Mark 5:21-43 as found in Good as New
This morning, we looked at the passage from Mark Chapter 5, and paid particular attention to the woman who suffered from bleeding but was healed by touching Jesus’ clothes. This evening, we’re going to look at the story which is wrapped around that one – the story of Jairus’ daughter. Before we do so however, I want to just revisit some of the background to today’s services. For those who were in church this morning, this is refreshment; for those not here, this is something new. But the two ‘background’ thoughts are not unimportant whichever way I look at it, so I’m not making apologies. Besides which, saving time on writing 5 minutes less of talk means that I get time to practice 5 minutes’ worth of music with Cerys – far preferable all round in my opinion.
My first thought this morning were to take a while to explore the similarities between the two stories, and then to look at the the differences. The similarities? Both female, both unnamed, both are unwell, both are healed. Oh, and the number 12 – which I didn’t mention this morning, but will comment on this evening. Differences? One an older woman, the other a child; one has suffered long, and one whose illness may have been sudden. And then, the child, the daughter of a church official, a respected member of the community; the woman, as we explored in detail this morning was an outcast. There is indeed a whole sermon just putting similarities and differences side by side.
Then I thought about a reflection on what I think is quite a significant and also quite a clever literary construct which Mark uses here to make the points. This idea of a story-within-a-story. The story of Jairus’s daughter gets distracted by the woman who is bleeding. You can almost feel the tension building…. Hey come on now Jesus, Jairus asked first, this is urgent, if you don’t get a move on that little girl is going to die….. The outcome of course is different, but this section of Mark’s Gospel points out to readers that the story of Jesus is one which encompasses a wider arc. The Gospel writers didn’t write in chapters, they didn’t put titles at the top of sections; Mark is reminding us to pay attention, to the story of Jesus; to the stories within that story; and here, multi-layered, to yet more detail of story-in-story-in-story. Mark is saying ‘pay attention’, ‘keep up’ – if you think you can switch off, forget it…there’s lots to say, lots to talk about.
And so I got a bit stumped; how much time have we got?
Lynda it was who came up with what turned out to be the answer. ‘Church House next Sunday Evening?’ Lynda asked. ‘With communion?’ The minute I returned to this Bible passage from Mark on Monday, and read the final sentence ‘Give her something to eat’ – it became rather clear to me that the focus on Jairus’ daughter should be this evening as a lead into communion. And so it shall be.
We’re going to sing ‘Ubi Caritas’ now, remaining seated. I’ve chosen this essentially for its prayerful qualities; but we’ve not often done it with the counter melodies and words which are printed in our hymn book. So as we sing, although you know the refrain by heart, turn to 525 and focus on the words in English as well as the core ‘where there is love, there you will find God’.
Your love, O Jesus Christ, has gathered us together
May your love, O Jesus Christ, be foremost in our lives
Let us love one another as God has loved us
Let us be one in love together in the one bread of Christ
The love of God in Jesus Christ bears eternal joy
The love of God in Jesus Christ will never have an end.
We’ve heard the whole passage from Mark again, and we are now going to focus on the healing of Jairus, or in Good as New, the ‘Jai’ ‘s daughter (by the way, one of the names I like, and if the first century Jews had the habit of shortening names, then we can recognise it – think David to Dai, or Brian to Bri!)
As with this morning’s reflection, there are several things worth noting, and I don’t promise that I’ve picked up everything even now, but I would remind you again that we are heading towards that last comment from Jesus, in which Jesus suggests they give the girl something to eat!
First, a word about priorities – both within the context of Jesus’s time and in the way which we might read this story today. As a member of the synagogue staff, Jai obviously thinks that he has some call on the new teacher and healer – he is, if you like, playing the age-old game of appealing to like-minded people, those who share our background, those whose interests and concerns are the same as ours. Jesus is a man of God, that’s clear to people already, and so surely he will have some sympathy and concern for others who are, by their work and calling, people of God. But Jesus doesn’t prioritise by the conventions of his day; I doubt very much that he’s prioritise by the conventions of our time and place in history either.
In fact, I suspect that Jesus would have had great difficulty in prioritising at all…. We struggle with this, I think. With so much to do, so much need around us, how on earth do we know where to start? Well, the message here seems to be that there is time enough to be distracted by another need if that’s what pops up. Indeed, even if at first it seems that the conventional, obvious, easy job is the one which ought to take priority, sometimes it’s the trickier, more difficult task which should be allowed to get in the way. I read a sense of exasperation between the lines of this story; c’mon mun, Jesus, there’s a little girl dying, get on with it…. No says Jesus, all in good time, I’ve got other people to care for too, others who need me, and they will not be denied.
The next thing I want to look at is that Jesus has been asked to heal a young girl. As I point out often enough, we have to be mindful of context here, because it’s a mistake, on at least two accounts, to interpret as I have just done. What was that? Did you miss it?
‘C’mon mun, Jesus, there’s a little girl dying..’? That reaction is post-Victorian sentiment, or at least a good proportion of it is. It’s a bit of a mistake to think of this story sentimentally, because infant mortality was a fact of life for ancient people; it was both normal and it was expected that some would die before adulthood. I’m not saying that it wasn’t upsetting, that grief and mourning didn’t happen because they were somehow hardened to infant mortality; bereavement is always difficult. But it was not as unusual, and we should take care not to impose our modern sensibilities on first century culture.
It’s also a mistake to make too much of 12 as the girl’s age, that is to be thinking ‘gosh, only just secondary school age’. Again, I’m not saying that this was not her age – and if so, she is very close to adulthood in her culture anyway – but rather, the use of the number 12 in both stories is likely to be symbolic. In our Bibles 12 is representative of authority, of governance. But it also represents perfection, of ‘how it is meant to be’, so to speak. So it may be that Mark, in allotting 12 years to both the woman’s suffering and the daughter’s age, is saying that this is the right time, the perfect time, for Jesus to show authority. Remember, what Jesus is doing here is revolutionary, by the standards of the day, it was unacceptable. The number 12 hints at the action, or at very least, the relationship between Jesus and the two sufferers, as having divine approval. We sometimes miss that sort of thing.
Having said all that about making mistakes about sentimentality, about misreading the significance of age, there is something else which needs to be mentioned, and that is the father’s concern for his daughter. I think you have permission to be just a little bit sentimental about that, because in point of fact, this is a little unusual. The parents loved their children – of course they did – but the plain fact is that a daughter was not as valuable as a son to their way of thinking. This father goes out of his way to ask for Jesus’s help. He’s not going to wait for Jesus to say ‘let the children come’, he’s going to go and get Jesus and take Jesus to the daughter. It stands comparison with the Roman Soldier who loved his servant enough to seek Jesus’s help, reported in Luke 7; it’s not just the healing miracle which is important, but the loving relationships blessed by the healing.
And so I think we’re being told something in this too, about Jesus’s inclusive care, about how he recognises not only personal faith in the case of the woman who has been bleeding, but also depth of love between people. On hearing that his daughter has died, Jesus says to Jai, ‘don’t be afraid, trust me’; it’s that depth of love which allows the hope that was there in the asking to turn to that trust.
Jesus proceeds to Jai’s house but when he gets there, the grief of bereavement is real. Then we get what seems to be a bit of a strange reaction. Jesus tells them that she isn’t dead, but sleeping, at which they burst out laughing. When I was reading the story earlier in the week, I wondered what on earth could be said about this; it seemed so odd to me, out of place, that I thought there must be something to it. Certainly there’s nothing ‘funny’ in what Jesus says, and I can’t imagine there would have been in his day either – it’s neither funny ha ha, nor funny peculiar, as we used to say. And then it struck me. Jesus is being ridiculed. They are poking fun at Jesus. They are saying ‘you have no clue what you are talking about, which is very close to saying actually, you have no right, no authority to be saying what you are saying.
I mentioned this morning that Mark had made no mention of the crowd’s reaction as Jesus healed the woman who was bleeding; I think this is crowd reaction now – this is the challenge to authority which is implied in these stories. Mark is setting up conflict – He is contrasting the comment of the crowds at the start of his ministry – Mark 1 and the story of the man with evil spirits, or a disturbed mind – after which they say that Jesus has authority, he knows what he’s talking about, with what we have now: inevitable mutterings at the healing of an outcast, and now, open ridicule.
It doesn’t seem to bother Jesus, he gets on with it. But not without adjustment perhaps; he throws out the sceptics, only mam, dad and the disciples go into the house, and in due course, he will ask them to keep the matter quiet. It seems to me that Jesus is wanting to manage the situation, to keep things under control. There are a few hints that things might get a bit uncomfortable for him. It’s also possible, probable even, that Jesus is concerned about the fuss that would be made of the girl. Even today, it’s not uncommon for someone who has been unwell to want to keep to themselves for a while – no visitors until feeling much better, that sort of thing. It may be that sometimes we’re guilty of trying to read too much into things, that the simple answers are the better ones.
Having said that, there’s one last issue that I want us to consider briefly, and that is the question of what sort of miracle this was; is it a healing miracle, or does Jesus raise the little girl from death – and indeed, does it matter? If you take Jai’s friends at their word, then this is a resurrection story; in terms of power and authority of Jesus, it doesn’t get any bigger than this. If on the other hand you take Jesus by his word, then the little girl was ‘sleeping’ – unconscious, or that deep sleep which debilitating illness can sometimes cause.
To the people of Jesus’ time, there may not have been vast differences; that is, there were types of illness, fever and infection, from which recovery was never expected. In the days before intravenous hydration and feeding of nutrients, falling into a sleep from such an illness, was exactly the same as dying – indeed, this was the case for many centuries to come.
Jesus as always, cares to the extent that he’ll do anything within his power; which is, of course, a very great deal. Again and again, he shows that by having faith in the things which are right, the things which are loving, healing will flow. Jai shows love for his daughter and faith in Jesus; together they are rewarded, and we really don’t care what the other people say.
I promised to use these thoughts to lead us into communion, for the story ends with Jesus suggesting that the little girl be given something to eat. When we were kids, and really feeling unwell, there was a little luxury item which was bought from Mrs Gibby at Glyncoch (and she probably charged a small fortune for it); do you remember when ‘Lucozade’ was a medicinal health drink, orange crinkle-wrapped? None of this sports drink nonsense! Well of course, hydration and nutrition – in fact, salts and sugars both, are utterly vital for recovery. The little girl may not have been able to eat or drink for a while, just not up to it. Jesus says, come on now, let’s seal this deal with some food and drink.
We don’t always fire on all cylinders, we frequently need that ‘pick-me-up’, and sometimes healing of a more significant sort, physical and spiritual. The meal we are about to share remains part of the recovery process for us.
Outcasts or children, older or younger, feeling full of beans or a just a little wearing, come says Jesus, let’s have something to eat.