I’ve never lost a child to death. I can only imagine how the parents of a dying or dead child must feel. The word ‘desparate’ doesn’t even begin to cover such anguish. Perhaps you have been there. I’m including this post about a dead 12 year old girl in my series about women of the gospels. This unnamed daughter of Jairus was on the threshold of womanhood, probably soon to be married or formally betrothed. In Mark’s gospel her story is sandwiched with that of a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and who delayed Jesus on his way to the Jairus’ house. I hope to post a reflection about that woman next month.
Who was the 12 year old girl?
3 gospels tell her story but none give her name. You can read the story in Mark 5: 21-43, Matthew 9: 18-26 and Luke 8: 40-56. Like so many other women in the gospels she is remembered only in relation to her relationship with a man. Her father was Jairus, president of the synagogue, so the leader of its respected elders. He was so desparate for help he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and begged. When he looked at Jairus, I wonder if Jesus remembered the emotion of his parents when they lost him for 3 days when he was 12 years old, on the threshold of manhood and carrying so much of their hopes?
When the news comes that the girl is dead, there seemed no point in troubling Jesus any more. It was now hopeless, nothing more to do but organize the funeral. But Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5: 36). When Jesus eventually arrived at Jairus’ house, the mourners crowding around were already in full cry, a commotion of grief. Their wails turned to jeering laughter when Jesus told them the child was not dead but sleeping. You can understand sleeping literally or metaphorically. Sleep was often used as a metaphor for death and I think that is what Jesus meant. If she was only sleeping or unconscious why would people laugh at Jesus’ words? To speak of the sleep of death is to imply that even death isn’t the end, but a preparation for a new day. Death, which causes such fear, becomes in Jesus the way to life. There is a sense in which the greatest healing only comes through death.
Get Up and Live
When Jesus had turned everyone out of the house except the girls’ parents and Peter, James and John, he went into the room where the girl lay, took her by the and and said in Aramaic ‘little girl get up’. And to everyone’s astonishment, she did - and began to walk about. Jesus ordered that the event should be kept secret which clearly it hasn’t been. He also told her parents to give their daughter something to eat. I love that sign of Jesus’ concern for small practical details of life. The bigger picture is God at work with the big problems, the miraculous sign of the wholeness and healing available through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Questions for Reflection
How do you hold on to faith when miracles don’t happen?
What signs have you seen of God at work when human resources seem exhausted?
If Jesus said to you today ‘get up and live’ what would that mean for you?
This prayer by Dick France is from Mark: The People’s Bible commentary, BRF 1996 p. 81
“Lord, teach us what faith means when human possibilities are exhausted. May we not join the laughter fo the crowd, but come into the little room in faith, even when we can have no idea what you are going to do.”