The Raising of Jairus’ Daughterpl
William Blake (1757-1827)
A note: I wrote this piece before the tragic shooting in Las Vegas several nights ago. So while it’s not a response to that horrible event, the question I believe must have been in the mind of Jairus’ daughter as she lived through her life is a question we all share. And it’s a question that becomes more urgent after a tragedy like that in Las Vegas. The question is simply “what is the meaning of life?” What is the meaning of life for those who were killed or wounded in Las Vegas? What is the meaning of my life? Of your life? So I offer this piece in quiet memory of those who were killed and trust that it will offer hope to their loved ones and to all of us who grieve with them.
Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying…While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.’ When Jesus heard this, he replied, ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, ‘Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’ Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened. (Luke 8:40-56, selected verses)
I’ve often wondered. Whatever happened to this unnamed girl whom Jesus raised from death when she was but 12 years old? We never hear of her again in any of the gospels or in the story of the early church, so I suspect her life was probably quite ordinary. But ordinary as it may have been, I suspect that it may not have been either a very easy or a very comfortable life.
I imagine that many of the people of her village were eager to name her as their village saint, and I suspect that with such elevation came many high expectations of how she should live her life and of what she might be able to do for them. Some perhaps even now and then gingerly tried to touch the hem of her robe in hopes that something of the power that had brought her back to life would rub off on them.
And then I’m sure there were others who did not see her as a saint at all. They saw her only as a reminder that the Miracle Worker hadn’t chosen to save their loved ones, and they were angry and jealous of her. Was she so much better than their sons and daughters who had been left to die? Why had she alone been brought back from the dead? They wanted to have nothing to do with her.
Not easy! But through all of this, I hope she had her moments of joy. I suspect she did, but I’m also quite certain that, like all of us, she also experienced difficult times of personal illness and loss. And I can’t help but wonder if during some of these times she may have wished that Jesus had just let her be. What, after all, was the meaning of her life? Why had she been brought back to life when others had not been? What did it all mean?
“I simply don’t know,” I imagine her thinking often to herself. “I don’t know why I was given a second chance at life when I was 12 years old. I don’t know if God expects something extraordinary from me. I know many fellow villagers expect something extraordinary from me. Think I ought to be perfect, think I ought to be able to perform miracles for them, save their children, whatever. And my father, God rest his soul, I know he certainly expected my life to be extraordinary. I don’t know the specifics of his hopes, but I often saw the gleam in his eye when he would look so tenderly at me in my teens and early twenties and whisper those words the Master had spoken to me as I lay deathly cold and still, ‘Child, get up!’
“Lots of expectations. But do I expect an extraordinary life for myself? Sometimes I have hoped I would accomplish something very special in my life, but I haven’t, and much of the time I simply go about my daily tasks. What I do know is that those words, ‘Child, get up’ left a permanent scar on my soul. A positive scar. A profoundly deep sense that my life, tiny and ordinary as it is, is a life treasured and valued. That my life matters to God and to the Master who spoke those words to my lifeless self. I’ve heard that some are saying that Master was actually God wrapped in our human flesh. I don’t understand about all of that, but I do know that God was with him. That in that moment, God scarred my soul with a searing love.”
Theologian Emil Brunner in The Christian Doctrine of God writes of God regarding each of us “from all eternity, with the gaze of everlasting love.” An eternal gaze, he says, that gives to each of us a sense of “eternal meaning,” a sense of “eternal dignity.”
Maybe something like that is what Jairus’ daughter felt. That gaze of everlasting love focused on her. That gaze of divine love infusing her days with a sense of extraordinary meaning and dignity, ordinary as they might have been.
I wish we knew more of her story. But perhaps we know enough, just enough, to help us ponder our own lives, our own stories. Just enough to help us realize anew that our tiny lives, too, are steeped in that loving gaze of the God who has looked upon us from all eternity. Just enough to hear the voice of that God calling to us in every moment of our lives, “Child, get up.”