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. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32He looked all around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35While he was still speaking, 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.
As head of the Capernaum Synagogue it seems highly likely that Jairus knew Jesus and his family and though it was a large congregation it’s most likely that Jesus knew Jairus’ family as well. Jesus would have been a standout in any congregation. He was strange. On one hand he seemed intolerant of some of the practices surrounding Jerusalem Temple worship, often quoting the Prophets in discussions where he castigated the leaders there. On the other hand within their faith community in Capernaum I suspect that he was very active, especially with the children’s program. He represented the very best in Judaism, and though a bit lax in following the rules of ceremonial and ritual hygiene no one ever got sick and the kids loved his sense of humor. Most of the adults avoided conversations with him about politics, religion and ethics. He seemed to ignore the Roman occupiers, treating them as ordinary persons in everyday commerce to the extent that some thought him to be a collaborator. But one thing was without question, Jesus was a Jew, an observant Jew, and one that Jairus was glad to have as part of his community.
Most in the community had been pretty quiet about how Jesus developed a reputation as a faith healer. He often would tell someone who felt that he was responsible for their healing to keep it under their hat.
Jairus remembered the day, it was a Sabbath, that in the synagogue, Jesus had taken the withered hand of one of the men into his own and quietly offered a prayer and the man’s hand was restored – right in front of everyone. It seemed miraculous and it resulted in a group of Pharisees to begin their effort to destroy him and his ministry. Of course, Jesus had brought that on himself. As he and his group of followers had travelled in the area, on occasion after occasion Jesus would bait the Pharisees in their legality, at times rubbing their noses in their restrictive legalism, when contrasted with grace.
But with the healing in the synagogue and on the Sabbath Jesus had crossed a line. They brought authorities into Capernaum from Jerusalem, lawyers and scholars, and made the case that Jesus should be denied access to the synagogue and take his demonic ways elsewhere. Jairus, as a synagogue leader, didn’t think he had was in any position to challenge the authorities.
So outside of the place that Jesus loved the most, a place where healing should be the norm, the community of the faithful, Jesus continued his ministry among the people. Jairus was more than aware of what Jesus was doing and where he was doing it, there was no way for him to avoid it, Jesus’ work being on everyone’s lips. Jairus knew that faith healing and faith healers were to be avoided because they might be the handiwork of another religion or even demonic elements, that’s of what the authorities accused Jesus. But he was also aware of those stories in the Mishnah, stories of spiritual leaders of old of whom it was said would take the hand of an ill person and raise them from sick beds if not deathbeds. Faith healing, though irregular had its place, when it wasn’t connected to magic, superstition or some other religion. Maybe, Jairus thought, Jesus’ wasn’t possessed by evil, but the cost of taking his side was too great. The synagogue is where healing should be taking place, it was the where the people of faith gathered.
Returning home after spending the day at work Jairus’ wife met him at their door. “Our daughter is no better. Her pain is worse. She hasn’t eaten anything. No one seems to be able to help. I think she’s going to die unless something is done.”
The girl was twelve years old and was maturing normally until recently and she started losing weight and what has been irregular menstrual periods became non existent. Jairus’ wife had called in everyone she could think of to help her daughter and Jairus himself was beyond worry. He had waited and waited, hoping for a solution. He had prayed for his daughter’s healing and things had only gone from bad to worse. Anorexic, she was wasting away. Despite all that had gone before he knew what he had to do. Jairus left the house and began his search for Jesus. His plan was to beg him to come home with him and heal his daughter the way he healed others. After the way Jesus had been treated, and given that he hadn’t stood up for him against the authorities from Jerusalem and some of the locals who held to a very stringent interpretation of the law, it would only be understandable that Jesus would turn a deaf ear to his request. But he had to try.
And the text tells us that he found Jesus doing what Jesus was wont to do, surrounded by a crowd along the sea side. He fell at Jesus’ feet and began to beg. And Jesus went with him and as they walked the crowd didn’t just follow, the text says they were pushing and shoving.
Among the crowd was a woman who, according to the text had suffered hemorrhages for twelve years. It’s one of the great stories of the New Testament. She initiated the contact. She simply reached out in faith and touched Jesus’ garments. No confession sin. No pronouncement of grace extended. And she was healed. Jesus felt ‘a power’ go out of him but in the press of people had to ask who was the recipient. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
She had to find healing out among the populace rather than in the synagogue, the community of faithful. Her affliction, totally beyond her control, meant that she was continuously ritually unclean. She wasn’t allowed near the synagogue. She was ostracized from the faith community, the source of healing for the Jewish community. Imagine that, ritual rules trump human need. Hard, fast interpretation of scripture, enforced by the faith community serves to deny access to wholeness.
But the text takes us further. While dealing with this woman who experienced the grace of a faith healer the servants of Jairus showed up to inform him that he had waited too long to seek Jesus. It was too late. The twelve year old was dead. Jesus tells Jairus to not believe them. “Do not fear. Only believe.” That’s what the woman did who touched his garment. With only a couple of Jesus’ closest followers they proceeded to Jairus’ home. When he silenced the mourners and declared that the girl was just sleeping he was ridiculed.
Jesus did exactly what the masters of ancient Judaism had done before, he took the girls hand and said “little girl, get up” and to everyone’s astonishment that’s what she did. Two more things were said. The first leaves us scratching our heads: “Don’t tell anyone” and the other was so practical as to have been unnecessary: “give her something to eat.” How very practical, even after restoring the girl to life Jesus doesn’t forget her most basic human need.
“Give her something to eat”. Matzos ball in chicken soup? He healed but he was also concerned about the rudiments of life. And what does that say about us, the church – not just focusing on being a community of faithful but looking out for the most basic needs of people.
The twelve years the woman suffered her discharge that separated her from health and wholeness and from the care of the faith community at the insistence of the religious authorities was the same twelve years of the young girl’s life, lived under the care of the leader of the synagogue.
What a wonderful story that challenges us in many different ways. Do we too wait too long to seek Jesus when our lives lack wholeness? Do we, in league with the religious police banish from the community of faith those who need the inclusion most? Do we fail to make our voices heard when injustice is perpetrated? Are we unable to see that the needs of those outside of the community of faith are very much of the same category as those we care most about? Dare we, in nothing but faith, reach out to touch the garment of the one who brings wholeness? And is our care for spirituality balance with a care for addressing the most practical of necessities?