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.
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.