Characters in the Shadows: Jairus

You’ve probably heard the story, we all have. Listed among the hundreds of miracles Jesus performed on earth, Luke 8 tells us about Jairus.

The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly where he’s from, but it seems reasonable to deduce that he was a ruler of the Capernaum synagogue, because Capernaum seemed to serve as a headquarters of sorts for Jesus during the few years of his ministry on earth, and the gospels mention that Jesus was “returning” when this event happened.

Sidenote: Going To Church

Jesus attended the synagogue every week, as the synoptic gospels mention on many occasions. That, right there, is a sermon in itself, especially to those who say something like: “Oh, it won’t make much difference if I go to church or not.” People who say that typically argue that:

1. I don’t need church. Quite true, possibly, but… if there ever was anybody who didn’t need church, it had to be Jesus Christ. Yet He was there every Sabbath, like clockwork. “Need” is obviously not a reason He attended regularly.

2. They don’t like me. They didn’t like Jesus, either. In fact, they wanted to kill him. Odds are any church you go to won’t be that extreme, but Jesus attended faithfully —  despite the hostility.

3. They’re a bunch of hypocrites. Jesus would agree with you on that one, too. One of the main reasons they didn’t like Him was His criticism of their hypocrisy. (Funny how that is: clergy all through the centuries seem to not take too kindly to being called out.) Yet, He didn’t let their hypocrisy stop Him from going. 

4. They’re just out to get my money. Well, Jesus didn’t have any money for them to want to grab, but it seems they were after other people’s money. Jesus didn’t let that shallowness deter Him, either.

All of those arguments may be true and valid. They were for Jesus. But He went anyways. Like praying, attending the synagogue was not a question or a decision to be made. Like Nike, He just did it.

When I read that, I was convicted. Jesus never taught or preached that we have to go to church, but you know what they say: actions speak louder than words. If attending church regularly was such a no-brainer for Jesus, despite all those (valid) objections, my only decision is: do I follow His example or not?

Well, that’s not what I wanted to write about, but it just struck me as I was reading the passage. Back to Jairus.

Jairus

The Bible says he was an overseer of the (presumably Capernaum) synagogue. Since Jesus attended there more than anywhere else, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that Jairus knew Jesus, probably in the way the local pastor knows the guy in the congregation who’s always on him about some error he ostensibly made. In other words, it doesn’t seem likely they hung out together at Peter’s house, which seems to have become the “Jesus Hot Spot” when He was in town.

It’s interesting to observe how the apostles changed once the Holy Spirit fell on them at Pentecost: Peter went from an impulsive coward to a courageous preacher. John started out as a hothead who wanted to squash like a bug anybody who didn’t agree with him, earning him the nickname by Jesus of “son of thunder.” It was only after the Spirit was poured out on him that he became the apostle of love. Or maybe he just mellowed with age.

Because John (in 12:42) had a pretty “son of thunder” view of all religious rulers: “…many believed in Him, but… they didn’t confess him… for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”

Ouch.

Do you also wonder what John thought when he saw the important Jairus fall down before Jesus?

The Need

Jairus was suddenly confronted with a serious need, literally life and death. He might not have been a believer in Jesus as Messiah, but he wasn’t blind: even he could have seen the hundreds who got healed in and around his synagogue on a daily basis.

The problem he had was severe enough that he decided to set aside any differences he may have had with this Jesus character, and swallow his pride. It was a big swallow, as Luke tells us he physically fell down at Jesus’ feet, begging Him to heal his only daughter. For someone prominent to do something like that was as big a deal then as it would be today if, say, your mayor were to fall at your feet in front of a gasping crowd to ask for your help.

Jesus, as we have come to know Him, was merciful, and again let mercy triumph over judgment. He agreed to heal the daughter of Jairus, rather than make him grovel and ask for forgiveness for all those petty little bureaucratic obstacles leaders so often set before their opponents.

Jairus no doubt had been waiting at the shore for Jesus, maybe even pacing up and down as he gazed at the horizon. Imagine the relief, then, when the Master agreed to accompany him home to heal his daughter.

The Delay

And imagine his dismay when the crowd, those lowlifes who just make leaders’ lives miserable with their incessant demands, made Jesus stop and attend to their needs.

His daughter was dying.

He was forced to wait all day till Jesus finally returned in his boat.

And he was first.

They didn’t wait as long as he, they didn’t humble themselves like he did, and they weren’t about to die. Couldn’t they wait till after Jesus attended to his daughter?

But… Jesus, as we know, was touched by a woman who had suffered continuous bleeding for 12 years. (Coincidence that this bleeding happened as long as Jairus’s daughter was alive? We’ll never know, will we? )

And, during the delay, Jairus’s daughter died. We know the rest of the story: Jesus raised her from the dead.

How do you think Jairus felt during this whole episode?

1. Where is God? I’m praying and praying, but he’s out on a boat somewhere, doing other things. Will He ever attend to my need?

2. Desperation makes me forget my pride and prejudice, and gets me to simply cast myself before His feet, submitting to His will and mercy.

3. Joy when He turns my way to meet my need.

4. Angst when He takes His sweet time, and attends to other people first. What’s wrong with me?

5. Dismay when the very thing I feared happens. Now it’s too late. Why bother any more? Guess I’m not significant enough.

6. Unspeakable joy when the delay turns a “regular” intervention into a major miracle.

Sometimes God doesn’t act according to the scripts we lay out before Him. But His mercy and compassion run deeper (and longer) than we could ever suspect.

And it doesn’t matter if we had ignored Him, or even opposed Him, before. God is love and He enjoys showing mercy, not judgment or revenge.

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Characters in the shadows: Gehazi

Gehazi had it all. He was next in the lineage of the greatest prophets in the nation of Israel. Greatest? What about Isaiah, Daniel, and the others who wrote entire books into the canon? No, those were in Judah.

Elijah’s Lineage

Elijah is regarded the greatest prophet from the Northern Kingdom, the one we usually call Israel (or sometimes Ephraim). I’ve always marveled that God would send Moses to his nation at a time when they completely excluded Him from their daily lives and even national life. And, almost to remove all doubt about His unconditional love, He did it again for the apostate nation of Israel, this time with Elijah. Isn’t it interesting to observe that those two, the ones sent to the apostate nation, are the ones who appeared with Jesus Christ at the transfiguration, and who feature prominently in Revelation? Not Isaiah, Jeremiah or Daniel.

It’s interesting how few times physical progeny work out in leadership. Whether in politics, business or ministry, it’s extremely rare that a son or daughter follows fully in the footsteps of their great father. Those who become great and impactful normally do so alone.

And so it was with Elijah: God picked him out of the blue, and then his successor, and instructed him to go recruit Elisha and train him up. Elisha served Elijah in what we today would call an apprenticeship or internship.

Elisha succeeded Elijah in time, asking for a double portion. If you look at this listing of miracles performed, it looks like he indeed performed twice as many recorded miracles as Elijah.

Modeling what was done to him, Elisha then recruited Gehazi to be his servant/intern/apprentice/successor. This gave Gehazi an opportunity most of us would give our eye teeth for.

But, ministry is not for the faint of heart, despite appearances to the contrary. It is also not for those seeking earthly gain.

The Choices

Elijah had no place of residence we know of, and appears to have lived a minimalist existence. Indeed, he seems to have spent a lot of time on the run from the law. He would have fit right in with the hippies of the sixties and seventies. This value system and m.o. were undoubtedly transferred to Elisha, who learned the distinction between the temporal and the eternal by living the life of his mentor. Can you imagine the dinner conversations over a campfire those two had over the years?

God had demonstrated through the ravens by the brook, and the angel on the flight path, that He was well able to meet all of Elijah’s temporal needs. Elisha picked that up, both from what Elijah modeled and from his own walk with God.

The occasions when we have to make life choices are often not of our own choosing. Elisha, when asked what he wanted more than anything else, chose a double portion of what Elijah had. Elijah had nothing in the temporal, but a fortune in the eternal. Elisha knew the difference, and he got his wish.

He followed the strategy of his mentor, ministering and performing miracles. Then, like his mentor, he hired an intern — Gehazi. Gehazi learned from Elisha, the double portion man. No doubt Elisha told him of Elijah’s exploits and we know Gehazi witnessed several of Elisha’s own miracles first hand. Seeing them having many a dinner together is not too much of a reach, maybe not over a campfire, but in the kitchen, because Elisha settled down in Dothan. 

And, just like Elisha, the day dawned unexpectedly where Gehazi had to make a choice that set the direction for the rest of his life. You know the story: Naaman arrived with fancy clothes and other gifts the rich and famous give each other, in order to compensate the man of God for the healing. The man of God knew he had no need of any of those things, and so he declined them.

Gehazi didn’t. He had all the knowledge. Sojourning in Shunem with his boss, the widow had to have told him about the oil. And he witnessed God’s power, raising her son from the dead. He saw God’s all-sufficiency, both temporal and spiritual.

But there’s one thing Gehazi had not learned: the things of the world come with invisible ties — ties to unhappiness, unfulfillment, dissatisfaction, frustration, emptiness, jealousy, miserliness. Is it a coincidence that, when his boss confronted him, he felt compelled to lie? Funny how that works: you start on the path of the world, all innocent and without sin. But it’s not long before the direction of that path, away from the things of the Lord, brings you to a place where you have to lie or do something else you ordinarily would avoid, just to keep on that path. The narrow path of the Lord never brings you into situations like that.

You would think Gehazi, hanging out with such a straight man of God would have figured that out. Sadly, you’d be wrong. There’s more: the things of the world, fame, money, position, power, “success,” those all attract the weirdest and most illogical responses from others — mostly negative: jealousy, criticism, entitlement, judgment, deception, greed, even outright hatred. When the world presents those enticements, that is conveniently omitted from the brochure. But it’s real — ask any lottery winner or millionaire athlete.

None of those outcomes are inevitable, of course. Plenty of wealthy people have kept their heads (and hearts) straight. But the ties are there, with a life of their own. Cut them off, and tomorrow they start growing right back. If you’re aware of that and keep your hand on them, like on weeds, they won’t ensnare you. However, even that distracts from a focus on the things of eternity.

It’s no coincidence that Jesus, when He walked the earth, maintained a life devoid of temporal distractions. Same with Paul. None of the early church leaders utilized this incredible new power they were endowed with from on high for their temporal benefit. And the church prospered.

Gehazi didn’t see any of that. When Naaman came, he saw the gifts the rich and famous give each other. Let’s be honest, those are all very nice things. It’s nice to dress in fine clothes, eat fine food, stay in five star resorts, drive (or be driven in) grand cars, and live in luxurious homes. So it’s easy to see what Gehazi saw in those things. 

Gehazi didn’t get killed like Ananias and Safira for lying. He was left with the riches to enjoy them. But the tie in his heart to the temporal things meant he had to leave the service of the King of kings.

After accepting Naaman’s rich clothes, he put them to good use, and we can deduce that he climbed the social ladder in a hurry. He could drop names, having shaken hands with the likes of Naaman and Elisha. It wasn’t long before we see him hanging out with the king of Israel, shooting the breeze over dinner. “So, Mr. G,” the king said, “Tell me a little more of all your exploits from your Elisha days.” (II Kings 8:4). Well, having been an eyewitness to Elisha raising a boy from the dead, he was in a perfect place to tell the story.

We don’t know how Gehazi’s life ended. Elisha replaced him, but we aren’t told by whom. This was the (unnamed) servant who witnessed the hidden armies of the Lord surrounding the enemy contingent sent to capture Elisha.

We know there was no prophet who followed in Elisha’s footsteps. Gehazi looks like he was designated for that, but he opted to pursue the things of the world instead. Who knows how different things might have been if he desired what Elisha desired… and obtained.

The Lord Jesus said where our treasure is, our heart will be also. It’s easy if you’re never offered the opportunity to walk the walk of the rich and famous. It’s different if you are given that opportunity, especially when you don’t expect it. Who knows? None of us can say, but sometimes I wonder if God knows what we would choose and, for our own protection, spares us the opportunity to make that choice. Not saying, just saying…

Characters in the Shadows: The Nameless Crowd

When Jesus was crucified, where were all the people He healed, delivered and fed? The answer lies not in where they were, but who they were.

Who

They were, you see, people that did not count. There were the quintessential characters in the shadows — a small army of them. It was the leadership of the Jewish nation who were hell-bent on getting rid of this character who challenged their teaching and exposed their hypocrisy. It was the leadership who had power and authority to judge and dispense punishment. A leper from Jericho or a blind person who spent his life by the pool of Bethesda had no say; they simply didn’t count.

Now, if you were all-wise like Jesus, and you knew you were going to be condemned, who would you lavish your miracles on? Those who can help you, or those who can’t? Jesus’ answer is found in Luke 14: when you give (or help) do that for the people who cannot repay you. He walked that talk. He still does, in fact.

You may think your country is the first one to have a political leadership that’s corrupt, evil and incompetent. You would be wrong, of course: the Jewish leadership that put Jesus on the cross set the tone for the governments we all endure today. And, just like today, the corrupt and inept government made sure any dissenting voices, the crowd in the shadows, could not be heard.

God’s Way

The Bible doesn’t say anything about this, but I’m convinced that the disregarded and voiceless masses, the blind, leprous, possessed and otherwise debilitated would have stormed Calvary if they could, and freed Jesus from the intense pain and humiliation. (Can you imagine hanging naked next to your city’s busiest freeway?) And they would have felt victorious.

God’s way, though, is different from that of the flesh. He not only endures evil, he counts on it to accomplish His plans. God doesn’t need us to storm the enemy in the physical realm. His weapons are invisible to newspapers, television and even the internet. When you or I encounter evil or malice, even just misunderstanding or lack of appreciation, our first inclination is react with the flesh, to defend God (or ourselves), storm Calvary and take Jesus down from the cross. But… what is God’s plan? If something happens outside of His will, is His arm too short to step in and take care of it? Of course not. 

More often than not God’s plan is counterintuitive to the flesh — love instead of letters to the editor, help instead of rebuttal. My challenge, and yours, is to know God’s mind in every situation. That, of course, requires us making time to commune with Him, to know His mind in everything. And often He takes His time sharing those thoughts with us, doesn’t he? Just like He took His time revealing the wonderful plan that changed the world and crippled the evil empire forever.

How much time have you spent lately to simply commune?

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Characters In The Shadows: A Nameless Boy

They don’t see me. They don’t even know my name. They don’t remember me. They’ll surely never miss me. How often have thoughts like those drifted through your mind?

Today’s story is about someone the gospel writers didn’t know. But being unknown and insignificant didn’t stop the Lord Jesus from using that person to be part of one of his most famous miracles.

I’m talking about the boy whose bread and fish Jesus Christ used to feed the crowd.

The Only One?

Jesus  multiplied bread twice, once feeding 5,000 and the other time 4,000. It’s interesting to note in passing that the only miracle all four gospels mention is the first one, where our Lord fed 5,000 people. For the mystics among us who look at numbers, the Bible tells us seven times how Jesus multiplied bread to feed a crowd. But only the seventh description (John 6) includes the detail of where the original food came from: that nameless lad.

We don’t know his name, but his willingness to part with his much needed lunch is recorded forever.

When we read about it, we hardly even pay the lad any attention. What better time, then, to do it than now?

Have you ever gone to a picnic and thought, “Hmmm… the weather could get chilly, let me throw a jacket in the car, just in case?” And, sure enough, some clouds and a breeze indeed decided to crash the party. You felt vindicated by your foresight.

But… someone else didn’t have your foresight and forgot to bring a jacket. The upshot? You give them your jacket… and now your suffering just doubled: it’s one thing to get caught unprepared, but that just shifts to another level when you were careful to prepare, but you end up suffering anyway. I can’t count how many times I brought chairs to a picnic because I don’t like sitting on the ground. You guessed it: I usually end up having to sit on the ground anyway, even if I bring four extra chairs… because there’s always someone with puppy dog eyes who didn’t bring a chair and wants to sit in our circle (if only for the chairs).

Back to the lad. Having a good Jewish mama, he was prepared. Those around him may have just hurried along the lakeshore to hear the fast-becoming-famous young preacher, not giving a thought to lunch or dinner.

But not our lad. He had lunch. He was prepared.

Prepared for what?

There’s no way his mother woke up that morning saying, “I’ve got to fix my boy a good lunch, because that’ll get him a nice mention in that new book they’ll be writing in a decade or two.” Perhaps the lad was sent to help his dad or a neighbor work a field. We know kids, they never come prepared for anything; they have to be told. And even then, there’s usually some reluctance to follow instructions. But mothers are mothers, always taking care of business, even when those who benefit fuss and moan about it. So she packed him a lunch and made sure he took it.

We’ve all experienced it: you walk along the sidewalk when suddenly you see three people gathered together, looking intently at something across the street. What do you do? You stop, of course, join the group, and look in the same direction to see what they’re looking at. It’s just what we humans do.

So, here was the lad, on his way somewhere, when suddenly there was this mad rush along the shore of Lake Galilee. What does he do? Join the rush, of course. Would his mother have approved? Probably not.

We know the diversion was worth it, because this young preacher had wisdom nobody had heard before. Everyone was so captivated by the teachings of the carpenter’s son from a few villages up the road nobody noticed time flying.

Until the good Master said, “That’s all, folks.” Then, to his close followers: “Okay, let’s eat. Hey, guys, go feed ’em!”

We know the story. The disciples were aghast. (Interesting aside: you would think if the Master multiplied bread once to feed 5,000 people they’d know He can do it again without breaking a sweat. So, why then were they aghast again the second time this happened? That’s something I’ve not heard anybody preach on, but I’ve always wondered: what does that say about the disciples?)

Anyway, the disciples looked to the crowd to answer the Lord’s question:

What do you have?

Have you ever thought about it: are we to believe that in a crowd of 5,000 people only one single person brought food? Impossible. Too many Jewish mamas in the neighborhood for that to happen. I think the more likely explanation would be nobody else wanted to part with their lunch. “Sorry, buddy, I’m not giving my lunch to someone who can’t think farther than their nose!” The Jews of the time all wore robes of some sort, so it would have been easy to hide their lunch.

Jesus no doubt knew that.

He easily could have used the situation as a good opportunity for a fast and perhaps a good, home hitting message related to fasting or loving thy neighbor, but He knew when to stop preaching, and opted to bless instead.

Using the humble lunch of an anonymous boy.

It’s not your name or fame that’s important. It’s the courage of your obedience that really matters in God’s kingdom.

He knows your name.

He remembers you and He uses each one of us in ways we cannot foresee.

If you will offer up what little preparation you made, there’s no telling how many people He can feed with it.

Lunch