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I was hurrying. My wife and I had made plans to attend a movie and if I did not move quickly, we would certainly be late. I had barely enough time to wash the car and then pick up the babysitter. The children were in the car with me: Chris who was three and Debbie, who was nearly two. Since the sitter was a young lady they did not know, I thought I might facilitate the getting-acquainted process by having the three of them in the car while I drove home.
I pulled in at the self-serve car wash, rolled the windows up tightly, and stepped out of my new, two-door Dodge Charger. I swung the driver’s door shut and pushed the lock button as the door passed me. By the time the door thumped home, I knew I had made a mistake. The keys were still in the ignition. The children were still in the car.
I explained the problem to my son and told him to pull up the lock button on the door. He tried. He really tried. But his little three-year-old fingers could not generate enough force to pull the knob up. The newness of the car and the smoothness of the plastic defeated him. Nor could he open the doors. They needed to be unlocked manually first.
I was frantic, now. I needed to get inside the vehicle and go get the babysitter. But how? I knew that with a wire coat hanger, I might have some chance. But where would I find a coat hanger at a car wash? Without much hope I walked to a nearby garbage can and began to examine the contents. To my astonishment I found not one, but two hangers, discarded there, I was certain, by some inspired car-washer earlier in the day.
I unwound the hook from the rest of the hanger and forged a small loop to fit over the lock knob. Fashioning the hanger into a useful tool took some time. Then, using all my creativity, I forced the wire around the plastic molding of the door and into the passenger compartment. Finding a spot around the door where this could be done consumed more time. Then I discovered that I could not get the loop over the knob without help. But finally I made Chris understand what I needed, and he moved the wire to the correct spot. I pulled sharply, and the knob popped up.
Filled with relief, I glanced at my watch and realized that we were not going to get to the movie on time. “Well,” I thought, “since we are late anyway, I might as well wash the car while I am here.” I secured the keys as a hedge against children now fascinated with door locks and deposited my quarters. I had been washing the car for about three minutes when my son waved for my attention. I bent over near his window to hear what he had to say, but the noise of the water made it difficult to understand him. “What?” I shouted, whereupon he rolled the window down and said, “Dad, I need to go to the bathroom.”
I wonder how many times, as I have labored over the Test of Life, I have done similar things. With the Teacher willing to open the window and give me direction and assistance, I have searched through the garbage for my own solution. Of course the Test of Life often presents us with exhausting, even frightening ordeals, but this is no reason for us to seek more of them than is required by the Teacher.
As I have reflected on this matter, I have occasionally pondered the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness. When they arrived at Mount Sinai, the Teacher made it clear that it was His desire to make of them “a peculiar treasure unto [Him] above all people . . . a kingdom of priests, an holy nation” (Exodus 19:5,6).
The people seemed willing enough. “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8) they promised. But they didn’t. The straight-line distance from Mount Sinai to Kadesh- barnea, from where the twelve spies entered the promised land, is slightly more than one hundred sixty miles. It was from this Kadesh location that Israel should have begun its conquest of Canaan. The Israelites, however, traveled forty more years before the conquest actually began. They of course rested on the Sabbath, but even so, their average progress toward their destination turns out to have been less than 70 feet per day.
The Teacher did not demand that they spend this unproductive and difficult time wandering in the wilderness, until after they demonstrated that they were not willing to solve their problems in the way He had intended. When spies reported on the size and strength of the inhabitants of the land the Teacher had promised them, the Israelites cried,
“Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! . . . And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.” (Numbers 14:2,4).
Dissatisfied with the version of the Test offered them by the Teacher, they sought for and obtained a different version, one that they soon learned was much more complex than the one offered them at Mount Sinai.
Even after they had settled the Promised Land, their infatuation with their own solutions caused them continuing difficulties. The Teacher brought them to this special place,
“And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.
“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.
“What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
“And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; [and] break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:
“And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
“For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts [is] the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry” (Isaiah 5:2-7).
This declaration from the teacher is an announcement to his people that they are about to receive a more difficult version of the Test of Life. He intends to take away the hedge, break down the wall, and lay waste the vineyard. Israel will be exposed to the viciousness of her enemies, without the protection of the Teacher in their times of trouble.
It would be a mistake for us to become too complacent about these tragedies, however, simply because they occurred in a distant time. The attitudes that caused these problems for the House of Israel occur in our own lives. We spend far too much time wandering in our own wildernesses, making too little progress toward Graduation, immersed in the difficulties of versions of the Test that we have requested for ourselves. It is the hope of the Teacher, of course, that these difficulties will finally bring us back to him, and back to the problems on the Test that He has designed for us.
“I have been driven many times to my knees.” said Abraham Lincoln, “by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go” (Cited by N. Eldon Tanner, Ensign, Aug. 1971, p.4).
When the burdens of life become so oppressive, when the pains of life become so unbearable, when the uncertainties of life become so pervasive that the common solutions no longer suffice–when we search our environment and our circumstances and find no prospect of peace, then we may have the great fortune to be driven to the Teacher where we may learn at last that the weight and pain and ambivalence that drive us to Him are not suffering at all, but the seedbed of joy.
The desperation of our circumstances, teaching us humility, may one day reveal itself to be the beckoning hand of the Teacher, calling us home, inviting us to abandon our own convoluted solutions to the problems of our Test and to try His simpler ones.
The famine that sent the prodigal son back to his home (see Luke 15:14-18) had more in it of blessing than of hunger, and even the ignominy of longing to eat husks with the pigs was transfigured by the greeting, the kiss, the forgiveness, and the welcome of his father into a priceless incentive. But the message of this parable is, at least in part, that this wayward son could have had all the blessings he received upon his return to his father without spending that awful passage of time with the pigs.
We believe that for the Teacher, there are no insurmountable obstacles, no insoluble problems, no incurable injuries. We believe that if He is willing to assist us, we can avoid at least some of the difficulty of life. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” the Teacher asked a laughing, soon-to-be-pregnant Sarah. (Genesis 18:14). Jeremiah testified to the Teacher in prayer, “There is nothing too hard for thee” (Jeremiah 32:17). And the Teacher affirmed to the doubting disciples, “With God, all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Gabriel told Mary, “With God, nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). All of these statements convey the same message: “I can make this Test easier for you.”
The Teacher, during his time in the Testing Center, was becoming increasingly popular. The records suggest that people came more for the miracles than for the message, but come they did, in relentless multitudes. He had recently healed the centurion’s servant without even being in the same residence, and then had raised the lifeless son of the widow in Nain. (See Luke 7:1-18). “Whereupon the “rumor of him went forth throughout all Judea, and throughout all the region round about” (Luke 7:17). The telling of these wonders must have set the minds of the possessed, the diseased, and the crippled, on fire with hope for a simplified version of the Test. The evening after the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8: 14, 15), the people of Capernaum “brought unto him many that were possessed with devils; and he cast out the spirits with his word and healed all that were sick” (Matthew 8:16).
The crush of the multitudes finally caused the Teacher to sail across the Sea of Galilee to the land of the Gergesenes. But immediately upon his return, “much people gathered unto him” while he was still “nigh unto the sea” (Mark 5:21, 22). One of those who came was Jairus, a scribe and the ruler of a synagogue. He pressed his way forward until he could be heard and appealed for help for his twelve-year-old daughter who “lay a-dying.” (Luke 8:42). “But come and lay thy hand upon her and she shall live. And Jesus arose and followed him, and his disciples, and much people thronged him” (Matthew 9:18, 19).
As He walked those narrow Capernaum streets, the people surrounded and engulfed him, each of them with needs, longing, pain, curiosity, wonder . . . and one of them, a woman, with an issue of blood of twelve years duration. This timid, terrified woman offers us an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the ways in which we may complicate this matter of taking the Test. Her malady is a metaphor, perhaps for the whole human family. Which of us does not suffer from debilitating spiritual hemorrhaging? Often for periods much in excess of twelve years.
Leviticus 15:19 instructs the congregation of Israel that a woman with a normal condition of menstruation is to be considered unclean for seven days. If the issue of blood continues beyond the normal time, “all the days of her issue shall be as the days of her separation” (Lev. 15:25). During that time, anyone who touches her is to be considered unclean for a day (Lev. 19:19) and touching the place where she slept or sat would result in the same restriction (Leviticus 15:25-30).
Such observations begin to provide an insight into the pattern of the life of this woman during the past twelve years. As a faithful Israelite and follower of the Law of Moses, she must have been in utter physical isolation, without the comfort of a single endearing caress for one hundred and forty-four months–more than four thousand, three hundred and eighty days. These numbers begin to make us aware that her version of the Test is one of terrifying difficulty.
She had tried to find relief. Mark 5:26 tells us that she “had suffered many things of many physicians.” We know from ancient Jewish sources something of the practice of medicine from this time. The Talmud prescribes suggested remedies for this very condition.
“Take of the gum of Alexandria the weight of a zuzee [a small silver coin]; of alum the same; of crocus the same. Let them be bruised [beaten] together, and given in wine to the woman that has an issue of blood. If this does not benefit, take of Persian onions three logs [pints], boil them in wine and give her to drink, and say ‘Arise from thy flux [flowing or bleeding].’ If this does not cure her, set her in a place where two ways meet, and let her hold a cup of wine in her right hand, and let some one come behind and frighten her, and say, ‘Arise from thy flux.’” But if that do no good, take a handful of cummim, a handful of crocus, and a handful of fenugreek. Let these be boiled in wine, and give them her to drink, and say, “Arise from thy flux.”
Another recommended cure (there are ten more suggestions, all equally amazing):
“Let them dig seven ditches, in which let them burn some cuttings of vines not yet four years old. Let her take in her hand a cup of wine, and let them lead her away from this ditch, and make her sit down over that. And let them remove her from that and make her sit down over another, saying to her at each . . . ‘Arise from thy flux’”.
Other prescriptions in vogue for various ailments included such interesting prescriptions as the ashes of burnt wolf skull, the heads of mice, the eyes of crabs, owls’ brains, frog livers, pig gall, woman’s milk, bear fat, and cow urine (See Geikie, Life of Christ, pages 157, 158).
Having access to such information enables us to agree thoroughly that she had suffered “many things’ of “many physicians.” Her longing to be cured, to return to a normal life, to be free from this most embarrassing and limiting infirmity, had driven her from doctor to doctor until she “had spent all that she had.” And the conclusion? “She was nothing bettered, but grew worse” (Mark 5:26). Somehow we are not surprised. But the lesson must speak to our hearts. How often in the midst of our own continuing tribulations do we drift from one useless solution to another, suffering all manner of needless pain and stress, looking for answers in garbage cans, until, Lincoln-like, we are driven to the Hope of the hopeless, as was the woman in Mark.
For she had heard of the Teacher, the ultimate physician of both soul and body. She knew what Jairus knew. Anything the Teacher lays his hands on, or touches, lives.
But how was she to approach him? Jairus came (she might have been a witness to this) and “fell at his feet, and besought him greatly” (Mark 5:22, 23, emphasis added). The ten Lepers “lifted up their voices” (Luke 17:13 emphasis added). Another leper came “beseeching him . . .” (Mark 1:41 emphasis added). Even the diseased of Gennesaret “besought him” before they touched “the hem of his garment” (Matthew 14:34-36 emphasis added). But this woman asked nothing, spoke not a word, called no smallest amount of attention to herself. Twelve years as a social pariah must have left scars like canyons. She could not ask for a touch. The imposition of his hands would make him unclean.
Thus, in the silence that her condition had taught her, she thought, “If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole” (Mark 5:28). And she “came in the press behind, and touched his garment” (Mark 5:27).
And was healed! What an explosion of wonder must have rocked her as she felt the miracle and sensed the simplification of her Test. She came to the Teacher when there was no place else to go, and He had simplified her Test.
Jesus knew. This seems almost as miraculous as the healing. His disciples were amazed at the question, “Who touched my clothes?” “Master,” they replied, “the multitude throng thee and press upon thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?” (Luke 8:45). In a narrow street with a swirling crowd desperate to be near him, He felt the touch and knew that it was more than a touch. The Savior felt virtue [better: power] go out of him. (Mark 5:30).
And so He asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30). Again the woman’s personality appears. She made no rush of gratitude and amazement to fall at his feet and give thanks. Rather, when she “found that she was not hid,” as she had hoped to be (Luke 8:47), “she came trembling.” (Mark 5:33).
But she came, the miracle still burning inside, “and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him and how she was healed immediately” (Luke 8:47).
The Teacher saw her kneeling there, perceived her remarkable faith and the goodness of her heart and said simply, “Daughter, thy faith [not the clothes, not the touch] hath made thee whole; go in peace . . . .” (Mark 5:34).
My wife suffered for years with incapacitating, demoralizing headaches. She took her problem to many doctors, and they all had suggestions and they all had prescriptions and they all charged money, sometimes amazing amounts of it. And when it was all over she was not better but seemed to grow worse. Finally, when it seemed that there was no place else to go, we went to our knees and to the Savior, and in his quiet, gentle way, after sufficient time and faith, He showed us a solution.
This is not an indictment of doctors. Those we visited were marvelous, dedicated men who offered the common solutions. None of them prescribed owl brains or frog livers. But it took us so long to make our way to the Teacher . . .
I fear that many of us misunderstand the atonement and the power of the Teacher to simplify our problems: to heal any wound, resolve any difficulty, purge any pain. Only after we have suffered enough to exhaust all the dimmer hopes do we come before Him, driven finally to our knees by the joyous but painfully learned knowledge that there is no place else to go. Once there we may learn that if we had been willing, we could have been there all the time.
The preceding is Rule # 14 of Ted Gibbons’ series on how to pass the Test of Life. It comes from his book, ‘This Life is a Test.’ If you would like to get your own e-copy of the entire book, send $5.00 to the PayPal account of firstname.lastname@example.org. Please choose the PayPal option “Friends and Family.” We will email you an e-copy of the book.