Jairus a leader of the synagogue comes to plead for Jesus to heal his daughter. He was not a destitute man, as a leader of the synagogue he would have had his own household in order and time to dedicate to the leading of his community, he would have had the money to pay for the care that could be purchased at the time. This man in high standing in his community is reduced to groveling at the feet of a travelling faith healer. The stories of Jesus healing others had reached Jairus’ ear and leaving all pride aside he pleads at Jesus’ feet saying “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” Jesus goes with Jairus but a crowd engulfs them, each person seeking to be healed or at least find out what is going on. In the fray, a woman touches the hem of Jesus’ robe and is healed. But some people come from Jairus’ house telling him “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” Jesus overhears this and tells Jairus “Do not fear, only believe.”
There in the throng Jairus’ hope of his daughter’s healing is crushed by the news of her death. Surrounded by the needs of countless others the man he had meant to have heal her speaks to him saying, “Do not fear, only believe.” Can you imagine a harder time to hear this? His daughter is dead! “DO NOT FEAR? ONLY BELIEVE?” It’s too late for that, she’s dead. Now is the time to mourn.
Jesus goes to Jairus’ house with Peter, James, and John, leaving the crowd and his other disciples. Inside there is a commotion, the people are weeping and wailing. The mourning customs of this day were vividly designed to stress the desolation and finality of the separation of death. Whatever hope we find in a Christian’s death, meager as it is at times, this hope would not have been available to these people. Death was an utter loss. Loud wailing would announce a death and this would spread across the community and would resume again at the grave site. The mourners would beat their breasts, tear out their hair, and rip their garments. The clothes would be torn to the heart, after seven days the rip could be roughly sewn, then after a month of mourning the garment would be repaired. A person did not mourn in isolation, it was visible and known to the entire community that someone suffered the loss of a loved one. For three days the mourners would abstain from work, and from wearing shoes. Even reading from the Law of the Prophets was forbidden during this time. For it was considered a great joy to read the Law, and those in grief need to live in it. Though, it was permissible to read Job or Lamentations to provide the minor consolation that one is not alone in one’s pain. The time for mourning was clearly a space to express one’s loss and grief. Jesus would have been familiar with all this but enters Jairus’ home he says to mourners. “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” They laugh. You can imagine the hysteria in which wailing turns to laughing. The line between tragedy and farce is a fine one. When the truth is so absurd one can do nothing but laugh.
First, Jesus says “Do not fear, only believe!” and then “why are you weeping?” How out of touch is he? The girl is dead!
The people know the difference; they have been at her side for sometime, they know the difference between sleep and death. Jesus sends everyone out but the parents, and the three disciples he brought with him. He holds the girls hand and says “Talitha cumin, which means, Little girl, get up!” Immediately she awakes and hops right out of bed and starts walking around. Her parents and the three Jesus had brought are overcome with amazement.
Jesus strictly orders them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. He wants her to eat not just because she could use some food, but also so that they do not think that she is a ghost, he wants them to know that her body has been brought back to life and she can do the things that a living person can do like walking and eating. Isn’t it ironic that we have it written here that Jesus tells them that no one should know what has happened? Isn’t it strange that this would be recorded, not only is the story known but we are also told in the text itself that it is not supposed to be known. Did the disciples outright disregard what Jesus told them? How could the parents would go about hiding that their daughter who was dead is now alive? They are not going to keep her locked up inside the house, it would be a waste of a life that has been restored. To hide the truth of this miracle they would have had to playing along with what Jesus said, that “the child was not dead but sleeping.” The parents would say that some how Jesus woke their little girl from a deep coma. A certain amount of deception is required. But why hide the truth of this miracle? Her living body is a testament to the power of God. Why hide this? Why pretend she was only sleeping?
Later on in Mark’s Gospel we are told of another time that Jesus tells his three favored disciples to not tell anyone what took place. This time is on the mount of the transfiguration.
“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.” (Mark 9:2-10)
The revelation must be held by the disciples, you cannot go around telling anyone that you saw your leader talking with dead patriarchs or that he has risen a girl from the dead. These stories must be held until the revelation of Christ is manifested in his glorious risen body. Only after he has gone to the grave and risen can these stories be properly shared; they are foolishness without the resurrection. Elijah and Moses would only be apparitions, without the resurrection the girl he woke from her “sleep” would simply be a story of how Jesus woke a girl, it’s not exactly something that would need to be included in the canon. All the miracles that Jesus performs are meaningless without the resurrection.
Without the ultimate hope that Christ has defeated death with his resurrection the miracles have no enduring meaning. Without the resurrection, all of Jesus’ miracles are just strange ancient stories. People may have been healed, some even raised back to life, but they all have died, as we all will. Jesus’ miracles are glimpses of the glory of our future resurrection.
These are strange revelations: rubbing mud in a person’s eye, laying a hand on another, a momentary touch on the hem of Jesus’ cloak. When Christ tells Peter, James, and John; not to tell anyone what they saw on the mountain until the Son of Man had risen from the dead, it is a message of how these strange miracles are secrets to be held and understood only in the light of the resurrection. Apart from it these miracles are foolishness. They are either illusions, cruel tricks, or at best they are true miracles that are arbitrary and few and far between. They’re arbitrary character is more problematic than a lie. Why does that lame man get to walk? Or why is that woman healed after touching Jesus’ cloak? Especially, why does this girl get to live again? You would think that with power like that, Jesus would heal a lot more people, I can think of a few I would like to see healed, or raised from the dead.
We ought not to understand these simply as miracles. It is the resurrection that helps us to understand these miracles as revelations of our future hope. They are glimpses of glory. We do not trust that God will simply make the sick better, or raise a girl to life just to die again. We are not called to simply believe in miracles. If we are to truly not fear, and only believe we need the resurrection as the foundation of our faith. The resurrection needs to be the lens through which we view miracles and life and death. The statement “She is not dead only sleeping.” understood in light of the resurrection, shows that her death was but sleeping to Jesus, he knew she would rise to new life. He knows that all death in light of the resurrection is but a sleep, but this was absurd for those hearing this without knowing about the resurrection.
The way that Mark speaks about the resurrection itself is important and his account sheds light upon the secret that is held and how we are called to share it.
“When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint his body. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:1-8)
This may seem like a strange place to end the story but the most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20. Many of the early church fathers who wrote extensively on the resurrection, never refer to anything past Mark 16:8. It is likely that in the second century the ending we have today, including interactions with Christ raised body, would have been added.
What does it mean for us to have a gospel that ends with the message:
“You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Again here we have the text telling us something more then we should know. If the women actually said nothing to anyone, we would not have this story, fear would have won. But this time Jesus is not telling people to keep a miracle secret, his messenger is telling the Marys to go speak of this. But terror and amazement seized them, like the woman who touches Jesus’ cloak. They must have been asking themselves the same question that Peter, James and John did. What does this rising from the dead mean? Confronted with the reality of the empty tomb, these women are seized by fear. Here Jesus would speak to them as he did Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” The chasm of death has been overcome with Jesus’ resurrection, yet fear is still at odds with faith.
These women hear the strange message that Jesus is risen. They see that the tomb is empty, they have reason to believe, but they fear, they have not seen Jesus’ risen body, they have only heard. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. Jesus’ resurrection rather than solving life’s problems confounds them. We do not immediately have everything solved when we believe in the resurrection. We still suffer, we still die. But we have also received a message of great hope that exceeds anything we could desire in this life. So we need to think less about the resurrection as an answer to all our ills, that Jesus will save us from this or that, we need to imagine how the hope of our future resurrection transforms our lives without immediately ending our suffering or keeping us from dying. We need to ask the questions the resurrection raises. We need to question what this rising from the dead might mean, like Peter, James and John did on the mount of transfiguration.
What does the rising from the dead mean for a girl who died and was raised to life, where she lived unto death once more? What does the resurrection mean for her?
What does the rising from the dead mean for those who are ill and dying, who won’t be healed, who will suffer until their last breath?
What does the rising from the dead mean for us today, wishing for a meagre miracle to get us through, just a little glimpse of what we hope for, a minor revelation that could foster our faith so we wouldn’t fear so much?
If we ask ourselves what might the resurrection mean we will find hope rather than fear, faith rather than terror. True life rather than death.
The irony of the ending of Mark, is that the story of Jesus’ resurrection could not be contained by fear. Mark resists being triumphant that everything is better. It is an incredible testament to the power of the resurrection that we have a gospel like Mark’s. By ending his gospel with fear, the gospel’s message depends upon faith. Without faith the gospel ending with an empty tomb is nihilistic. The gospel, with all its miracles and parables are meaningless without the resurrection.
And if Christ has not been raised,” proclaims Paul, “your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die. (1 Corinthians 15)
Fear and suffering have not been eradicated, but they will be. The hope of resurrection shines brighter then the darkness of our suffering. God will raise us, he will resurrect our bodies as his own was. There will be no illness or tears. But as for today we have our own bodies feeble as they are, but we do not live on this alone, we have been gifted with hope that in the face of death we need not fear, but only believe.