Mark 5:21-43 + When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him, and a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”
Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.
Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said.”Why bother the teacher anymore?”
Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe!”
He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”
But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum, which means, ‘Little Girl, I say to You, Get Up!’” Immediately, the girl stood up and walked around; she was twelve years old. At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
This bible story is a “two-for” – two stories rolled into one, squeezed in between two other story lines the author of Mark likes to do that. Jesus and the disciples had endured a storm at sea, only to encounter a man tormented by demons along the rocky shoreline. In a snippet sounding much like a children’s tale, the afflicted man had both baffled and frightened locals for years doing everything within their power to restrain him. However, in a single face-to-face conversation, Jesus called the evil out, exposing it for what it was, and rendered it powerless – over the man … the community of faith … over anyone who recognized Jesus as “the Son of the Most High God.”
A Father’s Plea
Then, Jesus and the disciples crossed a lake (no storms this time), but the minute he stepped out of the boat, a huge crowd gathered ‘round him because Word had spread about his power “to heal” – though he had sincerely tried to avoid becoming celebrity because it attracted too much attention and threatened his plans. (I keep discovering that my sincerest plans are often interrupted when God has something else in mind …)
“Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus made his way through the crowd Jesus, fell down at his feet, pleading earnestly, ‘My little daughter is dying please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’”
The first year I was an Associate Minister, I was responsible for helping “Lay Readers” prepare for worship, and one Sunday this was our passage. However, the reader didn’t show until the service began, claiming his father, helped him “rehearse”. It just happened to be the day that the District Superintendent was visiting: the Lay Leader read, “Then the ruler of the ‘sin-a-goo-goo’…”
My Senior Minister leaned over, whispering, “Good job!”
Synagogue is a Greek word meaning “house of assembly or Jewish house of prayer”; a synagogue was a gathering place for the community of faith when the temple was not accessible. Leaders of the synagogues were religious and serious; it would have been undignified and out of character for a man in his position to behave in such a way. However, this man named Jairus has heard Jesus has the power to heal his daughter, and he believes it will happen if Jesus “puts his hands on her.”
Jesus agrees, and they head towards Jairus’ home, but they are surrounded by such an enormous crowd that the people are packed in like sardines! Have you ever been in a mob like that … pressed in – wall-to-wall bodies all squished together – flesh on flesh!?! Jesus could feel the people around him, and there was a woman in the crowd who had been chronically ill for over 12 years … think about that – 12 years! She had been to doctor after doctor … no one had been able to figure out what was wrong; her finances were drained; emotional and physical energy were gone; I can imagine her family and friends were worn out, too, because instead of getting better, she seemed to be getting weaker by the day.
I’ve known people who have suffered from chronic illnesses, and it is very hard on the whole family, but 12 years is an exceptionally long time to suffer! She had probably all but given up hope when she heard about this guy, who wasn’t afraid to confront evil … wasn’t nervous about crossing boundary lines … this rabbi – a religious leader – who actually believed that God loved everybody – and who was healing people … and said that they were whole … that they could have a chance to go to the Temple and worship like the clean people … and she hadn’t been able to do that for over 12 years! 12 years … she had been locked out of God’s house and called a sinner because of her illness for over 12 years …
She thought, “What the heck, I’ve got nothin’ to lose … If I could just touch his clothes … it might help at this point!” The crowd was so big, she couldn’t talk to him face to face, but she pushed her way through the mob until she got close enough to touch his back … and in an instant she was healed!
The Freedom of Healing
Jesus turned around, saying, “I felt that … who touched me!”
Of course, with hundreds of people around, his friends thought he sounded like a kid, “He’s touching me again!”
“Dude, there’s a gazillion people out here!” his disciples answered, “’How are we supposed to know who touched you?'” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.
But the woman came over and fell at his feet – like the religious leader, trembling with fear, told him why she had reached out to him, and Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
While Jesus was speaking to her, some men interrupted, saying, “Jairus, your daughter’s dead, don’t bother the rabbi any more; it won’t do any good now!”
Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like one of the most insensitive ways to tell a father that his daughter has died that I have ever heard! And Mark’s Gospel does that a lot, which is why I have often called it “the Snarky Gospel”! I think it is significant to observe her, however, that as the two stories weave together, Jesus called the un-named woman – “daughter” as she was healed from a 12 year illness. Then Jesus received news that the 12 year old daughter of the religious ruler had died.
Jesus speaks directly to Jairus, saying, “Don’t be afraid, just believe!”
There aren’t many things in life more painful than the death of a child, and Jesus recognized that; he spoke directly to the father to calm him before the horror and shock kicked him in the stomach!
When Bad Things Happen to Good People
“When Harold Kushner’s three-year-old son was diagnosed with a degenerative disease and they were told that he would only live until his early teens, Rabbi Kushner was faced with one of life’s most difficult questions: ‘Why, God?’ Years later, Rabbi Kushner wrote a best-selling book about the doubts and fears that arise when tragedy strikes. Kushner shared his wisdom as a rabbi, a parent, a reader, and a human being.”
There’s a difference between losing a parent and losing a child: “When a child loses a parent, it is a very sad time: A time for reflection … memories – joy and sorrow … guilt …. If there is an enormous inheritance, then with the sorrow, there can be some materialistic feelings thrown into the mix – happiness … guilt … jealousy among relatives! However, the exact opposite happens when a child dies, especially if the child leaves behind an inheritance; most parents don’t care about money! They want their son or daughter back!”
In the Middle East, it is customary for the community of faith to gather around the loved ones and chant or wail for the dead, and when Jesus, Jairus, and the disciples arrived at the home, that is what the people were doing; they were performing a song for the dead child, which is why Jesus, asked, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”
To say that someone was “asleep” was to imply that they were spiritually dead … but Jesus was really talking about the community of faith at this point because they were laughing at him! But Jesus had the last “laugh” – so to speak, when he “touched” the child and told her to “get up” … and she did … and, once again, people were astonished at God’s power to transcend barriers and walls … to go beyond the limits of human imagination … and bigotry and prejudice … to push back at sexism and racism and gender bias … to knock down the ropes and unbind the chains that kept most of the people away from God! Jesus dared to say that God loved everybody … imagine that! And then “He told them to give her something to eat!
Thank Heaven for Little Girls
Jerry and I went to the Keg one night for dinner; it’s our favorite place; Towards the end of dinner, Jerry nodded at a table behind me, saying, “Look at that baby!”
And we watched as a young father cradled his newborn daughter in his hands, literally, she was that tiny, holding her up to his face, cooing and nuzzling her as if they were the only two people in the universe! It was the sweetest moment I have witnessed in a very long time; he held that baby so lovingly … so gently and tenderly that it simply melted both of our hearts; I looked back at Jerry and he was crying, too, and of course there we sat … gawking at them and crying, and suddenly I realized that the precious young mother knew! And so I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, but your husband is so precious with your daughter! Our baby girls are in college now. What is her name?”
“Callie! Isn’t that just the sweetest thing?” She said.
Give Her Something to Eat!
The closing words of this passage after Jesus has healed both the little girl and the woman, are “and then he told them to give her something to eat …” I think it is a very timely passage in light of the controversy surrounding the Golden Globe awards! We worship American Idols and poster children of perversion, wondering why society is “spiritually hemorrhaging”! We feed off celebrity gossip … and stuff ourselves at others’ expense; we have biggie-sized eating disorders, depression, addiction and recovery into late night one-liners and talk show fodder … all the while ignoring the heart and soul of the Christian faith ~ the Great Commandment, based on The Great Shema of Israel in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ~ “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.“
But Jesus offers something else “to chew on … something that will feed the soul … a healthier alternative and lifestyle … he offers the Bread of Life”.
 Harold Kushner. When Bad Things Happen to Good People. New York: Anchor Press, 1981, Cover.
 Rabbi Mordechai Menachem Reich, from The Crown of Wisdom, Vol. II, pages 298-299, as quoted in Jewish Wisdom: Ethical, Spiritual, and Historical Lessons from the Great Works and Thinkers, compiled by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. New York: William Morrow& Co., Inc., 1994, 149.