Healing Miracles, Part 8
While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter just died. But come and put your hand on her and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples…(Matt. 9: 18-19. NIV)
When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. (Matt. 9: 23-25. NIV)
Jesus was explaining to John’s disciples why he didn’t fast. He told them that now was like being at the groom’s dinner, a time of celebration and newness, a time for new wine in new wineskins. They could wait for the funeral to mourn.
Then suddenly a man who had just been told to make funeral arrangements, appeared and knelt down. He was known as a leader of the synagogue, a preacher maybe. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He had heard about lepers cleansed, fevers cooled, demons banished, and a paralyzed man walk. Would it be too much to ask for his little girl to be brought back to life?
Matthew didn’t record Jesus answer. Sometimes He doesn’t talk to us; He just gets up and goes with us to the most painful places, this time to a deathbed. When Jesus got there, loud wailing and shrill pipes already sounded the beginning of mourning. For the second time that day, he told people they were celebrating the wrong thing. “The girl is not dead but asleep.”
They laughed. I can understand they didn’t believe Him, the young guy with a charismatic reputation who hadn’t been in the room with the girl, what did He know? Death is not a difficult diagnosis–at least it wasn’t back then before respirators and criteria for brain death. The transformation from living, even so-very-sick living, to dead is astonishing, and is nothing like going to sleep. Anybody could see she was dead.
But laughter? Sure, He appeared to be a fool. But to laugh out loud during the funeral preparations? I’m always tempted at this point to revise laughed into something more understandable, like scoffed. But Matthew said laughed.
I can’t help but think of Mary Tyler Moore at Chuckles the Clown’s funeral–the clip can be found on You Tube for those who missed the classic TV show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmBK5GslDaQ). Sometimes we laugh when we should cry, and cry when we should laugh.
Once I had a patient who had died really before she came under my care. She was nineteen, newly married, and suffered a fatal brainstem hemorrhage while she was with her new husband. In Jesus time, she would have simply been dead. But the husband called 911, and began resuscitation, the EMTs took over for the ambulance ride to the hospital, and in the ER she was promptly intubated and placed on a respirator even before the CT scan revealed the cause of her sudden death.
Her husband was too young and too traumatized to act as the next-of-kin. Her mother, the person who had known the patient the best, took over the role. I gave her the bad news, and she told me they were a praying people, and with all due respect, they would wait and pray. Over the next twenty-four hours the patient fulfilled all the medical and legal criteria, the EEG labs and repeated exams, for brain death. I talked with the mother again and discussed transplantation donor status or removal from the respirator. She did not want organ donation, and she asked for another twenty-four hours to give time for her son, a preacher in Georgia, to come and pray for the patient to be raised from the dead.
Though I couldn’t refuse, I felt very uneasy with the plan. No way, did I believe, this girl would be raised from the brain dead. Their prayers would meet disappointment. Then what? Loss of faith? Blame the medical profession for the failure? Assign us the role of the devil?
The next morning the EEG was still flat. Nothing had changed. I met the brother, the young preacher from Georgia, and stayed in the room with the family and friends while he prayed for her resurrection. Three times he called loudly to the heavens, and nothing changed. This would be the awkward moment, I thought. They would nod and back off, and leave me to step in as the alien in the white coat who took away their last hope.
But the preacher had one more prayer. “Thank you, Jesus,” he said, and repeated it three times. “We loved our sister, Lord,” he said then. “But you love her more. Thank you for her life here with us, and thank you for her eternal life with You.”
The family and gathered friends all filed past the bed and said their last good-byes. The brother shook my hand and left. Nobody wept or wailed, nobody seemed distraught. They seemed at peace.
I turned off the respirator and filled out the death certificate, as I had many times before and would many times in the future. This time it was different, though. This time the sharp line between the living and the dead blurred. Her body had died; her spirit had risen.
He went in, took the girl by the hand, and she got up.
Matthew doesn’t record much detail about what happened afterword, other than News of this spread through the region (Matt. 9:26. NIV), but I expect there was a celebration, a kind of tangible example of what Jesus was talking about before the girl’s father came to him.
You can’t fast at the groom’s dinner. When you’re with Jesus, you don’t experience things the old way, you don’t drink the old wine. You drink new wine out of new wineskins, and you don’t laugh at the same things, and you don’t cry at the same things because all things are new. Jesus goes with the parent who has lost a child, He takes her by the hand. And she rises up. Then you can laugh.