How do you keep from giving up hope?
…suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before [Jesus], saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district. [Matthew 9:18-26]
The early ‘90s show Twin Peaks explores how the murder of a teenage girl affects her small town. When her father is being interviewed by the police, he tries to get across the deep wound left by her death: “Have you ever experienced absolute loss?”
An officer responds quickly, “I doubt if any one of us is a stranger to grief.”
“No, more than grief,” the father insists. “It’s deep down. Inside. Every cell screams. You can hear nothing else.”
Was that what this synagogue leader was feeling when he knelt before Jesus? He would have been a man with social influence, someone respected, someone with authority. And yet here he is, throwing himself on the ground in front of a travelling preacher — in public! — and begging for the impossible: “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”
And then there’s the woman. She’s been hemorrhaging for twelve years. She must have seen so many healers, prayed so many prayers. I have to think she’s used to being given up as a lost cause, because she doesn’t even dare to ask for Jesus’ time, for yet one more healer’s hopeless response to her disease. But still she can’t help but hope: “If only I touch his cloak, I will be made well.”
What do these characters have in common? They are living in situations that most of us would call hopeless. Yet their desperation for change, for something better, drives them on: they cast aside status, social convention, and even logic and they dare to beg — or even just to reach out and take — what they most desperately need.
What would run through your mind if you were a witness to these two scenes? What would you think about the man and the woman? That they’re losing touch with reality? That they’re bold in faith? Would you take pity on them? Would you admire them?
This is Anthony. He spends his time on the corner of 21st Avenue and West End Avenue in Nashville — an intersection I used to pass every day on my way to seminary classes. He stands on that corner and sells $2 copies of the Contributor, a “street paper” designed for people experiencing homelessness to sell for income. Anthony experienced homelessness on and off the last 20 years (you can read more about the reasons why here). He was the 48th person to sign up to sell the paper, and he has been a vendor for about 10 years. This picture is from September, when Anthony moved into his own apartment. He doesn’t receive government assistance; his income from selling the Contributor pays his sliding-scale rent, utilities, and other necessities.
Vendors like Anthony receive mixed reactions from the people of Nashville. Some build a relationship with a vendor, buying every new paper from them, sometimes bringing them presents for holidays. The last vendor I knew did not have a relationship with me so much as with my German Shepherd, who would hang his head out the car window for pets.
Others complain about vendors’ presence on street corners throughout the city. Some are concerned that it’s a scam, or wonder why they should give handouts to someone with an apartment, or think they should get a real job.
Remember back to the synagogue leader from the Bible reading. He threw aside his social status and knelt on the ground in front of Jesus, with a crowd looking on. As N. T. Wright explains: “Who cares about dignity when your daughter’s life is at stake?” *
When we’re desperate — when all we can think about is survival or getting out of the pain we’re in — our priorities change. Who cares if they see me begging — this is more important than what they think about me.
When we’re in that boat, how do we keep from giving up hope? From losing our own sense of self-worth? The answer, I think, is seen in the trusting faith of the man and the woman in the story. They trust that God still sees them, that God still cares for them, that God makes new futures possible.
Even if others do judge us for our desperation, for our tears, for slipping grades, for our needs, for our reduced energy…God sees us with love and care. As the psalmist wrote: “I know that the LORD maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor” (Ps. 140:12).
May we have the same compassionate heart for those in need — and for ourselves.
May God The Creator take away your pain and loss.
May Christ shield you in your sorrow and fear.
May The Spirit carry you each day of your life.
And may blessings lead you to the fulfillment of your dreams and give you peace in your heart.
Nov. 10, 2021
*N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part I, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), p. 105.
+ Claudio Carvalhaes, “May God Bless You,” Liturgies from Below, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2020), p. 49.
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