The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is an appropriate time for every matter in our earthly lives – a time to laugh and a time to mourn, and so on.
But … how often do we find ourselves getting it wrong?
How often do we find ourselves challenged (even shocked) by someone’s (perhaps even our own) inappropriate laughter at the ‘worst of time’?
It is an unfortunate fact that many of us will have been afflicted with a ‘fit of the giggles’ at a concert, or during a church service, or even at such a solemn occasion as a funeral!
In today’s reading from Mark’s gospel we are given an account of a moment in Jesus’ life when the time for tears and the time for laughter seem to have got mixed up.
We are given two stories that are woven together into a sort of ‘narrative sandwich’ – Shakespeare scholars would recognize this literary device as a play within a play.
First, we encounter a desperate father – his daughter is critically ill, and the father recognizes that only Jesus can heal her.
This is certainly no laughing matter!
Then … this urgent narrative is interrupted by a woman who is also seriously ill – and has been for 12 years.
In her desperation she also reaches out to Jesus for healing – quite literally in her case – she reaches out to physically touch Jesus.
In the middle of many, many grasping hands, Jesus feels the powerful connection of faith with just one hand – and he says: Who touched me?
There isn’t outright laughter at this point – but there might as well be! The disciples can hardly take Jesus’ question seriously.
But, of course, Jesus wasn’t joking. Jesus knew that one with the strongest of faiths had reached out to him in need – he ignored the ridicule and he healed that faithful woman there and then.
But, of course, we mustn’t forget that we were already in the middle of another story. Jesus had actually been on his way to heal that little girl who was also profoundly ill. Jesus had been stopped in his tracks! That father must have been beside himself when he saw Jesus stop and heal someone else.
And then it all got a whole lot worse – Don’t bother with Jesus now – your daughter has died!
Jesus hears this message and says that the messengers are wrong – the girl is not dead, she is merely sleeping. This time there is real laughter – laughter directed at Jesus’ and his seemingly ludicrous statement. But, of course, Jesus is right and the little girl is restored to life.
Today’s gospel, with its story within a story, shows us that Jesus is active in the world with the divine power that restores life – abundant life for everyone.
It is so easy for us to engage with the gospel message in tiny snippets. We worry about who deserves our help, our food, our time and our money. We carefully calculate the conditions under which we will stoop to forgive someone.
In the meantime, when we are least expecting it, the Holy Spirit slips around us and pours out a whole river of God’s gracious love.
We are so lucky that God didn’t feel the need to ask whether we deserved it before he sent his Son to save us, and the Holy Spirit to continue pointing out the right way.
When we experience the abundance of God’s grace, we cannot help but take Jesus seriously.
In Jesus, God has a way of transforming our dismissive laughter into tears of joy; our scepticism into speechless amazement.
When this happens for us – as it did for a desperate father and a sick, ostracized woman – we know what it is to be made whole.
The gospels are full of promises that become our own when we take Jesus seriously.
Touch the gospels – and let them touch you!!!
Take that Bible down off its shelf and revel in all the wonderful promises that Jesus makes to you and to me.
And, if you have one of those moments when you feel that Jesus might not be taking your need seriously, remember all those promises; remember the grieving father and the shunned woman; and realize that the promises of Jesus could not be more serious.