Not Dead, But Sleeping

\You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

Remember Jairus, the synagogue leader who fell at Jesus’ feet, begging him to come and heal his dying daughter? Imagine what he felt as Jesus stopped on the way, asked who had touched him, and then held a conversation with some woman. He must have been in agony – his little girl was at death’s door, no time to waste! Why wasn’t Jesus moving?

And then, as can happen, his worst fears were realized: 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.

What Jairus didn’t know, what none of the people keening at his house knew, was that this story was not yet over. Jesus knew this little girl’s life was not ended, that she was deeply asleep, perhaps in a coma. 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.
This story had a happy outcome. But what about when someone has really and finally died? We don’t know what Jesus knows. Are we to pray for healing in the face of what looks like death? Sometimes… maybe more often than we do. Death is a reality of life, yes, and the power of God to heal is very real and very strong when communities exercise faith. The community around Jairus only saw death; Jesus saw life. 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 old).

Jesus’ voice, his power, his Spirit were able to reach her spirit, and her spirit responded to his command. And she got up and began to walk about – a mini-prefiguring of Jesus’ later resurrection.

We are called to see life, even in the face of death, in situations and communities as well as in the dying. At times, that life is in the people around the person dying; sometimes the dying revive. (More rarely, even the recently dead revive…) When someone we know is gravely ill, we can ask the Spirit how to pray. If we feel a sense that physical healing can happen, invite the healing stream of God’s love into that person. I specify “physical healing,” because sometimes the healing a person receives is spiritual, preparing them for life after death.

These are great mysteries – if we knew how to “work it,” we’d all be doing it, right? That’s why it’s called faith; we don’t get a road map or guarantees. But we walk forward anyway. We can agonize about how long Jesus seems to be taking, but in the end he knows. That’s all we can count on – he knows.

At the end of this story of two dramatic healings, Jesus is delightfully practical. Looking at the young girl now well and out of bed, he says simply, “Give her something to eat.” Because Life goes on.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

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