I grew up in an age of “believe-ism.” It was a time and culture where respect for older people and those in authority was paramount. If my parents said it was true, that was enough for me to believe. If a teacher advocated for it, soon I was an advocate too. All of that changed when I landed on a university campus in 1976. I was one of about 30,000 students, clueless about what would come next.

During the next two years I would plunge, however hesitantly, into a world where everything I had always believed in was being challenged — by people who were in respectable positions in academia, mind you. To say that I became cynical would be an understatement. But I didn’t become skeptical. I didn’t lose my faith. I didn’t abandon my parents’ traditions. But I came close… As I look back, part of the reason I didn’t go off the deep end is that during my desert of cynicism I continued to be amazed at the words and person of Jesus. Even when I grew tired of Christians, I still kept reading what Jesus said and always thought that His words carried a supernatural strength I had not found anywhere.

As a young man growing up in northern Brazil, one of nine kids in the home of a poor couple, I didn’t have many resources available to further my education. But my hometown had a small library so I just about read everything they had on the shelves. Later, I would find out that some of the stuff I read had been penned by some intellectual giants. I read Victor Hugo before I finished Middle School. I read Dostoyevsky. I read Darwin, Carl Jung, Karl Marx, Camoes, Fernando Pessoa, Goethe, Espinoza, Dante, you name it. But in spite of their brilliance, none of the heavy weight intellects came anywhere near the towering strength of the words of Jesus. His words always felt like a tsunami that left in its wake not havoc, not chaos, but an incredible sense of peace and an extra something that in a mysterious way managed to elevate me beyond the confines of brutes and the ugliness of the world I felt trapped in.

The evangelists noticed that the people who heard Jesus teach said He was not like the other Rabbis. What I tried to describe with fancy words above they simply described as “… for He speaks as one with authority.” I think that they meant that His words had a piercing value that left very little to chance. It went straight to the point and exposed the naked truth inside heart of the hearers.

It was, therefore, the strength of His words and the high calling of His ethical standards that turned me from cynical to committed Christ-follower. During my second year at the university I became totally sold out to Christ and have tried to stay that way throughout my life.

So, as I studied this week for the sermon, I thought about this remarkable woman who suffered with an issue of blood for 12 years. This story is found in Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34 and Luke 8:43-48. I suspect this woman also had become skeptical after trying to get a cure for so long, and she may have gotten angry that she spent all her money at the hands of doctors who, instead of helping, made her condition worse.

But then something remarkable happened. She became convinced that Jesus could heal her and she acted on that conviction. Did she see Him in action, I wonder? Did she hear His teachings? Was she also among those who find His words irresistible? What was it about her that allowed her to keep hoping against hope? I ask because the text tells us that this woman had “heard about Jesus.” How did she hear? Twitter? Facebook? Of course not. More like word of mouth or sneaking out in the dark when no one could spot her so she could catch a glimpse of the man with words of truth in His mouth.

Though the story is found in three of the four Gospels, only Mark mentions that after she was healed Jesus said to her, “Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” And that is the ultimate argument for the supernatural origin of the Messiah, isn’t it? Powerful words and towering ethical standards are only good if they can exact change. Words are mere words unless they bring real transformation.

In Jesus’ case, His words brought freedom from suffering. And though it may not appear that way today, I believe that Jesus is still in the business of freeing people from suffering. Some of it is being felt right now, some will be felt later, but ultimately the source of the greatest suffering we all face, namely death, was dealt with decisively when Jesus rose again after three days in the tomb. The argument for the resurrection was another tsunami-like force that brought me back to Christ.

Now I am free to die and do not fear what lies ahead. Welcome freedom!

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

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