Jairus' daughter and the sick woman: What links these two stories?
The stories told in the Gospels about Jesus' encounters with different people aren't just history. They're designed to show us more about ourselves and how we live as his followers in the world today.
One story is told in almost the same way in the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke. It's actually two stories, but each of these Gospels keeps them together as a single narrative. So there's obviously something we are meant to learn from their being together like this.
In Luke, the stories are found in chapter 8, verses 40-56. Jesus is asked by a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, to go and heal his daughter, who is dangerously ill. Making his way through the crowds, the fringe of his robe is touched for healing by a woman who had been suffering from a haemorrhage for 12 years. She wants to remain anonymous, but he makes her identify herself and says, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace."
When he arrives at the house of Jairus, the little girl is dead. Jesus says to the mourners, "Stop wailing. She is not dead, but asleep." They laughed at him, but he took her by the hand and said, "My child, get up." Mark preserves the original Aramaic words, "Talitha koum", because they were so powerful and effective (5:41).
There are many layers in these stories and they are very rich in meaning. But in their different ways they are both about faith in a generous God. And they show us both how easy faith can be, and how hard it can be.
The woman who touches Jesus' garment in the crowd does so because she is desperate for healing. She has been permanently ritually unclean for 12 years, so was barred from the Temple. Her husband may have divorced her. Socially and religiously, she had been marginalised by her condition.
Jesus would have had every right to be angry that she had touched him as he himself would have become unclean. But the contagion is the other way: he makes her clean, infecting her with life and grace. And for her, faith is easy. She touches just the fringe of his garment, perhaps a symbol of a simple and child-like faith, and is healed. Furthermore, the encounter couldn't just be a transaction, it had to be a relationship. More important than knowing she was healed was knowing she was loved.
For Jairus, on the other hand, faith is almost impossibly difficult. He knows his daughter is seriously ill. On his way to help her, Jesus stops to heal someone else – and a non-urgent case at that. When they arrive, Jesus says, "Don't be afraid, just believe and she will be healed" (verse 50). Confronted with the dead body of his daughter, how could he possibly believe?
For some of us today, faith is as easy as stretching out a hand, grasping the little we know of God and experiencing his blessing and mercy.
For others, it requires a dogged determination to persevere in spite of the evidence, in the belief that one day the evidence will change.
Even though Jesus says the girl is "not dead but sleeping", this is clearly a resurrection story. In touching her dead body he is once again religiously contaminated – and again, he overcomes the contagion with his own life-giving spirit.
In our own experience, many things die – not just people, but friendships, causes, marriages, careers. Sometimes they are beyond calling back, but sometimes we are called to have faith that God can restore them.
These stories tell us about the infinite care of God for his people. But they also remind us that separating ourselves from things that frighten, disturb or offend us is not Jesus' way. Rather than distancing ourselves from what's wrong in the world, Jesus wants us to change it.
Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods