No Delight in Death

God is for us and for life. God, after all, “did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.” Death is our enemy, and God has joined with us to battle against it. The Gospel of Mark invites us to see how God is fighting for us through the stories of a Jewish woman and a Jewish girl on the cusp of maturity.

Jairus is a leader in the synagogue and his daughter is near death. He acknowledges Jesus’ power over death by falling at his feet and begging him “repeatedly” to come and heal his child. Jairus had faith that Jesus could heal his daughter and says: “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 responds to his appeals and follows him.

Advertisement

As he is leaving, though, a woman in the crowd waylays him. She “had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.” Like Jairus, she was desperate; and her scene now comes into the foreground, leaving Jairus and his ailing daughter in the background.

Mark uses this technique often in his Gospel. He cuts away from a scene, introduces another scene, and then completes the first scene. Biblical scholars call this a “sandwich technique,” with the two stories offering clues as to how to interpret each in light of the other. The story of Jairus and his daughter is not being abandoned; indeed, the woman with a hemorrhage will help us more fully understand it.

Jesus immediately responds to the suffering woman’s entreaty, for the moment she touches him she is made well, and though a crowd is pushing against Jesus, he senses the power of her faith, which elicited the healing. When Jesus asks, “Who touched me?” she acknowledges that it was she and, like Jairus, “fell down before him.” Jesus says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

As her story ends, some members of Jairus’s house come to tell him to send Jesus away because another daughter, his daughter, has died. Jesus overhears the conversation, though, and tells them, “Do not fear, only believe” (5:36). The translation of the verb pisteuo as “believe” is misleading, though, for it has the same root as the noun for “faith,” pistis, just used earlier with the woman with a hemorrhage. The verb should be translated “only have faith.” Jesus is asking Jairus to maintain the faith he had when he fell before Jesus and begged him to help, the same faith the woman had just shown when she was healed. But Jairus’ daughter is not merely bleeding, she is dead. What faith is sufficient over death?

When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ home, people are understandably crying and wailing loudly at the death of the girl. Jesus appears almost to be mocking them when he asks the people why they are crying and claims, “The child is not dead but sleeping.” The people laugh at him, but Jesus puts everyone except the girl’s parents and three apostles out of the house. He grasps the dead girl’s hand and speaks to her in Aramaic, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” The girl, who we are now told is 12 years old, does get up and begins to walk.

The woman healed and the girl raised have some things in common: They are female; they are both called daughter; and they are linked by the number 12. The number is a sign of the restoration of the 12 tribes of Israel at the end of time, a sign of the Messiah and the eschaton. Israel is also known as the daughter or even the bride of God (Hos 2:19–21). In these healings, Jesus shows that he has come to bring daughter Israel to health and full life.

The healings that connect these daughters of Israel are signs of the spiritual wholeness and the destruction of death that the Messiah brings. And since we know that God “does not delight in the death of the living,” we know that new life for the restored people of Israel was a sign of the offer extended to the whole world. Wherever death comes to destroy, faith in Christ’s healing power is sufficient, even over death.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bruce Snowden
2 years 5 months ago
Two questions both from Jesus moments before healings. The first, “Who touched me?” the second, “Why are you crying?” The first a seemingly general yet specific question directed to a woman pushing her way through the crowd hoping for deliverance from twelve years of hemorrhaging, some say the result of a menstrual disorder. Scared of reprimand as a woman, for daring to publicly touch a man, a holy man no less, she fell to the ground humble, hopeful, acknowledging that she was the one. What is Hope? I think , Hope is Faith in embryo, gestating in the heart, her heart, much impressing Jesus, who with warm understanding and emotion brought to full term her Faith, saying without reprimand, “ Daughter be healed!” It’s interesting that Jesus called her “Daughter” apparently relating to her as “Father,” subtly I think verifying what he would later say, “I and the Father are One!” Also in the same breath I think, declaring the unity that exists between Christ and his Church, the Body of Christ whom we are, one through Jesus with the Father and the Spirit, Trinitarian people, true “partakers of the Godhead”, as Paul says, “little gods” as Jesus said! The second question also in relation to a healing, “Why are you crying?” was addressed to the crowd and to the family of a very sick pre-teen girl who had died. Her Dad had asked Jesus to come to his house and heal his daughter, but now she was dead and people scorned and laughed at Jesus when he said , “She is sleeping!” Jesus told the Dad to send all the gapers out of the house then with the child’s parents entered her room saying to her Faith toppling Dad ,“Just Believe!” Then Jesus took the dead twelve old by the hand and said in effect authoritatively, but gently, “Get up!” What a shock- she did! Then Jesus told her parents to give her something to eat, showing me that the Lord is concerned with human need even in the most solemn moments of life, with the problem of hunger – world hunger really, in a word, with the “greening” of the earth. I suspect Holy Father Francis will deal with this in “Be Praised”. As Professor Martens pointed out, “When death comes to destroy, faith in Christ’s healing power is sufficient, even over death.” The OT and the NT confirm that death is not something Christ prefers. The First Covenant says, “Choose life!” The Gospel says effectually, that Mary’s “Yes” made it possible for Jesus’ “Yes” his life, that he came so that people may have “abundant life!” No doubt about it, miracles do happen sustaining life at every level, “See how the lilies of the field grow!” See the cosmos around us, “ever ancient, ever new!” Creation ongoing as God sustains all. When I think of this awe widens my eyes, my heart beats faster and I feel so thankful to God for everything! Answering the question, "How has God restored your life?" Well, physically, through proper care of my body, intellectually, through study, spiritually. through prayer, spiritual reading and through the marvelous Sacraments of our Church, outward signs of Christ instituted to give Grace.
Beth Cioffoletti
2 years 5 months ago
This is a very interesting reading for me, because I think about death a lot. 3 years ago I was diagnosed with metastatic Breast cancer. First it was in my bones, then it was in my brain. There are some good drugs for my type of breast cancer (HER2+), but things are less hopeful when it is in the brain because those good drugs don't cross the blood brain barrier. I currently have 3 more lesions in my brain which we are "watching" to see what they do. Some days I feel like I'm going to live a long time (like more than 5 years), and other days I feel as if death is immanent, and I don't have more than a couple of months. So I'm always musing about death, what it is and what will happen to me when my body "dies", and what these words of Jesus could possibly mean. The power of faith takes on a different dimension ... it's not really "believing" the way I used to understand it, as much as entering into a whole new way of knowing who I am. What I am. This thing called temporal life is not what I thought it was, not the whole story. The story is so much bigger than me, yet I am still part of the story. The tribes of Israel, the covenant between God and humanity -- yet the details of my little life fit into the picture.
M H
2 years 5 months ago
I wonder about the whole idea of death being the enemy. From an ecological perspective, that is nonsense. I believe that there is some form of life beyond death, but the death of the body is part of nature's cycles and can even be understood in a positive way. See for example http://educateinspirechange.org/spirituality/watching-video-alan-watts-will-help-longer-fear-death/
John Swanson
2 years 4 months ago
There is a part of the Wisdom reading that I don't understand: "But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience it." Don't we all experience death. Does the reading mean we all "belong to his company." When this was written, I don't believe the Jews believed in a heaven and hell.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

‘May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.’ (Mk 13:36)
Michael SimoneNovember 17, 2017
‘One mightier than I is coming after me.” (Mk 1:7)
Michael SimoneNovember 17, 2017
Only those who understand true humility can walk with Christ each day into the presence of the Father.
Michael SimoneOctober 20, 2017
Only three Sundays remain in the church year. Each of them includes a Gospel about the end times.
Michael SimoneOctober 20, 2017