- The Explore the Bible lesson for March 24 focuses on Mark 5:21-24, 35-43.
In Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckham discusses the presence of names in the Gospel accounts. His theorizes that the Gospel writers occasionally included the names of people who would have been well known in the Christian communities to whom the Gospels were written. Mark includes one such name in the focal text of this lesson: Jairus. Bauckham also suggests it is also possible that individuals named in the stories might themselves be the sources of the stories in which they are named. While the source of the account that bears Jairus’s name could have been Peter or any of the other disciples, Bauckham ponders, “it is at least interesting that some of the stories we have suggested come from those who are named in them are among the most vividly told” (55). This story is certainly vividly told. Perhaps, then, this is not just a story about Jairus. This is Jairus’s story.
Willing (Mark 5:21-24)
Jesus encountered what had become a familiar site as he made his way back across the lake: a large crowd (1:33, 45; 2:2; 3:7, 20; 4:1). Out of the nameless crowd, though, emerged an unexpected figure: a synagogue ruler named Jairus. Mark to this point has shared ample occasions of Jesus’ encounters with those in Jewish religious leadership. So, it is surprising that a synagogue leader not only is among the gathered crowd, but also was specifically seeking Jesus’ aid. Grueling in its detail, Mark’s narration of the encounter between Jairus and Jesus conveys well the emotions and desperation of the scenario that drove Jairus to Jesus: “he fell at his feet,” “pleaded earnestly,” “my little daughter,” “dying,” “please come.” Whether he was officially sanctioned or not, if the stories about this miracle worker from Nazareth were true, he might have been the only hope for Jairus’s daughter. Jairus had to ask.
Might there be something in your life about which you are desperate? To whom or to what are you turning in that desperation?
An Interruption in the Story (Mark 5:25-35)
An attentive reading of the Gospel of Mark reveals a prominent literary technique utilized throughout the Gospel. This technique, intercalation, or more informally, the Markan Sandwich, weaves two stories together to express a common theme. In this particular passage, the story of the hemorrhaging woman is woven into the story of Jairus’s daughter. From a historical standpoint, one could object that Mark does not insert this story of the woman but merely includes it because her healing took place in the midst of the encounter with Jairus. Mark, however, clearly wove these stories together in his narration of the events. One can observe a number of threads common to the stories, but two in particular stand out: Jesus’ direct address to the woman as “daughter” (5:34) in the midst of the episode with Jairus’s daughter, and Mark’s two references to “twelve years” (5:25, 42).
Why did Mark make effort to weave these stories together? A common theme is highlighted by the juxtaposition of these stories. These are two stories of desperate people who are called to have faith in Jesus, the only one who can help in their situations. As Mark’s narrative demonstrates, he can be trusted. He is able.
Undeterred (Mark 5:35-40)
“Your daughter is dead.” The news shattered any joy and wonder that must have accompanied Jesus’ healing of the hemorrhaging woman. It also annihilated any hope. Those from the house asked appropriately, “Why bother the teacher any more?” (5:35). What little hope offered by the miracle worker from Nazareth no longer remained. Like the hemorrhaging woman, Jairus had metaphorically “spent all he had.”
What this synagogue ruler—Mark intentionally and emphatically refers to Jairus with this title—failed to grasp was that Jesus was “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). Jesus confronted despair with one of the most powerful exhortations in Scripture, “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (5:36). The belief to which Jesus called Jairus was a belief not in an abstract truth but in a person, Jesus himself. Mark did not record Jairus’s reaction. Mark did record the reaction of the professional mourners who had assembled at the house where the dead girl lay. They laughed scornfully at this fool who pronounced an assessment of the situation that was so out of touch with reality.
Mark’s silence regarding the reaction of Jairus speaks loudly to us, the readers. In leaving Jairus out of the story, Mark invites us into the story. The same exhortation to Jairus is offered to us: “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” What is it that you are afraid of? Can you believe in the midst of whatever you are facing, not in some trite sense that “everything will be okay,” but in the person of Jesus?
Able (Mark 5:41-43)
Who does not love a happy ending? One would be hard pressed to conceive of one happier than what this story offers. So much of the conclusion speaks for itself. In a display that is both awesome and tender, Jesus extended his power over death through taking a little girl’s hand in his own. We the readers can feel the astonishment of those present.
Not all of the conclusion is clear, though. Ironically, we along with the untold millions who have taken up Mark’s Gospel read, “He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this” (5:43). What changed to bring this secret miracle into public view for all to know? We may deduce from similar commands against the demonic spirits (e.g., 1:34) that the world of Jesus was not ready at that point to know who he was and what he could do. Wrong expectations would have abounded.
This particular story was to be made public only after Jesus had fulfilled his purpose, not anyone’s expectations. Only after his death and resurrection were people reoriented enough for this story. This reorientation moves people, even us, from being enamored by what Jesus could do to being endeared to who Jesus is. As Jairus surely would have professed, even the restoration of his daughter from death paled in light of Jesus’ own resurrection.
The hope of followers of Jesus is bound to belief in the person and accomplished work of Jesus, namely his sacrificial death and resurrection. Our hope is not bound to a belief that Jesus will heal all of our diseases or bring back our loved ones from the dead. The victory he offers is ultimate, not necessarily temporary. Believe in him.
Jeremy Greer is assistant professor of religion at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall.