In this week’s gospel reading, a synagogue official named Jairus approached Jesus and begged Him to heal his 12-year-old daughter who was at the point of death. As they traveled to Jairus’ house, news arrived that the young girl had died. Scripture says, “Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, ‘Do not be afraid; just have faith.’”
What a great sentence: Do not be afraid; just have faith.
Jairus’ friends encouraged him to let Jesus leave. “Why trouble the teacher any longer?” they reasoned, convinced it was too late for a healing to occur. But Jairus ignored their advice and pressed on toward his home, most likely clutching Jesus by the elbow and walking as fast as possible.
Jairus did what Jesus commanded. He had faith. (Although I can’t imagine he successfully followed the first half of Jesus’ command, “Do not be afraid.” He was probably terrified and on the verge of hysteria. At least I would be, in the same situation.)
Jesus’ key sentence, “Do not be afraid; just have faith,” was not merely for Jairus. It applies to all believers throughout all of history—including, and maybe especially, those of us living today.
To some observers, Jesus’ statement is no different than that goofy song, “Don’t worry, be happy,” by Bobby McFerrin. Many people think the heart of Christian living is to ignore our problems and pretend that everything is fine. As Karl Marx cynically sneered, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” (Or maybe it was Groucho Marx. Seriously, I wonder how ol’ Karl’s soul is faring right about now, 135 years after his surprising discovery that atheism is not true.)
Christians are accused of mindlessly and irrationally ignoring the hardships of life and using religion as an emotional crutch. Although I’m not sure about McFerrin’s motivation for writing the song, “Don’t worry, be happy” (I suspect it may have been a few bong hits), the attitude expressed by the song is in fact rather mindless and irrational.
The difference between the song and the Scriptures is the foundation of each. “Don’t worry, be happy” is based on…nothing. Ignore your problems. Why? Well, just because. Be happy. Why? Well, just because. As experience teaches us, ignoring problems usually makes them worse, and trying to force ourselves to be happy is the surest way of becoming miserable. Jesus’ words do work, however, because of the foundation on which they are based: the eternal power and glory and love of God Almighty.
Jesus tells us not to be afraid. Why? Just because? No, because God is God and because He is in control of every molecule in the universe, from the beginning of time and for all eternity; that’s why. Jesus tells us to have faith. Why? Just because? No, because faith can not only move mountains, it also is our ticket to eternal life in Heaven with God; that’s why.
Jairus had faith in Jesus’ words, however weak and tentative his faith might have been. And his faith was rewarded, as Jesus raised the little girl from the dead with the words, “Talitha koum.” (The Bible explains this expression means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” I always thought it meant, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”)
If Jesus had told Jairus, “Don’t worry, be happy,” and then walked away, do you think Jairus would have suddenly been filled with serenity and joy? I don’t think so.
If the advice to ignore our problems and put on a big smile is backed up by nothing but hot air, we’re not likely to do the happy dance anytime soon. Only when that advice comes from Christ, who backed up His words by conquering death once and for all on the first Easter morning, can we be assured that there is truly nothing to fear. The song should be called, “Don’t worry, be faithful.”