The text presents Jairus as the President of the local synagogue but we shouldn’t miss the reality that he is first, a desperate and grief stricken husband and father who comes pleading for the healing of his daughter. What parent among us doesn’t want healing and wholeness for our son or daughter? Those of us who have spent anytime in ministry have met Jairus. We have sat with him in emergency rooms, hospital cafeterias and chapels and pediatric clinics. We’ve affirmed the healing ministry of Jesus. We have all grasped for any divine power that can overcome the human realities that life itself presents. These stories force us to consider how the church responds, in the name of Jesus, on behalf of healing and life….
Just prior to our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus, in his crossing over to the other side of the lake rebukes a storm, emancipates a person possessed by an unclean spirit, destroys a herd of pigs and is invited to leave the territory. All three Gospels carry this same series of stories. Our Gospel reading begins at Mark 5:21.
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him…. The only difference we find in Matthew’s version is that Jairus’ daughter has already passed away. In all three versions the story is interrupted by the story of the woman who is healed after touching Jesus’ robe. Typically that story gets most of the attention. Both of these stories have a contemporary application because both are set in the context of sickness and expressions by both the unnamed woman and the President of the local synagogue of assurance that Jesus has the capacity to heal. Because centuries ago the faith community passed to the scientists the vocation of healing it’s hard for us to imagine that a road dust wandering rabbi could be the context of healing. But clearly that is so for both the woman and Jairus.
The text presents Jairus as the President of the local synagogue but we shouldn’t miss the reality that he is first, a desperate and grief stricken husband and father who comes pleading for the healing of his daughter. What parent among us doesn’t want healing and wholeness for our son or daughter? Those of us who have spent anytime in ministry have met Jairus. We have sat with him in emergency rooms, hospital cafeterias and chapels and pediatric clinics. We’ve affirmed the healing ministry of Jesus. We have all grasped for any divine power that can overcome the human realities that life itself presents. These stories force us to consider how the church responds, in the name of Jesus, on behalf of healing and life as we in the State of Washington and the whole country struggle with this very issue of access to health care, especially health care for children?
We have to jump down to the 35th verse to see where the story of Jarius’ daughter continues.
… some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Jesus perceives the reality of the situation differently than everyone else. Where they see only death and finality Jesus sees life and peace. Those who are engaged in the commotion of a mourning ritual he silences. Not yet having seen the girl Jesus says “The child has not died, but is asleep.” They laugh at him. But what a helpful awareness this is—to follow Christ is to perceive reality from the point of view of life and peace rather than death and finality. What had Jesus just said to Jairus? “Do not fear, only believe.” As one writer put it: “In Christ there is never a ‘beyond hope’. Not in our relationships, our communities or our world. When other’s reality tells you not to bother and you may as well give up we can recall Jesus saying to a young woman who evidently comatose: Arise.
The word we translate as Arise is an interesting Greek word. The root word is ‘agora’ which means to gather—as in a crowd assembling for a march. It would be used to wake someone up from sleep or disease, but it was also used for shaking someone from stupor. It would refer to a life-changing event, a command or a challenge that would pull someone out of obscurity, inactivity, non-existence and in this case near-death. As Jesus commands Jairus’ daughter to “Arise!” can you hear him say the same to you. Jesus’ intent is to awaken us from a deep sleep, to lift us out of darkness, obscurity or near-death into his reality.
It says that Jesus took her by the hand. With our traditional picture of a milk toast Jesus we might imagine his gently taking the little girls hand. Well, the Greek used here implies that Jesus seizes her hand. He yanks her from her state. He doesn’t docilely come in and in say “Oh please get up”. He chases the nay-sayers and the professional mourners away, allows only his closest followers and the desperate mother and father into the room. He takes command. He seizes the hand of the one thought dead and yanks her back to life. We who would be Jesus’ followers today are called into his reality, his view of the world. Where the world pronounces death and finality Christ would show us life and peace. Ours is a larger mission, a world of people to reach and instead of mourning loss our lives are to be ones of joyful anticipation.
What is at about human nature that makes us put off the most important things until a crisis looms? All too often we coast in our relationships until they skid into a crisis. We think nothing of spending thousands on a car and blindly drive it by the homeless shelter everyday. We think nothing of a sixty-hour workweek but can’t find time for dinner as a family. We live lives of loneliness and sorrow because those things that could build our friendships, family, and faith get our leftover time. Then one day for us, like Jairus who did not run to Jesus until his daughter was “at the point of death, it is too late, we have waited too long.
This whole passage – beginning with the Gadarene demoniac through the healing of Jairus’ daughter is about desperate people and how the reality of Jesus Christ can transform lives from helplessness and despair to joy. We need to never close the door on God’s ability to redeem the worst situation we can imagine. Christ restores, heals and creates a family from outcasts. So I have to ask, what decisions is Christ asking you to make? What are the dead parts of you Christ would want to yank back to life? When he calls you to ‘arise’ and join him is seeing the world through his eyes what will be your response? There’s a song I know we’ve sung at Yearly Meeting before. It is called ‘The Summons”. It asks: “Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know, and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known? Will you let my life be sown in you and you in me?”