That We May Live

Scripture can be found here...

“Mother, I heard at the well that Rachel is dying.”

I looked up from the hearth, where I was stirring stew in a pot.


Rachel… smart, funny, curious, twelve-year-old Rachel… How could it be? She was the daughter of my friend, Rivka—my lifelong friend, whom I had known from the time we were both babes in our mothers’ arms. You talk of lives doing in different directions. Rivka was the wife of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue…which means, Rivka was a leader among the women in our community. She was a woman of honor, of valor. A scholar, like her husband. As for me… I had spent the past twelve-years at home. Or at the doctor. Or the healer, or the herb-seller.

My daughter was nodding, breathless with the exertion of hurrying with two large buckets of water.

“Yes, Amma. Rachel has been wasting away—that is what they say—and these last three days she has been in bed, unable to speak.” She paused, then whispered, her eyes bright with new tears: “They think she will not live.”

I felt a sickness in my stomach that rivaled my illness. Rachel! I looked at my wonderful daughter—sixteen years old, so strong and kind, so sensitive, understanding how this news would pierce my heart. The thought of Rivka losing her child… This was all I needed to hear. I had been at home, trapped inside the fear and anxiety of my woman’s illness, this hemorrhage, my twelve-year ordeal. I had relied on my good family take care of all other aspects of living. I had relied on my oldest, my Shira, to take on the responsibilities of the mother of the family, because my illness had so consumed and frightened me, that I had little energy to devote to anyone or anything else. And now, my deareset friend was facing this terrible moment… and I’d had no idea. This was all I needed to hear. I stood up, and wrapped my shawl around me, and stepped out into the bright day.

It was strange, to be heading out on an errand that had nothing to do with my illness. It was unfamiliar, this feeling of being drawn to the side of someone else, to think of their needs. As I walked I felt the weight of the many years of my friendship with Rivka… a friendship which had given me so much joy. But these past years… everything that did not promise me a cure had been cast aside. Rivka’s invitations to sit by her hearth, or to come to be with the other women at the synagogue, or to celebrate her son’s marriage… nothing had been able to lure me outside the boundaries of my own fear and worry. Until now.

I had a strange sense of hope as I walked through the village center. It was late in the morning now, and people were out and about, heading to the market or visiting with one another. The crowds grew thicker—strangely thick, astonishing numbers of people, and I searched my memory, wondering whether my husband or daughter had told me of anything unusual going on. Everyone seemed to be streaming toward the village center, and I found myself swept along.

And then I realized what was happening. I could see a little clearing, a space in the crowd where two men talked—and one of them was Jairus, I could tell by his clothing, but more than that, by his expression, his gestures. The leader of our synagogue—a man of great dignity and intelligence—was pleading. He was begging. And then I gasped: Jairus had fallen to his knees. I felt my heart heave in my chest. I heard just a few words, carried on the light morning breeze… “Please come… that she may live…” But it wasn’t Jairus who drew me forward, whose presence beckoned me to come near, to get closer. It was the other man, the one who was listening deeply to Jairus’ plea, the one who took Jairus by the arm, and lifted him up, and set off with him towards his home.

I followed, I followed, partially, because… that’s where I was going anyway, the home of Rivka and Jairus. And I followed as part of this great crowd of people who seemed determined to go where these men were going. And I followed, too, because I had finally come to understand who this man was. This was Yeshua ben Joseph. It was the healer, Jesus.

I had heard of Jesus from my husband and my daughter. First, I had heard that he had cast out demons, and restored someone’s ability to walk, and healed a woman of a fever… and then the stories seemed to take on a fantastical dimension. He had healed dozens, hundreds. The more stories I’d heard, the more skeptical I’d become. You don’t spend twelve years seeking out healing without developing a kind of fence around your heart, where the hope lives. The more outrageous the claims about Jesus, the less inclined I’d been to go… until now.

I had seen… what? I had seen Jairus’ desperation, yes. But I had also seen something in Jesus I hadn’t seen in any of the many healers I’d sought out. I’d seen a look in his eyes of the greatest compassion… I’d seen sorrow. As if the pain of Jairus had entered into him personally, as if he were ready to weep right along with this frightened man. And suddenly, I thought, if I could just touch him… not even him, just his robe, just the fringe of his robe. Maybe there will be some of that compassion there for me.

And I found myself hurrying, almost running, closing the distance between us, reaching my hand out and…

I’m not sure how to describe what happened next. As I touched the healer’s robe, I felt a great silence surround me, as if the crowd receded, and there was no one there except Jesus and me. I stopped, stood very still, and closed my eyes… and I realized, I knew: The hemorrhage had stopped. I was healed. I was whole. I could feel it, in my body, a great sense of peace. We call this sense of wholeness, we call this peace: Shalom.

When I opened my eyes, there was Jesus, looking directly at me. Because, of course, he had stopped, too—how could he not? …  and he had turned around, and I could see that his followers, several men, were whispering in his ear and urging him to continue on. Jairus was looking at me with agitation and confusion… at first I couldn’t think why, and then I realized, Lord have mercy, I’d stopped the healer on his way to Jairus’ house.

I dropped to my knees and now, words spilled out of me, as I tried to explain what had happened. Jesus watched me… those eyes, so full of compassion. Then, the tiniest flicker of a smile passed over his face, and he placed a hand on my shoulder.

“Daughter, you are well. Be at peace. Shalom.”

I hardly had time to take in his words before another man rushed out of the crowd to say the words Jairus had dreaded. “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”

No! The full horror seeped in. Rachel… Rachel! I watched as Jesus led his followers and Jairus away, still towards the leader’s home. I hung back, having heard his stern warning that he did not want to be followed. The crowd hesitated, confused at this turn of events. But I followed them anyway. Nothing, not even Jesus’ words, would keep me away from my friend now.

We wound through the streets and came upon the house, surrounded by the professional mourners. Their wails echoed on the otherwise silent stones and patios of the buildings. Jairus’ head was low as he entered his home. His face was a mask of grief. As Jesus and his entourage entered the house, I heard his quiet voice again, “Don’t be afraid. Believe.” A moment later the door opened again, and there was an exodus of servants, scribes, mourners, and other hangers-on. The street began to fill with people, the mourners making half-hearted attempts at wailing now and then, but mostly, people murmuring. He was a healer, yes. But this? The child was dead.

I stood against a wall, breathing hard, praying, if you must know.  Praying to God above, that the state of this child was not beyond Jesus’ power to heal. “That she may live,” I prayed. “That she may live,” the prayer of her father and mother, and of everyone who loved them. I could feel the cold of the stone through my clothes, and I felt strange. Strange and alive, even in this moment, more alive than I had in a long time. A hand touched my shoulder, and I turned to see my daughter. I couldn’t help smiling at her, and we exchanged a look that conveyed more than words could say.

Just then we heard the shouting. The door to Jairus and Rivka’s home burst open and the three men who’d been following Jesus came out laughing. One of them shouted, “She lives!”

A shout arose from the crowd, almost as one… and then the sound of people laughing and crying, like my daughter and me. We held each other, shaking, for the unbelievable good news. Someone, somewhere started playing a flute, and then there was the sound of a tambourine, and within moments a song had gone up…a psalm of David, a song of thanksgiving for the goodness of God. “Bless the Lord, O my soul! And all that is within me, bless his holy name…!” A few professional mourners stood awkwardly, wondering what their role was in all this, but even they, after a few minutes, joined in with the relief, the wonder, and the joy.

Later, after the celebration had quieted down, and the family inside sent everyone away, my daughter and I walked home together. Neither of us felt compelled to speak… we were still filled with the astonishment of the day. Again and again, I remembered: the look in his eyes—the deep compassion of Jesus that reached out and held me, healed me. I realized that my prayer for Rachel had also been my prayer for myself, though I hadn’t known it. “That she may live… that I may live.” I had been released, not only from my disease, but from my fear. For twelve years my fear had robbed my family and friends of my presence, For twelve years I had known myself only as sick, diseased. Jesus had freed me from my fear, that I might live. And now I knew how I wanted to live: a life in which that compassion that he had shown me might be released to others… traveling from Jesus to me, and then out again, to the man whose child did not live, to the lepers living out by the graveyard, to the woman consumed with anger. Jesus had healed my body, but he had also healed my heart, my soul, my whole life.

He had healed me, that I may live. I pray that for all of us: that we may be healed, that we may be whole. That we may live.

Thanks be to God. Amen.