The reading for the thirteenth Sunday in O.T. (fifth Sunday after Pentecost) is drawn from Mark 5:21-43. This is a long passage, featuring the healing of Jairus’ daughter, who appears to be brought back from the dead. The account is interrupted by another healing – that of the woman with the hemorrhage. I am going to focus on the healing of the daughter of Jairus, which has theological similarities with the raising of Lazarus and the healing of the centurion’s son. This genre of Gospel stories is important, because they very subtly and indirectly speak of the power of intercession, where one individual asks Jesus to intercede on behalf of another individual.
Jairus and his Daughter
Mark’s story of Jairus’ daughter has no parallel in the other Gospels. Jairus is a synagogue leader – a Jewish official – who seeks out Jesus and asks that he might attend to Jairus’ daughter, who is critically ill. But this account fits into a genre of stories where Jesus heals someone at the behest of a family member.
In this respect, we might compare this passage to the account of the raising of Lazarus. In that story, which comprises almost all of John chapter 11, Jesus is delayed in arriving at the house of Mary and Martha. They intimate to Jesus that had he arrived sooner, Lazarus would not have died (Jn 11:21). In our Marcan story, Jesus is similarly delayed in arriving at the house of Jairus.
But the delay only serves to highlight the work of Jesus. In these accounts in John and Mark, the person who is to be ‘healed’ is either dead (Lazarus) or apparently dead (Jairus’ daughter), when Jesus ‘raises’ them.
An Intercessor Asks Jesus to Heal Someone Else
In the three accounts, an intercessor (Jairus; Martha and Mary, the centurion) plays a critical role in the story. Their prayer, or request, is on behalf of someone else (Jairus daughter; Lazarus; the centurion’s servant). These three accounts are all the more impressive because the intercessors represent the gamut of society in first-century Judea. There is a synagogue official in Mark’s Gospel, who belongs to a social strata not exactly friendly towards the ministry of Jesus. In John’s Gospel, there are the friends of Jesus, Martha and Mary, who are not people of means or wealth. And then in Luke and Matthew’s Gospel we have the centurion – a character who represents the Roman occupation. Even his faith, the faith of a foreigner, a gentile, and a soldier, carries currency with Jesus.
In the account of the centurion’s servant (Lk 7:1-10; Mt 8:5-13), a Roman official asks Jesus to heal his servant in Capernaum. But, unlike in this passage, Jesus does not go to the official’s house. Matthew tells us that the official feels that he is ‘not worthy to allow Jesus under his own roof, but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed’ (Mt 8:8). Jesus warmly commends the remarkable faith of the Roman official, particularly noteworthy since he is a gentile. Jesus tells the official that his servant is healed. Later, the official discovers that his servant has, in fact, recovered.
Do Not Be Afraid, Just Have Faith
In Mark’s account, the synagogue official is told, while on the road, that word had been received that his daughter has just died. Jesus interrupts, and tells the official, do not be afraid, just have faith. When they arrive at the official’s house, Jesus is ridiculed when he asserts that the daughter is not dead, but asleep. From there, visitors are asked to leave the house while Jesus (with Peter, James and John) tends to the daughter. We can see from the painting above the faithfulness to this tradition, as Jesus is depicted with the daughter, the parents, and three onlookers who could very well be Peter, James and John.
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat
to the other side,
a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea.
One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.
Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying,
“My daughter is at the point of death.
Please, come lay your hands on her
that she may get well and live.”
He went off with him,
and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.
There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.
She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors
and had spent all that she had.
Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd
and touched his cloak.
She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Immediately her flow of blood dried up.
She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him,
turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?”
But his disciples said to Jesus,
“You see how the crowd is pressing upon you,
and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
The woman, realizing what had happened to her,
approached in fear and trembling.
She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.
Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
While he was still speaking,
people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said,
“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”
Disregarding the message that was reported,
Jesus said to the synagogue official,
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside
except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official,
he caught sight of a commotion,
people weeping and wailing loudly.
So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”
And they ridiculed him.
Then he put them all out.
He took along the child’s father and mother
and those who were with him
and entered the room where the child was.
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.
At that they were utterly astounded.
He gave strict orders that no one should know this
and said that she should be given something to eat.