An Active Faith
Our Gospel reading (cf Mt. 9:18-26; Lk. 8:40-56) is an example of a narrative style in which a second story (Mk. 5:25-34) is “sandwiched” between the beginning (vv. 22-24) and end (vv. 35-43) of the first story. The common them in both stories is a willingness to express and act on faith even in the face of tremendous challenges and circumstances.
As the passage begins, Jesus is teaching by the Sea of Galilee when Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, comes to him. Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet in a gesture of respect and petition, begging him to come and heal his young daughter, who is near death.
But as Jesus and the crowd set off for Jairus’ home, a woman who has suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years comes up behind him. Although she had gone to several physicians, her condition continued to worsen; and now her finances are drained as well. She believes she can be healed by simply touching Jesus’ clothing.
Acting with courage and initiative, the woman reaches out for his cloak and is immediately healed of her disease. At the same moment, Jesus feels power leave him and asks who touched him. In fear and trembling, a reaction of awe in the presence of Divine power, the woman comes forward. Disregarding cultural barriers by talking to a woman in public, Jesus commends her faith, telling her to go in peace (v. 34).
The insertion of this event in the narrative serves to increase the tension — for as Jesus turns away from the woman, word is received that Jairus’ daughter has died. As a result, the crowd insists that there is no further need to trouble Jesus. But Jesus reassures Jairus, saying, “Do not fear, only believe” (v. 36; cf 4:40; 6:5-6).
When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ home, the crowd is already mourning the death of the child with great weeping and wailing. When Jesus insists that “the child is not dead but sleeping” (v. 39), the mourners laugh at the common euphemism for death.
Taking only Peter, James, John, and the child’s parents with him, Jesus enters the house. He takes the child by the hand (thereby breaking the taboo against touching a corpse) and addresses her as if he were indeed speaking to someone asleep, telling her to get up in the Aramaic words “Talitha cum” (v. 41).
Here it is the spoken words of Jesus that bring about the miracle. Her life revived, the girl obeys the command of Jesus to stand up. Jesus then orders that she be given something to eat, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the cure. And Jesus again warns those present not to tell anyone.
The imagery and language used throughout this story foreshadow the Resurrection of Jesus and emphasize that God is indeed the God of the living and not of the dead (Mk. 12:27). We are also reminded here of the raising of Lazarus (Jn. 11:28-44); the reviving of the widow’s son by Elijah (1 Ki. 17:17-24); and the account of Elisha and the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Ki. 4:18-37).
There is a marked contrast between the two main characters in these stories. Jairus is a leader in the synagogue, while the unnamed woman is among the marginalized of society because of her gender and illness. However, both in their actions demonstrate the nature of faith as humble trust and reliance on the grace and power of God.
We tend to forget the sacrifice of propriety that Jairus makes in personally doing obeisance before a radically unconventional holy man out of Nazareth — a town of questionable reputation (Jn. 1:46).
Perhaps he had heard about Jesus in Capernaum; or maybe he witnessed the healing of the madman in the synagogue (Mk. 1:23-28) where he was a ruler. Or maybe both of these incidents led Jairus to believe that Jesus could heal his daughter.
Jairus’ faith was not theological — but existential. He went to Jesus with open, expectant trust. As a pillar of the community, Jairus forsakes his image among his peers to do what needs to be done for the healing of his loved one. He gives up the goal of impressing other people and focuses on what will bring lasting healing — even the power over death itself.
Lewis Galloway at Day1.org (7/1/ 2012) wrote:
When we experience the abundance of God’s grace, we can’t help but take Jesus seriously. In Jesus, God has a way of transforming our dismissive laughter into tears of joy, our skepticism into speechless amazement. When this happens for us, as it did for a desperate, grieving father and a sick, ostracized woman, we know what it is to be made whole. The gospel is full of promises that become our own when we take Jesus seriously. Touch the gospel promises and take them to heart.
So it is for us this morning. Whether we want to admit it or not, all of us are people of faith. This gift of faith, that willingness to trust unconditionally, dwells within each and every one of us. Our task, then, is to put it into action – even if it is only to touch Jesus’ clothing.