While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”
Mark 5:36-41 NRSV
Can we just stop and acknowledge that saying, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” is an absolutely shitty thing to say to someone? And not something I imagine these “concerned neighbours” thought Jesus would overhear. But he did, and his response? “Do not fear, only believe.” Because Jesus was troubled. That’s what they didn’t get – Jesus was troubled by all this death. Lives lost, like theirs, to apathy; lives lost to fear; lives lost to sin; lives lost to actual death. He didn’t draw distinction between these different kinds of death because he realised that ultimately, all were the same: people were dying without God. Apart from God, everything is death; with God, nothing is.
Jesus, being Jesus, never let death defeat him – not when he was crucified and buried, and certainly not when some apathetic people rocked up to say, “Yo, Jairus, your kid is dead, leave Jesus alone.” What an overwhelming sight it must have been, this huge, jostling crowd. Let’s be straight, most of those people weren’t there in a positive capacity: they were there to see what they could see, to whisper among themselves as an unclean woman admitted to touching Jesus’s clothes (and it wasn’t really a conclusive miracle, was it?) They were there to scoff at the audacity of this synagogue leader asking a respected teacher to heal his daughter. Daughters weren’t particularly well regarded back then; sons were what you wanted. Daughters were burdens to be married off. You didn’t ask someone like Jesus to heal your daughter. It wasn’t done. Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?
Jesus told Jairus, Jairus whose stomach had probably plummeted at the news, Jairus whose cheeks probably burned, whose eyes stung; Jesus told him, “Do not fear, only believe.” You’ve got to wonder what Jairus thought when he heard those words. Hope? Perhaps terror – because nothing is scarier than the prospect of hope dashed. The heart recoils from it, hardens against it. None of us want to be that vulnerable. But Jesus was asking him – be vulnerable. For a few more moments, dare to hope, dare to believe. Don’t go with the crowd on this one. Come with me. Follow me.
Jesus, you see, is different. We forget it, in this harsh world, among harsh people, harsh believers, harsh churches. We forget: Jesus is different.
They came to Jairus’ house. Outside people were weeping and wailing loudly. Grief: the seen edition. It wasn’t that people were necessarily sad; but they were putting up quite the show of it. That’s why when Jesus told them that the girl wasn’t dead but sleeping, they laughed at him. They laughed. “This teacher is as foolish as Jairus!” they think. Why do they react this way? Why couldn’t they suspend their disbelief, if only for the comfort of Jairus and his family? Probably because they, too, were dead, dead in their unbelief, dead in their lostness. When we are dead, we don’t like to be reminded of it with things like faith, like hope – like life, like Jesus.
Jesus and the girl’s parents went in to her room, where she lay dead – and this respected teacher took her hand and told her, “Talitha cum.” The NRSV renders this as, “Little girl, get up!” But a more accurate translation is, “Lambkin, arise.” Lambkin. A dead girl, a cold hand, weeping parents, breathless disciples. A whole derisive crowd outside. And Jesus tells her, Little girl, little darling, sweetheart – wake up. Like it’s nothing. Because to him, defeating death is nothing. Defeating death is not difficult when you are life, and light, and truth.
Somewhere in your heart, friend, is a struggle, a burden, a pain that is cold to the touch. Perhaps you feel cold to the touch; far from God, far from life, a shade. But a man enters your heart. He is life, life abundant. And he’s taking your hand and saying, “Sweetheart, dearest, lambkin – time to get up.” He gets to do that because he has the final say on death, and he’s rejected yours. Do not be afraid. Only believe.
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.
Psalm 57:1 NRSV