What is the most courageous thing you have ever done?
Last week I spoke of my experience climbing up 5 chain ladders up a vertical slope to get to the top of the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa and how it was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I guess it took some courage to do that? Maybe it was foolishness. I was helping on a school trip and so after seeing a bunch of 11 and 12 year olds climb up ahead of me I didn’t really feel as one of the adult leaders that I could back out at that point.
But perhaps even more than that experience, I think that stepping down as a Methodist minister and spending a year and a half at a Buddhist retreat centre was probably the most scary thing I have done. Giving up the financial security of being in the church. If meant stepping out into the unknown. It meant giving up a familiar role. Going beyond social expectations. It was extremely difficult to explain to previous congregation members and family why Wendy and I were doing what we were doing? For someone who likes to play within the rules and doesn’t like to rock the boat or colour out of the lines of life, it took an enormous amount of courage to do. And looking back, I am very grateful that I did. I learnt a lot about myself in those 18 months. If I hadn’t done it I am not so sure I would have been able to go back into full-time ministry a few years later with a greater depth of insight into myself and my own faith.
In our passage today we encounter a number of characters and each in their own way are engaged in a variety of acts of courage.
First we encounter Matthew. His act of courage comes as he responds to the call of Jesus to follow him. He leaves all that is familiar behind him, leaving a familiar comfortable life style. In leaving everything behind to follow Jesus, Matthew leaves behind also his wealth and financial security. He gives his up financial status as a wealthy tax collector, to embark on a journey into the unknown with a religious teacher who was already beginning to receive some opposition. For Matthew this was surely an act of enormous courage.
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said that "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear."
To leave behind his life of financial comfort and security must have been a fearful thing for Matthew the Tax collector. But perhaps in that moment he realised that there was something more important going on here than his fear that gave him the courage to do it.
In the story, Matthew could symbolize for us the external self, the part of us entangled in the pursuits of material wealth and societal expectations. Like Matthew, we often find ourselves ensnared in the trappings of worldly desires, fixated on amassing possessions and seeking approval from others. But they don’t answer the deeper needs of the soul and of our deeper longing for meaning, purpose, belonging and inner fulfilment.
And so for Matthew it takes an act of courage to leave everything behind in order to pursue a life of deeper meaning and fulfilment. It was a risk, but perhaps a risk he thought was worth taking rather than sitting in the tax collectors booth for the rest of his life.
Next in the story we encounter the Synagogue Ruler. He is a man of status and good standing in the community, unlike Matthew who was despised. In the case of the Synagogue Ruler, it takes courage to humble himself to seek help from Jesus, a man who many of his fellow synagogue rulers were sceptical of. But the Synagogue ruler overcomes his fear because there is more at stake than his ego and his pride. He is desperate to see his daughter live. This desperation gives him the courage to do what under normal circumstances he would have failed to do.
It takes courage to humble oneself enough to say to anybody… I need your help.
Thirdly we encounter the women who is bleeding. She is a women who has been living in the shadows of life. Strictly speaking she was unclean and therefore shouldn’t have been out in a public place because according to the religious understanding she would make others unclean just by her presence. It takes courage for her to come out of the closet of her house and risk being seen in public, as well as risk being told off by those who may have known who she was. It takes courage for her to reach out and to touch the cloak of Jesus for what right did she have to do this. How presumptuous it must have seemed especially when she could be accused of making Jesus unclean by her touch.
Fourthly, we don’t generally consider the courage of Jesus. But if Jesus was fully human as we are human, as all Christians, both Unitaian and Trinitarian would affirm, then Jesus too must be seen to act with courage in this passage. It takes courage for Jesus to be willing to be seen and identified with Matthew, the despised traitor of his own people as a Tax collector for the Roman authorities. It takes courage for Jesus, as opposition is already growing from the religious elite, to stick to his convictions that his primary calling was not to serve the religious establishment and the respectable members of society, but to serve those who were regarded as sinners and outcasts. For Jesus it was the spiritually sick who needed him the most not those who considered themselves well.
Lastly I wonder if the lifeless little girl in this passage might be a symbol for us of what can happen to us when we live without courage. Is it possible that a life that is lived without taking risks and locked into fear leads to a death of the spirit. Is it possible that it might take courage to hear the voice of Christ saying, little girl arise.
What have been some of the greatest acts of courage in your life?
In what way might you be needing courage in your life today?
I close with a few quotes:
"Courage is the power to let go of the familiar." - Raymond Lindquist
Like Matthew in the passage, is courage calling you today to let go of something familiar, to ope yourself to something new?
"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." - Winston Churchill
That is an interesting quote… we often think that standing up and speaking is what takes courage… and yet sometimes it might take even more courage to sit down and listen, because sitting down to listen may leave us feeling even more vulnerable than standing up and speaking.
And then a lovely quote by Mary Anne Radmacher:
Courage isn’t always the roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says
‘I’ll try again tomorrow’.
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