Jairus’ daughter is very ill – “to the point of death.” He comes to Jesus looking for help. He is seeking a cure for his daughter. He says to Jesus, “Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” As they approach Jairus’ house they learn that the daughter has died. Jesus then says to Jairus: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
St. Mark presents this encounter in a brief and “to the point” manner. In a casual reading one might be struck by Jesus’ response to the news of the daughter’s death. In most cases the father receiving news of his daughter’s death would be devastated, distraught and disoriented. To some degree or another, this would be the expected response to such sorrowful news.
In this case one might think Jesus’ response is cold and heartless. One might be tempted to think that Jesus had no sympathy or compassion for Jairus. A close reading of the passage would suggest otherwise.
The context of this encounter is important in understanding Jesus’ response to Jairus. Jairus already has faith. He is a leader of a group of Jesus’ fellow Jews for he is a synagogue official. He is well versed in the Jewish faith, like Jesus.
In contrast with some of the other Jewish leaders who encounter Jesus and reject him, Jairus seeks him out. He goes to Jesus. He already believes that Jesus can cure his ailing daughter. He has faith.
So when the news arrives that the daughter has died, Jesus’ words to him are words of encouragement. He seeks to boost or reinforce Jairus’ already present faith. It’s almost like Jesus is saying “stay with me, the journey is not over, we are almost there.” Jairus’ faith is affirmed when Jesus restores the daughter to life.
The call to faith is one of the themes running through the Gospel reading for today’s liturgy. The story of Jairus’ faith and the cure of his daughter is complemented by another story of faith, that of the woman afflicted with hemorrhages.
The story of the woman afflicted with hemorrhages, like the story of Jairus, is told in a succinct fashion. Yet there are some striking details that help highlight the woman’s faith and Jesus’ ability to heal. The gravity of the situation is real. The woman has been afflicted for 12 years with this terrible bleeding. She had tried to get help from doctors to no avail. In fact she “had spent all that she had” in trying to get a cure. Nothing would work. No one had the ability to heal her. Such was the case when she heard about Jesus.
The woman places her faith in Jesus, thinking, he is the one who can help me. He is the one who can heal me. He is the one who can restore me to life. All these thoughts are captured in her words: “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” And she is. She touches the garment and she is healed. When Jesus finally encounters her he says: “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
The two stories present one message: The message of faith.
Jesus calls us to faith in him. He is the one who gives life even in the midst of death and horrible illness. From our perspective, post-resurrection, we recognize that the life Jesus offers is not just life in this world but eternal life. Everyone has to face death, and that may cause anxiety or fear; however, faith in Christ Jesus can dispel that fear and replace it with peace.
The complimentary theme to faith in these two stories has to do with Jesus. The “faith” of Jairus and the woman with hemorrhages is a “faith” in Jesus. “Who is this Jesus?” is one of the running themes through the Gospel of Mark which we have been hearing this year in the Ordinary Time Sundays (those between the end of the Christmas Season and the beginning of Lent; and now recently resumed after the Easter Season). In today’s passage we have another insight into who Jesus is and what he is about.
We have seen in previous encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus has a certain authority – an authority shared with God the Father. He has authority over nature, he has authority over the covenant (i.e. the Law), he has authority to heal disease and to expel demons. In the two cures recounted in today’s passage, we see that Jesus has the authority not only over illness but over life itself. The interposition of the story of the woman with hemorrhages with the raising of Jairus’ daughter brings this message to the fore.
Although brief in its telling, the story of the woman has some remarkable details that point to the degree of suffering she is undergoing. This is a healing like others Jesus has done earlier in the gospel but the details bring out
the fact that no one else could help her, only Jesus. She had exhausted all her means, sought the help of doctors but to no avail. Jesus was the only one who had the ability to help her and he did so. The authority of Jesus is now expressed in even greater terms, that over life itself.
As we read the passage, Jesus had been approached by Jairus for a cure or healing of his daughter. Jesus agrees to go with him. Then the woman with hemmorages approaches and Jesus cures her. Now we might think upon returning to the Jairus story that Jesus will cure his daughter. Certainly this would be consistent with what we have seen in the earlier healing as well as the healing of the woman. Yet this is not enough. A complication immediately arises that helps emphasize Jesus’ authority over life. Jairus’ daughter is dead.
The fact that she is dead is emphasized, once again through the details that are mentioned in the story. The members of the household tell Jairus that she is dead: “why trouble the teacher any longer?” The statement highlights that fact that none of the household thought Jesus could help. This was beyond him now.
When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house, “he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.” They are beyond consolation and hope. The little girl is dead. Even more to the point, when Jesus goes into the house and says: “The child is not dead but asleep,” the people “ridiculed him.” As if to say: she is certainly dead and there is nothing you can do to help her now.
Jesus goes into the girl’s room with her father, mother and those who were with him. He takes the dead girl’s hand and says: “‘Talitha koum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise!’” At his word, she arises and is restored to life. Jesus has authority over life. He has the ability to give life and he does so. And the people were “utterly amazed.”
Jesus has authority over life. We see this even more dramatically in his own death and subsequent resurrection from the dead. Through his passion, death and resurrection Jesus heals mankind of sin and death.
Surely everyone has to die at some point but death does not have the power to destroy us because Jesus has authority over life. He “saves” us from eternal death through his death and resurrection.
Hence Paul says in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
The passage from Wisdom serving as the first reading for today’s Mass also highlights the divine design for life – “For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.” God wants us to have life and the fullness of life. Jesus demonstrates this and accomplishes this in his very person.
Faith leads to life. So the words Jesus says to Jairus are both a call to faith and an invitation to life: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.
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