Friday, March 26, 2021

The Talitha’s Tale: Jairus’ Daughter Reflects on Being Raised from Death


        A devotional monologue for Palm Sunday, Passover, and Easter based on Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56; 19:29-44; Matthew 9:18-26[1]

image is stained glass window of Lincoln cathedral, Lincolnshire, UK. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images. gettyimages-480279037-2048x2048.jpg;

Just before a mother is about to give birth, she has a feeling of excitement – of something momentous about to happen – an arrival that will change her life forever.  She knows instinctively she will never be the same again. She will never be alone again – her life will now be shared.  So, she’s filled with anticipation, but she’s worried too:

·                What about the pain of the birthing?  

·                What if the baby doesn’t come?

·                What if it’s stillborn?

And so she wonders: What if I endure all this and still end up alone – and my hope for a new life remains unfulfilled?   What then?

Well, that was the feeling that all of us had that fateful Passover week.     So - yes - expectancy - that was part of it.  

Everyone was asking everyone else about it: “What do you think? That he isn’t even going to come to the festival?”  That we’ll be here alone? You didn’t have to ask who “he” was - because everyone was thinking about the same person, Jesus of Nazareth.   Everybody seemed to be watching and waiting.  But mere expectancy wasn’t all of it. 

No, another sensation was in the atmosphere.  It was one I haven’t felt among our people for a long time since.  It was hope.  And it was exhilarating.  Everyone was asking, “Is he the One?   Do you think he’s the Chosen One?  Is this finally the deliverer for whom we’ve all been waiting?  Is he really going to throw off all our servitude at last and make us a mighty nation again?  To make that happen, I would fight beside him – yes, I would!”     

And the love!  The love for him was almost tangible.  My heart was filled with it.   Of course, it would be.  He was so kind and gentle with me – as you all know!  How could I feel any other way, but love him?

 But it wasn’t just me.  Love for him was everywhere among the people.  He had helped so many of us.  Not just me.  And not just in the capital Jerusalem, where all the prophets end up sooner or later.   He’d helped people across the length and breadth of the land – in the small towns, the villages, the back alleys, on country roads, in the fields, among the tombs where the blind and the poor and the diseased and the other outcasts scurry away and cower like so many mice in a storeroom corner, quivering in fear that they’ll be struck, or trampled, or kicked aside – or worse yet, because they are people – ignored, dismissed, or even chased away.  

 So, what you have to understand is that he was loved – and deeply - by so many of us.  You see, he noticed us - all of us unimportant, taken for granted, disenfranchised people. 

  And he cared for us.  Those of us disappointed in our lives, unfulfilled in our expectations, compromised and burdened down by shame and poverty and the horrors that expediency sometimes brings.  But he was watching out for us.  He could spot a tax-collector in a tree!  And end up getting a free meal for himself and his disciples and a huge donation for the poor!  He could make people see who had never been able to behold the loving faces of their own parents.  He could heal a leper and return her to a family that had given her up for dead!  He could even raise the dead!  I know!  I was dead!

Do I remember?  Yes, but mostly in impressions. You have to understand, it’s all misty in my mind - full of dreams and emotions and visions and sensations.      

I remember falling deathly ill.  My father Jairus was important.  He was one of the rulers of our local synagogue in our hometown of Capernaum.  He was the one in charge of appointing readers and preachers in public worship.[2]  And he’d invited Jesus to speak. Our town had become a special place.  See, we all loved Jesus there.  In fact, he’d left Nazareth, where he’d been reared, and made Capernaum his new home base.[3]

All the families of his earliest disciples?  I knew them.  Simon – we called him Simon – these days you all call him Peter.  But, yes, I knew him before he met Jesus.  He was loud and bold and rash as a young man, but he was loveable too.  Everybody loved Simon – and you knew when he was around!  You could hear it.   And, on the opposite side, slipped Andrew, his quiet brother.  It seemed all the brashness and noise of the family was poured into Simon, leaving Andrew so quiet, but very gentle, very sweet, a shy kind of person. 

And Zebedee’s household was there too, so I knew James, who was cut off so young - murdered so shamefully by that horrible King Herod and not even legally executed – but stabbed by one of his death squads, just like all those innocent babies killed by his namesake, the former Herod.   For shame!  For shame!   But I knew poor James long before this happened to him, when he was young and so was his brother John, who has become so famous now as the overseer of the gatherings of Christians in the Gentile territories around Ephesus.

    All of them, of course, were older than I was.  See, I was 12 and they were 8 or 10 years older than I was.  Boisterous and excited like young men are when they’re on a mission.  All of them, shining with reflected glory, striding around with the controversial prophet himself!

    And Jesus teaching on the mountainsides and preaching off a boat pushed out in the sea, because of the throngs filling up the seashore and even out on the beach, waist-deep in the waters to hear him, and Jesus even teaching in the synagogue, my father having invited him to do so, as I mentioned, and, of course, Jesus healing so many.  And that’s how I really came to know him:  When he healed me.

   Well, as I also said, I’d been sick and then I guess I failed.  And my parents were frantic.  My father rushed off to find Jesus.  He knew him, as I said several times, from the synagogue and, my mother told me, Papa pushed his way through a large crowd yelling and pleading and fell at Jesus’ feet and cried out, “My little daughter is dying, come and lay hands on her and save her that she might live!” 

  But the crowd was so thick and needy that it pressed around Jesus and a woman touched him and got healed.  And, while he was talking to her, some men arrived who had apparently been looking for my father after he rushed out of the house.  They thought it was his duty to come back and comfort my mother and they told him, with a touch of embarrassment and even a little impatience, as they admitted later (for what they perceived to be my father’s weakness in refusing to accept the inevitable), “Your daughter has died.  Why annoy the teacher anymore?”

     But Jesus just looked at my father steadily and said to him gently but with that penetrating, focused gaze of his in which lay all hope and all reassurance, “Don’t be afraid, only believe, and she will be saved.”

     And my papa fought back his tears and nodded.

     Me?  All I remember is the feeling of sinking.  I had become peaceful.  The pain had faded away and I had visions of the nearby Sea of Galilee flowing so calmly and I was on a boat, moving so gently, floating, and there was a man near me and he was gentle with me and smiling and I wanted to run into his arms and embrace him forever and then he was calling me, saying in my language, “Talitha kaum,” “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”[4] But it was from behind me and I was reaching back and he was holding my hand and helping me stand up and I was walking and my parents were crying.  And I looked into the smiling faces of the young guys I knew - Peter and James and John.  All smiling at me and the man from the boat was Jesus smiling at me so kindly, and my parents were hugging me, and I felt so wonderful.  And I was so hungry!

Well, Jesus used to ask after me whenever he was back home in Capernaum and my father would always smile and nod, “Good, good, and how could she not be so with what you did for her, my friend?”

 And then Jesus’ journeys became longer and longer, and we saw him less and less, but we heard of all the marvelous things he did, and all the things he said and also all the opposition that was mounting against him: the arguing, the accusations, the scathing criticism.  And then it all seemed to converge some three years later at the annual Passover feast in Jerusalem - and these events I remember very well. 

I was now 15 years old.  Again, what occurred was inexplicable to me, but this time difficult to understand or accept because I was so young and idealistic. 

  In a way, much of what happened is still inexplicable to me today, but at least I understand the trajectory of the disaster.  How it came about, what caused the loss of hope, the great disappointment, and the fury that followed, I understand how that happened – but what I don’t understand is how hearts can change so radically that love can die.  I guess I never will.

So, I say all this, so you can understand.  What was happening was more than simple controversy.  Powerful forces had allied to destroy Jesus.  And the people were easily confused and manipulated.        

Of course, Jesus had his defenders.  Some, like my father, argued loudly with everyone, “Look what he does!  Look what he says!  What more do you want?”

Others prevaricated: “Yes, yes, but why doesn’t the Chief Priest welcome him, then?  Tell me that!  Why does he bait the scribes and harass the Pharisees?  How can he be the Messiah?  He doesn’t bring us together!”

  “But he will, he will, if they’d just let him,” my Father would cry out, exasperated. 

   But they were never going to let him.

  Many of the most important people were outspokenly hostile.   “Who are you?” they demanded of Papa, when he tried to defend Jesus in Jerusalem.  “Some synagogue nobody from nowhere! Only you be careful – and you better tell us quick enough if this miscreant dares show his face in our city again.  You understand?  He’s wrecked the Temple once and it’s not going to happen a second time!” (Although, just between us, it did…)

So, there was intrigue too.  The temple authorities and their civilian henchmen had the whole city staked out.  They were shouldering their way through the milling crowd, accosting travelers from the north - their guards searching every caravan and ordering everyone to report any sighting of Jesus immediately to the authorities so they could arrest him.

And then, all this came together – the hope, the hostility, the heart-stopping suspense of it all. What was Jesus going to do?  We all wondered.

 Well, what he did was astounding. It was heralded by a roar that went up from the road to Bethany.

  Jesus had been close by all the time on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, just a mile and 5/8 outside of Jerusalem.

  Someone told my father that he’d heard from a family member who’d learned it from someone he knew on the Sanhedrin (which is our ruling body of religious and lay leaders), that the priests had secretly known all along where Jesus was.  They were monitoring his movements and – the rumor was - plotting to kill him and another person he’d raised from the dead, a young man named Lazarus, because a great throng had come to Bethany to see them both.  Had I not been so young and innocent, it might have occurred to me to worry about my own life.  But, being a girl, I suppose, I was considered inconsequential by those in power.  As well, they were not monsters like the Herods were, but it was not safe for the men.

Anyway, my father rousted us all out of the relatives’ house where we were staying in Jerusalem and we all rushed outside the city, down along the road and into the valley where we could see the people thronging.

We had to race along the perimeter of the crowd to find an opening we could squeeze through, and when we saw it, I pushed in and my mother and father followed and there I saw the most beautiful sight I think I will ever see until death takes me once again across the waters to a homeland where there is no pain and no suffering and no regret and nothing but love and beauty.

 For, there he was, humble and yet at the same time resplendent, with the sun dazzling on this stately man on a fresh and young and prancing colt, laden with colorful cloaks on which he sat.

 The people were screaming out, “Hosanna,” which is an expression of praise, literally meaning, “Save me, I pray!” in the language that we use out in the countryside.  They call it Aramaic, it’s a mixture of our native Hebrew and Chaldean and what-all from all the tribes who’ve invaded our land.  What that told me was that we may have all been in Jerusalem, but these were people from home, from up in Galilee.  

 In fact, believers had come in from all over the nation to celebrate Passover here in the capital.  But none of us guessed that this gentle teacher whose arrival was being celebrated so joyously had come to be our great Paschal Lamb, the final atoning sacrifice for our sins.

  No, to us, this regal healer and teacher was obviously being revealed as the Chosen One, God’s Anointed, the Messiah, come to free us from Rome, and people were yelling, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” and “Blessing on the one coming in the name of the lord, the King of Israel!” And still others were shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes, the King in the name of the Lord!”[5] and adding words like those the angels sang at his birth over those fields a few miles to the south near Bethlehem: “In heaven peace and glory in the highest!”

 I saw many people running to and fro and throwing their cloaks down on the ground, so the king would ride over them.  Some of these were even newer cloaks but being laid down respectfully to be trod on just the same.  I wondered if maybe some of these folks wanted him to touch their garments, hoping, if they then touched them, they would be healed from some illness they had, as we’d all heard people who’d touched Jesus’ cloak had been healed, and as I had been healed.  I don’t know. But then, I thought, no, because other people who were poor and were ashamed of what they wore cut palm fronds from the trees and spread these out, so that the colt’s hooves would not touch the ground but would ride upon the gifts and the praise of the people.

  I myself called out to him at the top of my lungs so he would not miss me in a shrill little cry that was almost lost in the tumult.  I screamed the countryside Aramaic words he had used to raise me back up from the dead: “Here I am!  Look at me! The talitha[6] that you gave life.  Praise you!  Oh, praise you.” And he smiled and nodded; he seemed to see everybody.

   And my father’s eyes filled with tears as he whispered the words we had heard so many times in the synagogue, sacred words of hope and fulfillment that began with the same comfort Jesus had given to him three years earlier when I, his only daughter lay dead: “Do not be afraid…” Yes, here they were again, but in a new life-giving context: “Do not be afraid, Daughter of Zion, behold your king comes, sitting on the colt of a donkey.”[7]

   We were pushed along with the crowd and keeping up since the colt was going slowly and the crowd that had begun in Bethany had been swelling up until the whole valley around us was thronged.  I thought wildly, if we hadn’t pushed in when we did, we would never have gotten in now.

   And then at the milestone a whole group of Pharisees were waiting.  These were richly arrayed in beautiful cloaks of purple and blue and the sartorial splendor of family tribal colors.  But they weren’t cheering.  When he came into earshot, they all began shouting out over the noise of the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”  They didn’t seem to like all this praise.

   I was astounded.  I wondered, as a child would: Didn’t they know this was the One who had raised me from the dead?

   But Jesus kept riding and fixed them with a steady gaze and called back to them in a firm voice, “I tell you, if these kept silent, the very stones would cry out!”

   I caught my breath!  The Pharisees were so enraged, I thought they were going to run out in the road and pull him from the colt, except for the adulation of the huge crowd who would certainly have attacked them, and, as well, their own sense of decorum and dignity of place.  But they were seething, and I saw them plotting and heard them muttering, “Look the whole world is going after him!”

     And then, to our astonishment – in the center of all this adulation and affirmation and celebration going on around him and because of him and for him - Jesus began to cry.

     I thought at first it might have been because the harsh words of the Pharisees had hurt him.  I know how badly I felt when my friends said something cruel to me, but, when I heard him mourn, I realized he wasn’t crying for himself!  He was crying for Jerusalem!  He was crying for us!  For the people!

   He lamented that the Pharisees and soon the throngs who would switch their allegiance to follow them would turn all this adulation to accusation.  They would be overpowered by their own political aspirations and machinations that all this “David’s kingdom” screaming was trying to precipitate. Clearly, the crowds were demanding he lead them in a war against Rome that was going to plunge the city into a horrendous siege that would destroy it.

Instead of peace, Jesus cried out to us, siege-works were going to hem us in – we people would be hurled to the ground and our children slaughtered and our buildings razed and all because we didn’t take care to understand correctly the time when God came to us.

Suddenly, my father and mother began to cry, because they believed every word Jesus said, since he had given me life.

And I cried too.

And, after that, he entered the city and we lost him.   The throngs swelled even greater in the narrow streets and we could not push through the blocking bodies.

Those who hadn’t come out on the Bethany road to see him were now hanging out of their windows, running from the doorways, calling to the crowd, asking everyone, “Who is this?”  and being told, “This is the prophet Jesus from out of Nazareth in Galilee.” And they thrust themselves into the crowd like city folk do and jostled us against the buildings so we could not go on.  We were being crushed.  My parents grabbed my hands and pulled me back into a narrow side alley for safety and we worked our way back to our relatives’ home.

Later on, a cousin who had been at the Temple told us that it had filled up with blind and lame people who had come to be healed and Jesus healed them all.

But the scribes and the chief priests ignored all his wonderful works and screamed at him because the children were still shouting in the Temple area, “Hosanna to the son of David!” though the adults had quieted down for fear of the priests and the temple guard.

But Jesus simply quoted one of David’s psalms to them about the lips of the children giving praise to God, and they hated him all the more for it.[8]

Then, Jesus, so bold, had the audacity to tour the Temple and look it all over, while some of the merchants, seeing him coming, got up warily from their stools and gathered up their money or stood before the doors or snapped locks on the cages of their animals.  

  But he did nothing then but look and so they relaxed and figured he’d made his point and they were safe to carry on business as usual.     

  Then I’m told he went back to Bethany.

  He had entered Jerusalem in triumph and left in safety. And everyone was talking about him and speculating and marveling and those healed were scurrying about to start their new lives and nobody understood at all what he was trying to tell us.

  And what was that?  What was it all about – this kingly visit, this triumphant procession? 

  Well, it wasn’t about pitting himself and his followers against the Romans like some leaders rising up among the people have done in disastrous attempts at rebellion that have left all of them wounded or dead on the field of battle. 

  And it wasn’t about challenging Herod and taking his place as the serf of the Romans – plotting and scheming and finally being struck down by God in disgust.

  No, it was about something so profoundly different that even his closest followers, the ones I knew, Simon Peter and James and Andrew and John, could not figure it out until after he was all done with his mission, crucified, resurrected, and glorified.

  What it was all about he had told us so clearly that day of his adulation as he cried over Jerusalem, if we had had ears to hear him.  He told us plainly:  God had come to us and we did not recognize him.[9]    


  Well, myself, I have lived out my life in Capernaum.  My children and grandchildren have grown here and thrived.  But, the sad news of the slaughter and the destruction of Jerusalem, just as Jesus prophesied, has left Israel a different nation.   We are a scattered people now with no Temple and, therefore, for so many of my people, no spiritual center – no lodestar – no compass point home.

But for those of us who have embraced the Messiah, we have our homeland in another world, in another realm.  This land is not our home any longer.  Our promised land is where our Lord of life has gone.  And he waits for us there, even as we work for him here.

I often wake up in the night and think about the day I woke up in my room and saw all those smiling disciples and my mother and father crying in astonished joy and the Lord of life holding my hand and raising me back up again. 

  I have no fear of death now.   It was peaceful and it took me beyond my pain.   Whether I am on this side of it or the other, my hand is reaching out once more to the Lord of life.

So, instead of sharing the despair around me, I live each day with a sense of something momentous about to happen, an expectation, a new hope, for my people and for my nation.  It is a hope that began with a birth, transcended death, and renewed with a resurrection, and, as I myself can testify - and in my experience most graphically – a hope that in various ways gives us a temporal taste of new life in anticipation of eternal life from the generous hand of the Great Giver of Life.

 Maranatha, I say, again in the countryside language of my people.  Even now, come for me, Lord Jesus, God-Among-Us, my healer, my Savior, and my friend.                                            



[1] This first-person narrative was written in the week of April 3, 2009 and first presented on Palm Sunday, 2009 at Pilgrim Church in Beverly, Massachusetts.

[2] Mark 5:22, Ezra P. Gould citing S. Schϋrer’s reading of archisunagōgos, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Mark, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1969), 95. 

[3] Matt 4:13.      

[4] Mark 5:41.

[5] Mark 11:10; John 12:1; Luke 19:38, Mark 11:9, citing Psalm 118:26.

[6] Little girl in Aramaic.

[7] John 12:15, citing Zech 9:9.   

[8] Psalm 8.

[9] Luke 19:44.

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