Christ Raises the Daughter of Jairus, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany.
“My daughter is at the point of death.
Please, come lay your hands on her
that she may get well and live.” Mark 5:23
Jesus received his vocation from God the Father at his baptism, when he was anointed by God the Holy Spirit. Anointed One is Messiah in Hebrew and Christ (Christos) in Greek. That meant he had to fulfill all the prophesies of the Messiah found in Holy Scripture, the Old Testament as we call it. There are many there, both good and threatening. To fulfill them, he had to employ the gifts, or talents, he had. Being God’s Son, his identity which was also revealed to him at his baptism, meant that he had gifts none of us will ever have, as is seen in today’s gospel. The synagogue official, Jairus, had a daughter who was dying, and indeed was already dead by the time Jesus arrived at the man’s home. There Jesus raised the girl from the dead. That is impossible for any one of us to do. It was a demonstration of unique divine power, and used for the benefit of others. In this way he hoped that the people would remember his teachings and his example, to help others no matter the cost, and in this way to honor God. (The cost to Jesus was staggering; he was eventually hailed as the long-promised messiah because of his powers, but it was the false messiah of the masses, the military man of great power who would re-establish the kingdom of David. As he wasn’t, this led to his death). In raising Jairus’ daughter from death Jesus showed that life was sacred, from the hand of God who has power of life over death. Today’s passage is taken from Mark’s gospel, the first to be written down and therefore the oldest of the four gospels. Note that it is so close to the time of Jesus that it quotes Jesus’ very words Talitha koum, טְלִיחָא קוּמִי, which is Aramaic (“Little girl, get up”), the language Jesus almost certainly spoke. It is closely related to Hebrew and was clearly remembered by Jesus’ companions, eye witnesses to the wondrous event. It is not surprising they recalled a detail like this – who else has raised anyone from the dead? But this miracle was not an end in itself: it was to encourage people to listen to Jesus’ words and imitate him in the way he dealt with people and events. The miracle, obviously from the hand of God, was to impart confidence in accepting the Lord as a true and reliable teacher. If he could do something as so obviously good, he could be trusted. It must also have occurred to those present that here was a man who was clearly enacting the prophecies of the holy men of the past. The death of a youngster is felt so much more than someone older, which meant her family and friends “walked in darkness”, overcome with grief, but they “saw a great light” (Isaiah 9:2) in the miracle of Jesus. Also from Isaiah they might have recalled “Your dead shall live, their bodies shall rise” (26:19). Here was the man fulfilling such long-remembered prophecies. They would have hung on his words, as he clearly spoke with a divine authority. But note that, as always, he instructed them to tell no-one about this. As I mentioned above, he knew that he would be taken as the messiah of popular myth, one who had the power to defeat the hated Roman occupiers and re-establish the kingdom of David, He was not that kind of messiah! The last line of today’s gospel is interesting: “[Give her] something to eat”. This is a documented reaction of those who have experienced miraculous cures, such as Vittorio Micheli, a soldier with an incurable malignant tumor of the hip. That was in 1962. His cure was declared to be the 63rd miracle at Lourdes in 1976. (Remember the three absolute requirements for the church to consider an event a miracle; it has to be immediate, inexplicable and permanent). Micheli says “Nothing notable happened while I was there [being lowered into the baths at Lourdes]. I didn’t feel any special sensation but, upon returning to the Trento hospital, I stopped taking painkillers because the pain had stopped abruptly. My appetite returned and I started to eat again. I abandoned my crutches and found I could walk, even with the plaster on.” (https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130211/local/A-miracle-at-Lourdes.457109). It is not surprising that people who have been suffering greatly have bodies wasted by disease at the time of their cure who at once crave nourishment as they have now been restored to perfect health.
Today’s first reading is very interesting in the light of all this. Death, it says, really has no place in genuine human life. God made us to live forever, to be happy in the divine presence always. Through pride and envy did death come upon us, and the rest is history, that is until Jesus. And although he ascended into heaven, events such as the one mentioned above in Lourdes, remind us that we can still depend on his word: he still has the power to crush the evil of this world miraculously. But those events are extremely rare. The rest of us must trust his word and live by it, believing that it will usher us eventually into eternal happiness. And this word is clearly stated in today’s second reading. Its focus is clearly on the others in our lives. It is our duty to see that we respond to clear situations of want and hunger in the world, of which there has always been an abundance. So if the need is next door or 6000 miles away, Jesus tells us to do something about it. All are our brothers and sisters just as the little girl was sister to Jesus, and family is everything. So our reaction to the needs of others, wherever they are, must be as genuine as Jesus’ instant response to Jairus’ desperate plea for his daughter. In that way we are Christ to the world, the vocation given us at our baptism, to be lived out daily. Let us pray that we are ever aware of that and have the generosity to respond to the best of our ability.
Lourdes, Summer 2008, Mass for the Sick at the Grotto.