The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter

Vasily Polenov, 1871 (see list of artworks)

The Daughter of Jairus / The Bleeding Woman

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘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.’ So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. Mark 5:21-43



  1. As with many stories in the Gospels, one way to study this one is to imagine yourself in the shoes of one of the participants (Wright). For example, here: Jairus. What must that be like, to know his daughter is dying? What would lead him to petition Jesus? What would it be like to watch the time tick by while waiting for Jesus to come?
  2. This experience — watching the illness and slow death of your own child — is an prime example of a tribulation: “a time of unbearable trouble, distress or suffering.” Throughout this stage of his career, Jesus encounters the tribulations of life in this world: the way that suffering and death appear to be ever-present (Wilcock). What does this suggest to us, about how to respond to suffering and death? Certainly not that we will get to avoid them. (Wilcock collects several scripture verses on this theme: link)
  3. Context for the climactic encounter when Jesus arrives at Jairus’s house:
    * The “leader of the synagogue” is in charge of arranging the worship services each week, well-known in his community. Providing his name allows the first readers of Mark’s gospel to fact-check or authenticate the story. Some in the community would remember him.
    * The commotion of weeping was probably done by professional mourners, a common practice at the time; perhaps why Jesus rebukes them.
    * “Not dead but sleeping”; they laughed at him. The scornful laughter is important (only laughter in the New Testament?). It shows they thought Jesus’s statement to be ridiculous. Of course the girl was dead. The point of the story can’t be that the girl was sleeping so soundly that everyone mistakenly thought she was dead. No, she was really dead.
    What is the meaning of Jesus’s statement, ‘get up, kiddo!’ and the girl’s response?  Sleep could be used as a euphemism for death in the Bible (links). But here it must have something to do with the “power” referred to in the middle story, about the woman with the hemorrhage. Confronted with the power that Jesus possesses, even death only amounts to a temporary sleep.
  4. Purity. Both blood and dead bodies were considered ritually and ceremonially unclean according to the law of Moses, for obvious reasons. Contact with blood or a dead body polluted you, and you had to purify yourself. The germ theory of disease has the same principle: even a tiny bit of bacteria can make the whole jug of water deadly. But in the case of Jesus this seems to work the other way.  Contact with impurity doesn’t render Jesus unclean (although the religious authorities thought it did, and were scandalized). Rather, his power (see above) actually makes the unclean things, clean: the bleeding is healed and the dead come to life.
  5. What is faith? (Green) “Faith is the hand that grasps the astonishing new thing… faith is what brings us into contact … faith is not an intellectual construct — it is a primary means of cognition, like touch… Even if full of error and inadequacy [as in the bleeding woman’s somewhat superstitious idea of a ‘magic touch’], faith can avail, so long as it is in Jesus.”No one’s faith here is perfect: the synagogue leader comes as a last resort. And many of the surrounding people (the crowd around the woman; the professional mourners with the girl) see Jesus with their own eyes and do not believe. The difference is in the attitude of the heart.
  6. Insiders and outsiders. In Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the middle story, the woman touches the “fringe” or tassel of Jesus’s garment, which is usually understood to be the tassels prescribed for men to wear according to the Mosaic law; a sign that Jesus was religiously observant (links). Jesus was not belittling or diminishing the value of religious laws and observance as such. Rather, here as everywhere in the gospels, he was concerned with bringing salvation to the outcasts (like the bleeding woman).
  7. Literary structure: this set of two stories is an example of what James R. Edwards calls “Markan sandwiches” (see References below), in which one story (here, the bleeding woman) is placed in between two halves of another story (here, Jairus’s daughter). Edwards’s fascinating study shows how the placement of the “middle” story helps guide our interpretation of the “outer” story.The insertion of the woman with the hemorrhage into the Jairus story is thus not an editorial stratagem whose primary purpose is to create suspense or “to give time for the situation in the main incident to develop”. The woman’s faith forms the center of the sandwich and is the key to its interpretation. Through her Mark shows how faith in Jesus can transform fear and despair into hope and salvation. It is a powerful lesson for Jairus, as well as for Mark’s readers.

Collect for Palm Sunday, from the Book of Common Prayer

Almighty and everliving God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ  to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the  cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


“The Timing of Jesus” (excerpt from Tim Keller, Jesus the King)

On Jesus making Jairus wait while he heals the woman: This makes no sense. It is absolutely irrational. In fact, it’s worse than that: It’s malpractice. If these two were in the same emergency room, any doctor who treated the woman first and let the little girl die would be sued. And Jesus is behaving like such a reckless doctor.

In essence, Jesus says to Jairus, Trust me. Be patient. There’s no need to hurry. Every culture has a different sense of time. This becomes glaringly evident in cross-cultural encounters and events….

“Remember how when I calmed the storm I showed you that my grace and love are compatible with going through storms, though you may not think so? Well, now I’m telling you that my grace and love are compatible with what seem to you to be unconscionable delays.” It’s not “I will not be hurried even though I love you”; it’s “I will not be hurried because I love you. I know what I’m doing. And if you try to impose your understanding of schedule and timing on me, you will struggle to feel loved by me.” Jesus will not be hurried, and as a result, we often feel exactly like Jairus, impatient because he’s delaying irrationally, unconscionably, inordinately….

Be aware that when you go to Jesus for help, you will both give to and get from him far more than you bargained for. Be patient, because the deal often doesn’t work out the way you expected. Take Jairus. He came to Jesus to cure his dying daughter, but he got far more than that….

Of course they were astonished. Jairus came to Jesus for a fever cure, not for a resurrection. When you go to Jesus for help, you get from him far more than you had in mind. But when you go to Jesus for help, you also end up giving to him far more than you expected to give. Jairus came thinking he would have to trust Jesus just enough to get home, hoping that somehow the child wouldn’t die before he arrived. But Jesus demanded far more from him: After Jairus’s daughter had died, because of the apparent malpractice of the Great Physician, Jesus looked right into his eyes and said, “Trust me.” Now, that was a test of faith far beyond anything Jairus had anticipated….

And so often, if God seems to be unconscionably delaying his grace and committing malpractice in our life, it’s because there is some crucial information that we don’t yet have, some essential variable that’s unavailable to us. If I could sit down with you and listen to the story of your life, it may well be that I would join you in saying, “I can’t understand why God isn’t coming through. I don’t know why he is delaying.” Believe me, I know how you feel, so I want to be sensitive in the way I put this. But when I look at the delays of God in my own life, I realize that a great deal of my consternation has been rooted in arrogance. I complain to Jesus, “Okay, you’re the eternal Son of God, you’ve lived for all eternity, you created the universe. But why would you know any better than I do how my life should be going?” Jacques Ellul, in his classic The Technological Society, argues that in modern Western society we have been taught that nearly everything in life is there to be manipulated for our own ends. It has been common for many people to act in that way no matter what their time or place, but Ellul believes modern Western culture makes this condition even worse. We’re not God, but we have such delusions of grandeur that our self-righteousness and arrogance sometimes have to be knocked out of our heart by God’s delays.

The first is talitha. Literally, it means “little girl,” but that does not get across the sense of what he’s saying. This is a pet name, a diminutive term of endearment. Since this is a diminutive that a mother would use with a little girl, probably the best translation is “honey.” The second thing Jesus says to her is koum, which means “arise.” Not “be resurrected”; it just means “get up.” Jesus is doing exactly what this child’s parents might do on a sunny morning. He sits down, takes her hand, and says, “Honey, it’s time to get up.” And she does. Jesus is facing death, the most implacable, inexorable enemy of the human race and such is his power that he holds this child by the hand and gently lifts her right up through it. “Honey, get up.” Jesus is saying by his actions, “If I have you by the hand, death itself is nothing but sleep.”

But Jesus’s words and actions are not just powerful; they are loving too. When you were little, if your parent had you by the hand you felt everything was okay. You were wrong, of course. There are bad parents, and even the best parents are imperfect. Even the best parents can slip up, even the best parents make wrong choices. But Jesus is the ultimate Parent who has you by the hand and will bring you through the darkest night. The Lord of the universe, the One who danced the stars into place, takes you by the hand and says, “Honey, it’s time to get up.” Why would we want to hurry somebody this powerful and this loving, who treats us this tenderly? Why would we be impatient with somebody like this? Jesus holds us by the hand and brings us through the greatest darkness. What enables him to do that? In his letter to the church in Corinth, 2 Corinthians 13:4, the apostle Paul says Christ was crucified in weakness so that we can live in God’s power. Christ became weak so that we can be strong. There’s nothing more frightening for a little child than to lose the hand of the parent in a crowd or in the dark, but that is nothing compared with Jesus’s own loss. He lost his Father’s hand on the cross. He went into the tomb so we can be raised out of it.

That’s the reason, by the way, that Thomas Cranmer’s Palm Sunday prayer reads as it does. The complete prayer actually says, “Grant that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection.” Jesus Christ knew the only way to the crown was through the cross. The only way to resurrection was through death. So his healing of the sick woman was another foreshadowing of the cross. 

The key to Mark 5 is verse 36. Jesus meets Jairus in his most desperate moment and says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe. For Jairus, to believe will mean to suspend all conventional wisdom about the devastating finality of death. Jesus knows that Jairus is about to careen right into grief and despair. But just as the news begins to load into Jairus’s heart, Jesus jerks him back from the edge with a simple command: Believe. Trust that I am who I say I am. This is one of those statements that translates clearly through two thousand years of history right to you where you are today. Jairus came to Jesus expecting (or at least hoping for) healing. He didn’t expect to go through the death of his daughter to see her well again. When you come to Jesus, you may not expect or even like where he takes you. But if you trust him, he will give you far more than you ever asked or imagined.


List of References

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