“Talitha cum”

Posted: June 23, 2021 in Uncategorized

“Talitha cum”

I want to tread lightly yet deeply with our Markan text this morning, Lightly, in the sense that I don’t want to examine the meaning of the particular story and the reasoning around the story’s inclusion in Mark but rather the placement of it in the gospel at all. What is the story addressing in its audience, if we can know anything at all about that and I want to do this by showing you a video of what I think might be the audience on its journey in our time today. I think what I am doing is exploring the hermeneutics of text in doing this but wiser minds than mine might suggests otherwise. What I hope you will see and hear is the search that many of us today are embarked on as church attendance declines and new opportunities arise in how we might approach an understanding of what religion might be or as Hopkins says, what Spirituality might be.

The first thing we note is that Mark is the second book of the four gospels; the second book of the New Testament; the forty-first book of the Bible. Why is it the second book is an interesting question because we believe it is the first gospel written because it is the shortest and the one that has very little of the great story we now consider as the orthodox story of who Jesus was. This suggests that it might have been a story of Jesus as opposed to a story about Jesus, and this might suggests that we might begin by asking not who this Jesus was and concentrate on why we think he was there in the first place. And let’s be honest also that we know very little of the thinking of the audience to Jesus let alone the audience of Mark. While the specific audience of Mark is not mentioned in the book itself we can expect both external and internal evidence to help provide information in this area. Externally, the earliest traditions associate Mark as being written based on the teachings of Peter while in Rome. This would indicate the audience included people in Rome interested in knowing more about the teachings of Jesus.

The second point is that there is little emphasis on Jewish traditions and less citations of Old Testament passages, so it is likely written for a Gentile (non-Jewish) audience in Rome. Further, many Aramaic expressions are translated, and some Latin terms are included. The book also provides several teachings in the forms of sayings or short stories with abrupt transitions from one section to the next.

The audience of Mark would quickly grow beyond Rome, however, as church history indicates Mark took his Gospel to North Africa. His work also likely influenced the other Gospels, especially Matthew and Luke, that both appear to use Mark’s writing as part of their own sources for their Gospels. In terms of time it is thought by many that it was most likely written in the early AD 60s when both Peter and Mark were ministering in the city of Rome. It was written no later than Mark’s death in AD 68. Some suggest an even earlier date in the AD 40s or 50s. In any case, Mark is most likely the earliest of the four Gospels.

Our particular reading today is about Jesus’ encounter with a synagogue leader and his ailing daughter, after pausing to describe Jesus healing a woman who had suffered for years with a debilitating hemorrhage. We remember the context in Mark as being after he controlled a fierce storm (Mark 4:35–41), expelled a legion of demons (Mark 5:1–13), and healed a chronically ill woman without even trying (Mark 5:25–34). Now He will raise the dead. This is the first of three times Jesus is recorded as raising the dead (John 11:1–44; Luke 7:11–17). Remember here that this is not about who Jesus is or was but rather about his faith, his understanding of the world and how one can engage in it with courage determination and most of all with hope. Despite this supernatural display, Jesus will soon go to his hometown of Nazareth where he will be rejected by the people who have known him longest. This account can also be found in Matthew 9:23–26 and Luke 8:49–56 and it is a call to the reality check, the call to see clearly the nature of a faith connection, the nature of faith as perhaps a ridiculous irrational motivation, That despite all the struggles of human life a positive, confidence in the love of God can make a new heaven and a new earth.

When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house, He insists the girl is not dead but only “sleeping.” And here is the important thing. This is meant for metaphorical intent: she had physically died, but Jesus fully intends for the girl’s death to be temporary, like sleep. His actions now support His decision. He doesn’t lay His hands on her or anoint her with oil and pray. He takes her hand and helps her up, as if she is already on the cusp of waking.

The Greek root word for “taking” is krateo and means to hold securely with power. “Hand” is from the Greek root word cheir which infers a power that is used to help. As casual as Jesus’ words and gestures seem to be, the actual healing does take the power of the Holy Spirit. Changing the nature of this small piece of the universe is hard work.

And when it comes to the liturgy or the life changing words the phrase talitha cum is Aramaic and basically means “little girl, get up,” or “child, arise,” as Luke interprets it (Luke 8:54). It is thought that Mark included the literal Aramaic to prove that Jesus uses mere words, not a magical spell. It is not about miracle or supernatural belief but about human faith, human conviction, human loving. Our faith is not defined by great words in prayers, liturgical readings of scriptures with literal interpretation, or by some magic words, but rather by faith, or as I prefer to say by the act of trusting. That is where what we know as God’s grace is made real, and Jesus’ knew this.

Now I want to show you an interview with Anthony Hopkins that I think depicts the questions Mark was trying to ask in his context. Questions, that showed just what the guy Jesus was on about in his time.

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