Digging in Deeper: Mark 5:38-41

“They came to the leader’s house, and he saw a commotion–people weeping and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.’ They laughed at him, but he put them all outside. He took the child’s father, mother, and those who were with him, and entered the place where the child was. Then he took the child by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum’ (which is translated, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up’).” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Being a parent means wearing a lot of different hats. There’s the chef’s hat. The coach’s hat. The counselor’s hat. The boot camp drill instructor’s hat. The teacher’s hat. The pro-wrestler’s hat (if you have boys). The superhero’s hat (or so says my youngest about me). Lots of hats. My own boys are getting to the age where I’m having to don another hat more often than I like: the referee’s hat. It’s only natural, really. Sorting out issues with other people can be challenging, especially when we’re not willing to give an inch on our desired position. As a result, when we’re kids, we quickly appeal to a higher power to settle disputes for us: a parent. Wise parents know you can’t wear that hat too often or you short-change their opportunity to begin building some problem-solving skills of their own. But man is it tempting to solve things quickly for them so you don’t have to listen to the bickering anymore. The trouble is, when we sort things out, someone isn’t going to be happy. We’re going to be accused of playing favorites. And there’s some truth in that. We play favorites all the time. You know who didn’t play favorites, though, Jesus. And as we finally come to the end of this powerful story, we’re reminded of just how true that is.

When we left things yesterday, Jesus told Jairus to believe without fear in spite of the fact that word had just arrived from home that his daughter had died while he was en route with Jesus to heal her. Once this awful news had arrived, Jesus grabbed three of the disciples and headed straight to the house with Jairus. Upon arriving, they were met with a terrible scene. There was a crowd gathered inside and outside the house with several people wailing loudly and making a huge commotion for all the neighbors to hear. What was this?

In the culture of the day, when someone died, public mourning was part of the normal mode of operations. There were professional mourners who would go to the house of the deceased’s family and weep and wail loudly enough for everyone to hear. It was kind of like a public death notice before there were newspapers to spread the word with a little more decorum. Jairus’ family had obviously been confident enough in the girl’s impending death that they had these folks on hand to be ready for when the moment arrived. It makes you wonder a bit about how Jairus’ last-ditch effort to go get help from Jesus was received by the people who had remained at the house and by his daughter’s side. Perhaps there was more tension to this story than we can see on the surface.

In any event, when Jesus walked in and saw and heard all the hubbub, He asked, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping?” Everyone must have stopped and stared at Jesus like He had a second head growing out of His shoulders? What do you mean, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping?” You just walked back here with the messengers that were sent to Jairus to let him know his daughter has died. You know this is just how things are done. She’s dead and we’re helping the family mourn. Why would you ask such a stupid and offensive question?

Then Jesus made it worse: “The child is not dead but asleep.”

We sometimes look down on ancient people as unscientific and therefore less intelligent than we modern people are. That’s just unwarranted, chronological snobbery. In another 2,000 years, should our Lord tarry, I suspect people will look back on us as hopelessly unscientific and foolish in our thinking. While, no, folks in the first century didn’t know nearly as much about medicine as we do today, they knew whether or not someone was dead. Sure, mistakes could be made, but not often. Mistakes are still made today. I heard a story the other day about a woman who had been taken to a funeral home for embalming and then woke up while she was there. That probably freaked out the poor morticians on duty.

The point is this: Everyone there knew the girl was dead. Mark describes the crowd as laughing at Jesus’ insistence she wasn’t, but I suspect this was not a well-humored laugh. I suspect this was more of a derisive and mocking laugh. How could He be so stupid–not to mention insensitive–to suggest the girl was only sleeping? He hadn’t been there. He hadn’t seen her take her last breath. He hadn’t seen them check her breathing and listen for her heartbeat. He couldn’t possibly know such a thing and besides, trying to give her poor, grieving parents false hope like this was going to make it harder for them to come to grips with the awful reality facing them.

The laughter quickly turned to an awkward, tense silence when Jesus told them all to get out. Again, this is where English translations don’t capture the full drama of the Greek text. Mark writes that Jesus “put them all outside.” The Greek word is pretty forceful in tone. We shouldn’t picture Jesus politely asking everyone to step out for a moment while He consulted with the family. I can imagine Jesus’ righteous anger bursting to the surface and hollering over the cacophony, “Get out! The girl is sleeping, not dead. You’re making things worse, not me. Get out of the house so we can get this girl the help she needs!” In the pin-drop silence the crowd would have been looking from Jesus to Jairus and back again, trying to get a cue as to what they should do. Jairus likely signaled his agreement–much to their shock–and they all began to file out of the house.

Then, Jesus took Peter, James, and John, Jairus, and his wife into the room where the girl was laying, closed the door, and woke her up. The question, of course, is whether or not Jesus was right or the mourners were right about the girl’s condition. I’m going to go with Jesus and that this was a situation when the girl’s vitals had simply fallen fainter than they could detect. (That doesn’t mean the criticism of being unscientific is justified.) But Jesus could have been speaking metaphorically while they were speaking literally. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. Jesus healed her. Completely. Whatever state she had been in before, she wasn’t there now. She was sick. Now she was well.

So, what does any of this have to do with Jesus’ playing favorites like we were talking about earlier? At the end of this story, think for a minute about what we have seen over the past couple of weeks (and actually, we first started looking at this story all the way back in November). There were two people who came to Jesus for help here: Jairus, the synagogue president, and an unnamed woman with a chronic bleeding disorder. These two were as far apart on the social spectrum as they could possibly be. The only thing that could have pushed this woman further from him would have been for her to be a Gentile, rather than a Jew. This was a situation in which no one would have blamed Jesus for playing favorites. Jairus was the prominent, wealthy donor who represented a powerful future investment in the mission. This woman brought literally nothing to the table with her. Jairus could have given Jesus respect and honor and legitimacy among many who were otherwise poised to reject Him. This woman could offer none of that. Making her wait while He attended to the needs of Jairus would have surprised exactly no one. In fact, they would have expected and even encouraged it.

But Jesus doesn’t play favorites. Both got His undivided attention when they needed it. Both were treated like people with problems who needed the help only Jesus could give. Jesus gave dignity to them both. He did it for Jairus by going with him in the first place. Given Jesus’ position, He could have simply sent a servant. He could have spoken the word and healed from a distance as He would later do for the Centurion’s servant. And when this woman wanted to simply disappear into the crowd, Jesus drew her out and restored her honor. He didn’t just heal her, He pronounced her healed and blessed publicly which would have gone a long way toward removing the social stigma she would have had trouble getting rid of without such a public acknowledgement. Even though these two were lightyears apart socially, they both needed Jesus, and He met them at their place of need without asking anything from them. He simply loved them and showed them grace.

Listen, friends, Jesus does the same for us. No matter how unimportant our need may seem or how insignificant we may feel, Jesus doesn’t play favorites. If we will go to Him, He will meet us right where we are. He will acknowledge our humanity and help us in our brokenness. His love knows no limits or boundaries. Wherever you are and whoever you are, if you are hurting and broken, you can go to Jesus. And when you do, His healing can begin to work itself in your life in the ways you need most. Go to Him today. You’ll be glad you did.

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