A Dissertation on Mark 5.22-43
Here was at least one leader of a synagogue who had faith in the saving power of Jesus. To what extent he accepted that the Lord was the Messiah is not possible to assess but at the very least he looked upon Him as a teacher sent from God endowed with the power possessed by the prophets of old. One usually unnoticed word in v.35 reveals that. Whilst Jesus delayed His progress to the child's home in order to comfort the stricken woman whose faith in touching His garment resulted in her healing, some of the servants came to Jairus with the news that the child was dead and added "Why trouble the Master any further?" Their use of the term 'Master' implies that Jairus must have showed and shared his faith to his servants so that the whole household were believers in Jesus and His mission, however inadequately or imperfectly they comprehended it. Orthodox Jews though they were, loyal to the laws of Moses, they had a belief in Jesus which set this household apart from most of their fellows and Jesus knew that. So Jairus came, and fell at Jesus' feet. ".Afr little daughter is at the point of death. I pray, come and lay your hands upon her, that she may be healed, and she shall live" (Mark 5.23). This is the voice of faith; Jairus knew that Jesus could heal and his faith told him that Jesus would heal; He would by no means be unresponsive to his plea.
So Jesus set out to the house of Jairus, the anxious father doubtless urging Him to accelerate His pace, "and much people followed him and thronged him". It is easy to visualise the scene; the crowds that had already witnessed His miracles following in His steps were all agog to witness another. But now there was this delay caused by the woman who, in Mark's rather scornful words, "had suffered many things of many physicians and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse". Jairus must have watched the little interlude with increasing anxiety and impatience, eager to get Jesus on the way again, an anxiety that was turned to hopeless anguish when the messengers arrived with the sad news. To heal the grievously sick was one thing; to raise the dead, quite another. For a moment Jairus, for all his faith, must have gone down into the depths. But it was only for a moment. The voice of Jesus, calm, assuring fell upon his ears; "Be not afraid; only believe". One is perhaps justified in thinking that Jairus did believe, for they two went on together to the house. Only Peter, James and John, were with them; Jesus had sent the crowd away. What He was going to do now was for the family and the household only. By the time He arrived at the house the professional mourners were in full cry. It was the custom among the higher classes of the people to enlist the services of these "professionals" to initiate and lead what amounted to an organised ritual expression of grief; anything less would be construed as an attitude of indifference and disrespect to the departed. So when Jesus entered the house, "he saw the tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly" (v.38). He must have stood a moment, regarding them calmly, and then asked quietly "Why do you make this tumult and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping And they laughed at him." They, the professionals, ought to know a dead body when they saw one. What did this wandering prophet know about death? Let Him go on with His healing of the sick and casting out of demons, services He could render to the living. After death, which ended all things, there was nothing even He could do. So they derided Him and went back to the weeping and wailing for which they had been engaged. But, all unknowingly, they were in the presence of One who had power over death, and could infuse new life into the mortal frame from which the spirit of life had departed. They could only weep and wail over the lifeless body; here was One who could restore life to it. "Jam the resurrection and the life" He said on another occasion. "He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in. me shall never die" (John 11.25-26 RSV). That can only become a reality when there is true belief in and acceptance of Christ and that involves the conscious giving and surrender of oneself to Christ. This child had not yet come to that point; neither was the life Jesus was about to give her the eternal life which is spoken about in that passage in John's Gospel. All that Jesus could and would do at this moment was to give back to the child the measure of human life she had possessed. One day she must inevitably pass into the grave to await the time when "all that are in their graves shall hear his voice and shall come forth" (John 5.28). Then she will share in that full and final opportunity to believe, and so enter into everlasting life. So this revival of the little daughter of Jairus was in no sense a resurrection; it was resuscitation to the life she had formerly enjoyed.
Now Jesus turned, and with an imperative gesture silenced the wailing mourners and ushered them out of the house. There was a great quiet, a quiet in which He led the girl's parents into the room where she was lying, white and still. He looked down at her compassionately, the others waiting, wondering, hoping, fearing. Moving forward, He took her by the hand, saying as He did so "Talitha cumi", which is an Aramaic expression meaning "Little girl, arise". It is said to be the expression normally used in that day for a mother to arouse her sleeping child in the morning. "Little girl, arise." Straightway, sag's Mark, using his favourite word, she opened her eyes, sat up, and got to her feet. The faith of her father, tested to the extreme, was honoured at the last. One likes to think that this man and perhaps the child also were among those hundred and twenty disciples who gathered immediately after the Resurrection to form the nucleus of the Christian Church.
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The precise nature of what was undoubtedly a miraculous act is worthy of some consideration. The word used for "sleeping" in this account is one that in the New Testament is never used to indicate death; always to denote natural sleep. It is atheuso. The word which is used in the story of Lazarus "Our friend Lazarus sleeps; I go that I may awake him out of sleep" is koimao, which is often used as a synonym for death beside its normal meaning of sleep. Thus Acts 13.36 "David fell on sleep"; 1 Cor. 15.20 "Christ .... the first fruits of them that slept"; 1 Thess. 4.14 "Them that sleep in Jesus" are all from koimao. It is this latter word which passed into Latin as coemetorium, from which we get our English word cemetery — place of sleep. It may be debatable whether the Gospel story as it stands justifies the common impression that the girl was actually dead. Jesus Himself said "the maid is not dead, but sleeps". It could be that she was in some kind of trance or coma and that our Lord awakened her out of it and at the same time cured the disease or abnormality that had occasioned it. The friends and neighbours, convinced that the girl was dead, would obviously have concluded that she had been raised again from the death state and would not have believed anything else. Hence Jesus cautioned them not to make the incident generally known, a caution they promptly rejected. Whatever be the truth of the matter, of course, it was equally a miracle. Luke, a physician, says (Luke 8.53-55) that "her spirit (pneuma — breath) came again" and records the expression "knowing that she was dead" (apathnesko — literal death). From this it could be argued that in fact the maid had died immediately before Jesus arrived and was in a condition analogous to modern cases that have died in the medical sense and have been revived by the "kiss of life" and similar methods. This might very well be a correct reconstruction of the incident; it is impossible to be dogmatic, for the vagaries of successive copying and translations from the original manuscript tend to blur and distort details from which closer accuracy could be attained. The chief point is the apparent stress placed by Jesus on the assurance "she is not dead (apothnesko) but sleeps" (katheudo). This phrase is preserved in exactly the same wording in all three gospels, indicating that it was for some reason or other a well-remembered declaration. It is evident that Jesus intended something different from the parallel case of Lazarus, of whom He said "Our friend Lazarus sleeps" (koimaomai, used either of sleep or of death in its aspect of a sleep because it ended by a resurrection) but when His disciples took Him literally "then said he to them plainly, Lazarus is dead" (apothnesko, John 11.11-14). He declared definitely that Lazarus was dead and equally definitely that the maid was not. Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days and corruption had set in (John 11.39). The miracle on that occasion involved the reconstruction or recreation of living organic matter in addition to infusing the spirit or breath of life, almost completely analogous to the Genesis account of the creation of Adam. In the case of the maid it would seem that whether trance, coma or "medical death" the practical effect was the same. It might have been a coma that would eventually have ended in death; it might be that, medically speaking, modem forms of artificial respiration would have restored her to consciousness anyway. In point of fact it was the power exercised by Jesus which caused the vital organs, presumably as yet undamaged, to resume their functions. It must be remembered that logically the disease, whatever it was, from which the child suffered to cause this result, was cured at the same time, so there can be no doubt that we have here a miracle. The expression "knowing that she was dead" has little weight either way. "Knowing" is oidia from eidon, a derivative of horao, and means knowing only in the sense of perceiving or seeing for oneself. Positive and accurate knowledge is rather indicated by ginosko, which is a different word altogether. The bystanders "laughed him to scorn, perceiving that she was dead" in face of what was to them the apparent fact, but their knowledge was based only on the outward appearance. Jesus did not himself endorse their impression and in fact in so many words contradicted it. When all is said and done it remains that Jesus used two directly opposite expressions in respect of this girl and of Lazarus. Of one He said "She is not dead"; of the other "Lazarus is dead". Perhaps the real point lies in the shade of meaning inherent in the word here rendered "dead" a meaning that does not come out in English. Apothnesko is derived from roots that include the idea of complete cutting off or separation, of "dying out" of corruption or rotting away, as though it indicates death indeed with no possibility of recovery from the standpoint of human knowledge. The dying out or rotting away of a wheat grain in the ground before giving rise to new life, and the state of a withered tree in which life has become extinct and the wood rots away are instances in the New Testament where this word is employed. The condition of Lazarus in whom the dissolving processes had already begun was correctly described by the word; that of the child, whether in coma or true death, because the state was so recent and corruption had not begun, was not so described. Hence Jesus, mindful also, perhaps, of the grief of the parents, could justly use the softer word katheudo, sleep, knowing that at once He was going to raise her from that sleep. So, in the combination of the two incidents He left a demonstration for after times that whether the physical body remained intact or not, whether the mortal frame had or had not "returned to its earth", Divine power is equal to the occasion and can bring about restoration. The basis of the Christian faith is that the future life, the life of the ages, can come only by means of a resurrection from the dead. In these stories is enshrined the guarantee that Divine power can and will achieve that resurrection.