He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” Mark 5:41
We have seen this father’s face – a face so full of worry and distress that it seems as if it will break into a million pieces at the slightest bump. Some of us have caught sight of it in the mirror as we snuck into the baby’s room when our newborn slept through the 2 am feeding making us fear that something dreadful had happened. Others have lived, if you can call it that, because part of you never really lives again, through the terrible reality that something has happened and the child, your child, is not OK and will never be so again.
We know his desperation that pushes him through the crowd surrounding Jesus. Abandoning all dignity and protocol, he falls at the feet of Jesus, begging him to heal his daughter, for everything else has failed. Though he is a leader in the synagogue, he turns to the very one he was warned about by religious authorities to come and heal his daughter, his beautiful daughter who is dying. He doesn’t care about reputation, about orthodoxy, about anything, but his little girl. Surely, doctors have been consulted and prayers for healing lifted up. He’s done everything a father should do, could do, and now he begs Jesus, “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”
Of course, Jesus goes. A child is in need of healing. He’s a healer. We can imagine his disciples noting that healing the child of this community leader would be a real coup. Though I suspect all that mattered to Jesus was the child. So, he goes. Just as you and I go when a child needs us, intent on making them safe, well, whole. Just as we do with our prayers, our presence, our casseroles, when a child in our community needs healing. We support her family, help his parents, so that she, that he, may be well and live. In part that’s why the separation of children, wee little ones to almost grown teenagers, from their parents at the border has been so devastating – for each child is God’s child and our child too.
Mark doesn’t tell us about Jarius’ reaction to the unnamed woman who interrupts Jesus’ quick response to his critically ill daughter. But he must have been beside himself. As a leader in the community surely, he knew about the woman’s twelve years of constantly flowing blood which rendered her unclean, making her contaminated, one of the lost ones who floats around the edges of the village. If she was married there’d been no intimacy since the blood started. Perhaps her husband had found another wife. If she wasn’t, her circumstances were even more desperate. Next to his little daughter, this unclean woman didn’t merit the time of day from anyone, let alone Jesus.
But the woman’s desperation emboldens her, so she does the unthinkable, she comes up behind Jesus and reaches out to touch his cloak, trusting that’s all she need to do to be made well. Can you see Jarius’ face, full of fear and anxiety, worry and woe, when Jesus STOPS? He stops from going to care for his dying daughter which means surely it will be too late, stops to ask, “Who touched my clothes?” Precious minutes are being wasted. She’s waited 12 years, why not just a little longer! Then the healing elicits an entire conversation. Jesus calls this nobody, “daughter” and declares “your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” Just as Jesus was blessing her with peace, word came from Jairus’ house that while one daughter was being cured, another daughter, HIS daughter died. “Why bother the Teacher anymore?” the messengers ask. It’s too late, they’d seen it with their own eyes. There’s nothing more that could be done. As the father trys to absorb this final blow, Jesus says, just to him, “Do no fear, only believe.” Only believe.
Frederick Buechner writes of this, “The question is what is a man to believe when his whole life has blown up in his face? Believe that somehow life makes sense even in the face of a twelve-year-old’s death? believe that in some unimaginable way all will be well, no matter what? Believe in God? Believe in Jesus? Jairus doesn’t ask what he is to believe or how he is to believe and Jesus doesn’t tell him as they stand there in the road. ‘Only believe’ is all he says, perhaps meaning, ‘Believe there’s nothing you have to be afraid of.’ Then, he tells everyone to go home except for Peter James and John.”
When they finally arrive at Jairus’ house, it’s full of people weeping and wailing. In those days people didn’t say things like, “she’s in a better place now,” because for the most part they didn’t believe in a better place, but a kind of limbo just under the earth where the ghosts of the dead drifted like dry leaves. So, they weep and wail because they didn’t have to pretend that the death of a child is anything but the tragic and unspeakable thing that it is. Jesus’ doesn’t do anything to change their minds, he doesn’t say it’s God’s will or just wait until you see what God can do with this. Instead he says, “The child is not dead, but sleeping.” What’s this? Is she in a deep coma? Is he talking about eternal life? The mourners think he’s crazy. Jesus sends them all outside and leads father and mother, along with three of his disciples into the room where the girl lays.
We can imagine the father kneeling and gently touching his child while the mother brushes back her hair. Jesus reaches down and picks up her hand and then says, not in Mark’s Greek, but in his mother-tongue of Aramaic, “Talitha cum,” “little girl, get up.” Immediately, the girl gets up and starts to walk about. Parents and disciples are all astonished. The child’s been given her life back and so have her mother and father, for now the worst thing that ever happened to them has become the best.
There’s so much in this story – the fear of the father, the desperate interruption of the woman, the weeping of the neighbors, the sacred silence of the death room, the child opening her eyes. But the best part is when Jesus says, “Talitha cum” because in that moment we are all the little girl and Jesus is restoring all of us to life. “Get up,” he says, “all of you – all of you!” You little girls. You little boys. You old ones, too. Get up you with the creaking knees and the failing eyesight. Get up too, you teenagers, full of boredom and hormones. For the power that’s in Jesus is the power to give life, not just to the dead, but to those who are partially alive, to those of that day long ago, and to us, this day, here and now. Power for life given to ones who have suffered, whose lives are interrupted by fear and death, and to others who are innocent of any suffering at all. Again, Buechner, “Get up,” he says, all of you – all of you! – and the power that is in him is the power to give life not just to the dead like the child, but to those who are only partly alive, which is to say to people like you and me who much of the time live with our lives closed to the wild beauty and miracle of things, including the wild beauty and miracle of every day we live and even of ourselves.”
May we embrace this life-giving power –power that heals the outcasted woman and names her daughter, power that raises the child from the dead giving her new life, power to get up even when getting up isn’t easy for fear and indolence weighs us down, power that gives us energy to speak the truth, work for justice and live lives of loving-kindness. Power to go on toward whatever it is, whoever He is, that all our lives long reaches out to take us by the hand. Amen.
Frederick Buechner, “Jarius’ Daughter”, Secrets in the Dark, San Francisco: Harper 2006, 275-276.