains of my sins: through the intercessions of her who bore Thee without seed, and of the Heavenly Powers, for Thou art blessed to the ages of ages.