Jairus’ Daughter

Posted: June 28, 2018 in Uncategorized

Jairus’ Daughter

Mark 5:21-43

The story Mark tells takes place on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee; a large freshwater lake some thirteen miles long and eight miles across, surrounded by high mountains. After leaving Nazareth Jesus seems to have spent most of what was left: of his short life in the city of Capernaum, which was on the northern shore of the lake and the center of its fishing industry. A number of his best friends lived there including Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, together with Peter and his brother Andrew, who were all of them partners in some sort of fishing enterprise that employed other people whose names we don’t know and that seems to have owned at least two boats.

When Mark gives his account of what happened by the lake on this particular day, he puts in so many details that Matthew leaves out that it seems possible Mark was actually there at the time or at least had talked to somebody who was. The kind of story that Mark is telling us here is a quiet, low-key little story and in some ways so unclear and ambiguous that it’s hard to know just why Mark is telling it or just what he expects us to make out of it or made out of it himself. It’s a story not about stained-glass people with some sort of special role but about people who lived and breathed and sweated and made love and used bad language when they tripped over stuff in the dark and sometimes had more troubles than they knew what to do with and sometimes laughed themselves silly over nothing in particular and were thus in many ways very much like the rest of us.

Jesus had just crossed over in a boat from the other side of the lake, Mark writes, when he found himself surrounded by some of them right there at the water’s edge where there were nets hanging up to dry and fish being gutted and scaled and stray cats looking around for anything they could get their paws on. He doesn’t say there was any particular reason for the crowd, so it’s probably just that they had heard about Jesus — probably even some knew him and were there to gawk at him. There may have been a lot of wild stories about who people said he was and what he was going around doing and saying. They might have been there to see what wild things he might say or do next.

Part of what all these stories about Jesus in the Gospels are trying to tell us is who he was and what it was it like to be with him. They’re trying to tell us what there was about him that made at least some of the people there by the lake that day decide to give up everything they had or ever hoped to have, in some cases even their own lives, maybe just for the sake of being near him.

Video Part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbkvQcf6kJg

Matthew’s account doesn’t give us the name Jairus, but Mark’s does. A man named Jairus had somehow made his way to Jesus and threw himself at his feet, or fell to his knees perhaps, or touched his forehead to the ground in front of him. The man was a synagogue official of some kind, important enough to have the crowd give way enough to let him through. But he doesn’t behave like an important man. He behaves like a desperate man, a man close to hysteria with fear, grief, horror that his daughter is on the point of death. Jairus doesn’t say “my daughter,” he says “my little daughter.” She is twelve years old, going on thirteen, we’re told, so she wasn’t all that little really, but to Jairus she would presumably always be his little daughter the way even when they’ve grown up and moved away long since, we keep on speaking of our sons and daughters as children because that is what they were when we knew them first and loved them first. Remember here the place we are told women have in his culture.

His child is dying is what Jairus is there to get through somehow to this man who some say is like no other man. She is dying—he says it repeatedly, Mark tells us, dying, dying—and then he says, “Come and lay your hands on her,” because he’s seen it done that way before and has possibly even tried doing it that way himself, except that it did absolutely no good at all when he tried it, as for all he knows it will do absolutely no good now either. But this is the only card he has left to play, and he plays it. “Lay your hands on her, so she may be made well, and live,” he says—live, he says, live, not die, before she’s hardly had more than a glimpse of what living is.

It’s a wonder Jesus even hears him what with all the other things people are clamoring to him for, but somehow he does, and so does a lot of the crowd that follows along as Jairus leads the way to where his house stands.

They follow presumably because for the moment Jesus is the hottest ticket in town and because they don’t have anything better to do and because they’re eager to see if the man is all he’s been cracked up to be. But before they get very far, they run into some people coming the other way who with the devastating tactlessness of the simple souls they are come right out and say it. “Your daughter is dead,” they tell Jairus. They have just come from his house, where she died. They saw it with their own eyes. There is nothing anybody can do about it now. They have come too late. “Why trouble the teacher any further?” they ask her father, and it is Jesus who finally breaks the silence by speaking, only it’s just Jairus he speaks to. “Do not fear, “he says. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. And then, “Only believe.” And what is he to believe? “The child is not dead,” he said, “but sleeping.”

Video Part 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbkvQcf6kJg

Back to our text. The question is what kind of a story is this? If the little girl had actually died the way the people who were there in the house believed she had, then it is the story of a miracle that bears witness to the power Jesus had over nature. If she was only sleeping as Jesus said—in a coma or whatever he may have meant – then it is a story about a healing, about the power of Jesus’s touch to make the blind see and the deaf hear and the lame walk. Either way it is a story about a miracle, but about a miracle that doesn’t end with an exclamation point the way you would expect, but with a question mark or at most with the little row of dots that means unresolved, to be continued, to figure out somehow for ourselves.

Who cares any more than her mother and father can have cared. They had their child back. She was alive again. She was well again. That was all that mattered

It is that life-giving power that is at the heart of this shadowy story about Jairus and the daughter he loved, and that I think is at the heart of all our stories-the power of new life, new hope, new being, that whether we know it or not, keeps us coming to places like this year after year in search of it. It is the power to seek the adventure of being human even when that journey isn’t all that easy for us anymore and to keep going on and on toward whatever it is, whoever Jesus is, that all our lives long for reaches out to take us by the hand. Amen.

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