This section of Mark’s Gospel contains a series of dramatic stories. It begins with Jesus and his disciples, after a very long day of preaching, getting into their boats and sailing to the other side of the lake, to the pagan territory of the Gerasenes. Jesus takes the opportunity to rest, and falls asleep on a cushion. As evening falls a sudden and violent storm strikes. The wind was strong and waves were breaking over the boat. Terrified, the disciples wake Jesus from his sleep shouting at him, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” He immediately commands the sea and the wind, “Quiet! Be still!” A great calm descends. Jesus asks the disciples, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
Night begins to fall as they come to the shore. It’s an eerie place, a seaside cemetery. They no sooner step on to the shore when they’re confronted by a man who is possessed by many demons. Jesus commands the demons to leave the man, sending them into a herd of two thousand swine. They run down the steep banks of the hillside, drowning themselves in the sea.
Mark’s description of the event is dramatic and frightening. Strangely, the people of the area beg Jesus to leave. The possessed man asks to follow Jesus, but is told to go home, stay in the area and to witness to what God had done for him.
Our Gospel passage for today begins at this point. The group, still shaken by the events of the storm and the confrontation with the possessed man, return to their boats and sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jewish territory. Immediately, a huge crowd gathers around him.
Jairus, an official of the local synagogue, steps out of the crowd and begs Jesus to come to his home to cure his daughter who is at the point of death. Jesus immediately goes off with him.
Here Mark interrupts the scene with another dramatic event. A woman has heard of Jesus and his power to heal. She has been suffering tremendously for the past twelve years from a condition that caused her to hemorrhage. To understand her suffering we must be aware of the social stigma associated with her condition. Coming in contact with blood rendered a person unclean. So in her case no one would be permitted touch her, or anything she touched. Remember that people ate from a common dish with their hands. She could not join others for at the communal meal that was central to the culture of the time. Besides suffering from her illness she suffered the terrible pain of social isolation.
The woman wove her way through the crowd saying to herself all the while, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be cured.” Coming up behind him, she reached out and touched his cloak. Beginning to tremble, she knows that she’s been healed. At that same moment Jesus feels power come out of him, and begins asking aloud who had touched him. Fearful, she tells Jesus that she had touched him hoping to be cured. With great tenderness Jesus reassured her. “Daughter, you faith has saved you.” Mark then returns to the story of Jairus.
People from the official’s house arrive on the scene with sad news. “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” Jesus turns to Jairus with an important directive. “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” What is to follow is important not only for Jairus and his family, but for Jesus’ disciples. He takes Peter, James and John with him to Jairus’ home.
Coming to the residence, the wailers and mourners are heard making a terrible din. Jesus immediately tells them to stop the commotion because the girl is sleeping, not dead. They ridicule him. Jesus’ response is immediate. He puts all of them out. A beautifully tender scene follows.
Taking Jairus, his wife, Peter, James and John into the room “he took the twelve year old child by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum.’” Mark decided not to quote Jesus in Greek. He chose, rather, to use Jesus’ native language, Aramaic. There are various ways to translate these two words. My dear little girl. My sweet little lamb, arise. A tremendous tenderness is expressed in those two words. The girl responds to his touch, stands up, and begins to walk around. Jesus returns her to her family with the directive, “Give her something to eat.”
There are several noteworthy elements in today’s Gospel passage. Jesus addresses the woman suffering from hemorrhages as “daughter,” and Jairus’ child as “my sweet little lamb.” He’s so tender, so respectful. Mark wants us to appreciate this aspect of Jesus.
A call for faith travels thought all the scenes – the storm at sea, the faith of the possessed man who wants to follow Jesus, the faith of the suffering woman. Jesus calls for faith from Jairus, his wife and his three disciples. All things are possible when faith is strong: rescue from a storm, healing, even resurrection.
Mark presents the woman pushing her way through the crowd behind Jesus so that she can reach out to touch his garment. Jairus steps out of the crowd, and then falls on the ground before the feet of Jesus. He seems to imply that these individuals are unique examples of faith. They’re different from the crowd. Their faith was so deep and so focused that, for a moment, Jesus was the only person in their world. In that intimate still point of faith, their hearts met. One was healed, and so was able to return to the community. The other sparked the resurrection of his daughter, his sweet little lamb.
These examples of faith are meant to raise questions within us. How do we approach Jesus when things go wrong in our lives? Do we try to outshout the crowd hoping to get the attention of Jesus? Is our faith strong enough to give us the courage to step out of the crowd into that still point where we see and hear only Jesus? Do we hear Jesus whisper our name, daughter, son, my sweet little lamb? Do we know, without any doubt, that we can step out of the whirlwind? That we can kneel at his feet? That we can touch his cloak? That our hearts can embrace in calm, healing and resurrection?