We continue to pray with Chapter 5 of Mark’s Gospel…
We reach the closing section of this long passage in Mark Chapter 5, and the unfolding of the scenes which commonly give the passage its name. But there is much here than the restoring of the little girl to life.
Mark shows that Jesus’s life and ministry isn’t a series of isolated moments by joining the journey to Jairus’ house with the scene in which the woman with the bleeding is healed – while he is still speaking people arrive to announce that the little girl has died. This is an important moment for us – Jesus Christ does not dip in and out of our lives, present and discernible at certain moments, entirely absent at others. There is a divine continuity in Christ’s presence with us, and with that presence his work among us and for us. It’s a difficult matter for us to come to know in our lives – we are, naturally and humanly, always looking for proof, and proof for God’s being with us is no exception. But the continuity here is exceptional – there is a natural progression from one moment to the next, and this is what Mark asks us to notice, not only in his narrative but also in our own lives.
Such a continuity of presence applies, of course, to our own lives and relationships – we cannot simply dip in and out of important relationships, making them entirely subject to our own whims and wishes. The practice of commitment to relationships is something which is a mark of our personal maturation – be that commitment to a friend, a partner, a way of life, or God. And the more it demonstrates its maturity, the more the relationship becomes a selfless one – I give myself to another without thinking first of what that gift will bring to me.
This is certainly the case in these moments with Jesus – he is immediately ready to move on to the next encounter which requires his intervention, and does so without hesitation. There is no abrupt dismissal of the woman – she has been cured, and her life, in all its aspects and depth, has been returned to her. She has moved on to reclaim that extraordinary reality.
With all that has happened, those who tell Jairus that he should no longer bother Jesus must have in no way been witnesses to the events which have taken place. Otherwise their perception of, and faith in, Jesus would have been markedly different. Again, this is Mark’s point to us – encounter with Jesus, personally, and the testimony of those who have a felt experience of his presence and work in their lives, is a gateway for our conversion. But we have to take notice! And a great deal of our lives is spent ignoring, not taking notice, not acknowledging.
Jesus hammers this point home: Do not be afraid! Only have faith!
Do not be afraid! Pope St John Paul II made these words of Jesus something of a catchphrase for his pontificate, and used it first at his inauguration – “Be not afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!” In precisely this sense the people of this scene are challenged – not to shut doors in Christ’s face but to open and welcome. This is the astonishing image that Revelation 3:20 gives us:
“Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in and share a meal at that person’s side”.Revelation 3:20
Christ waits to come in to our lives and share them fully – the table is not a shallow image here, since it sits at the heart of the house, where the meal is shared and fellowship is sustained and nourished, and at the centre of the Domus Dei, God’s Household, the table laid by Christ himself.
The connection between a lack of fear and the presence of faith is central – faith, hope and charity are the three pillars which support the life of Christ’s disciples, and the presence of a vibrant faith will bring with it a trust which is transformative. Such a trust has no place for fear, since fear diminishes, threatens, deludes. Fear presents false evidence leading to a dead end. The reduction of fear in our lives is proportionally linked to the growth of love and hope and faith – as the latter virtues increase so the former instability decreases. So, here Christ challenges – do you trust me to do what has been asked of me? Then stop being afraid! Trust in Christ’s power to save means that we can do away with fear, because he has already done so.
This is a good moment to examine those illogical things which create fear in our lives, and to hear Christ addressing himself directly to us: Do not be afraid! I am at the door of your heart, and have been here for a very long time. I’m knocking and waiting for you to invite me in so that I can share whatever meal you want me to share with you.
As the story continues to unfold, we see that Jesus brings his own witnesses with him. In a very real sense, what is about to happen will happen also for the benefit of the three disciples, Peter, James and John. In no wise can they have completed their discipleship training, if we wish to call it that. So, they need to be continually strengthened, encouraged, fortified. That “do not be afraid, only have faith”, might very well have been addressed to the three of them as anyone else! So, we all of us need to hear these words from time to time, no matter where we are on the spiritual journey – doubt continues to present itself to us all, but with grace it can always be transformed into discernment.
In any case, Jesus will work his miracle for the little girl and the onlookers both to show the context of faith and to confirm the faith already being shown. In addition, he does it in company with these others – while he himself does not need them to be there, it is a good example to us to show that we work our works of faith in the company of our fellow believers. The solid companionship which builds the believing community is a central block of this story. Faith is personal but needs a community expression and affirmation. This is an incontrovertible truth for us who seek Christ – our identity is enhanced and brought to its full meaning in our belonging to a faith community.
And what a contrast in the two “communities” which seem to clash here! Jesus arrives to a very public display of grief – wailing and mourning going on. One can imagine – if the little girl has died it is the worst nightmare for parents – to lose a child, in whatever circumstance, is a devastation for a mother and a father, who would do anything to give life to their own child. So, the scene which greets Jesus is exactly as one would expect, made still more moving probably, by those who took the part of official mourners often in the ancient world.
But their grief is revealed as hypocrisy when Christ addresses them – their tears turn into mockery, laughter and ridicule. Again, the Word is asking a question about the depth of faith – and for these people there is little depth or substance to their mourning. We cannot avoid the contrast with the woman cured of the painful bleed: “Your faith has restored you to health”, Christ told her. Now he asks that those present have faith. Those present demonstrate that they have little faith. Rightly, Christ turns them out of the house – they are not likely to see the restoration of life as a matter of his intervention and God’s work being done, but rather as some kind of magic.
Can we believe that Jesus is ridiculed here? And yet it will be part and parcel of the Passion narrative as it unfolds later. If we situate this in our own days, mockery and ridicule are still very much the reaction of many to Jesus, the Gospel message, the Church which preaches it and continues to present him to the world, and those who seek seriously to live Gospel values. What is my response to Jesus ridiculed?
Or am I the one who, by indifference or lack of courage – or even lack of faith – allow this ridicule to take place? It is no more easy today to be a Christian and Catholic, so the choices which we make about faith and practice will continually make demands on us in the face of often smug hostility.
There always needs to be a balance – sometimes that overly demonstrative way can be simply a papering over, indicative of a lack of real substance. And attracting attention is, after all, a form of vainglory. How interesting here that Mark says nothing about the child’s mother and father, except to note their presence, and that they accompany Jesus into the room where the child lies. They are part of this faith community accompanied by and accompanying Jesus.
The child is restored to life and is seen to be alive – she gets up and walks about and is given something to eat, at Jesus’ request. Mark ties the whole narrative together by letting us know that this child is twelve years old. So, at the very time when the woman’s life was beginning to ebb away, slowly but surely, through her bleed, this new life was born into the world. This long passage is centred in the Jesus who is life above all else. The gathering pace over the last few sections has been extraordinary: the Son of God, Lord over the elements and nature, over illness and exclusion, over the evil spirits and the darkness of affliction, and now over that which would rob life entirely, and over death itself. Even though Jesus gives strict orders that no one speak about what they have seen and heard in the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the words and deeds speak for themselves for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. And it’s hard to imagine that those people – overcome with astonishment – did not go off and tell anyone who would give them a moment about everything that had happened in their presence that day.
This young girl, at twelve about to begin the transition from childhood to womanhood in that society, is given the pathway into life. This moment when she was given life, and was given back to her parents, will have been pivotal for her, and perhaps she will have recalled it many times, and others will have told her about it. By calling it to mind – remembering that event – in some way she enters into Christ’s salvific intervention in her life again. Her memory of it, and the memory shared by others around it, facilitates this. For us it should be something similar – to try to recall those graced moments when, as we look back and make some sense of things, we can recognise God’s hand upon us. They are moments of transformation, conversion, healing, forgiveness, communion, reconciliation, restoration, renewal, vocation, consolation…. And we remain changed by them.
-Part of our continuous lectio divina on the Gospel According to Mark-