The story takes place on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is not sea at all, but a large fresh water lake about 18 miles long by 8 miles across and it is surrounded by high mountains. Mark’s account of what happened by the lake on that day includes many details that the other Gospel writers leave out. Some commentators have even suggested that Mark was either an eyewitness or he had talked to someone who was. This low-keyed story is not about stain glass window saints, but about people who lived, breathed, sweated, made love, and used bad language when they tripped over the furniture in the dark. It is a story about people who sometimes had more troubles than they knew what to do with and sometimes laughed themselves silly over nothing in particular and were thus in many ways very much like the rest of us.
If we keep our ears open the story is trying to tell us who Jesus was and what it was it like to be with him or even to be near enough to him to touch the hem of his garments. It is a story that is trying to tell us what there was about him that at least some people that day by the lake, decide to give up everything they had or ever hoped to have just for the sake of being near him.
There was a man named Jarius who was some kind of synagogue official which is why the crowd moved aside to let him through. However, he does not behave like a V. I. P... He acts like a desperate man, a man close to hysteria with fear, grief, horror…God knows what! His reason for being there is that his little daughter is at the point of death. She is twelve years old so she was not all that little, but to Jarius she would, even if she was fifty, be his little girl.
Mark simple says, “Jesus went with him”. However before they got very far they ran into some folks coming the other way and they come right and say it, ”your daughter is dead…why trouble the teacher any further?: Jesus speaks only to Jarius. “ Do not fear,” he says. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid... Then he adds, “Only believe”.
What is a person to believe when his whole life has blown up in his face? Believe that somehow life makes sense even in the face of a twelve year olds death? Believe that in some unimaginable way all will be well no matter what? “Only believe,” says Jesus meaning maybe, “Believe there is nothing you have to be afraid of”.
When they got to the house they found it full of people “weeping and wailing loudly”. It is the first century and people had not started saying things like, “It really is a blessing that she is gone” or “She is in a better place now”. The wept and wailed because they do not have it in themselves to pretend that the death of a child is anything but the tragic and unspeakable thing that it is. Jesus did not say anything to make them change their minds. He did not tell them that it was God’s will or anything like that. What he did say is something that is hard to know how to understand. “The child is not dead but sleeping’. Was he speaking literally? Did he mean that she had lapsed into a coma? On the other hand was he only trying to comfort her father with the thought that death is only a kind of eternal sleep?
The people in the house seemed to think that Jesus was either a fool or a mad man. They knew death when they saw it. They stopped their weeping and started to laugh—laugh because they did not know what else to do. After getting rid of the tear jerkers and laughing ones, Jesus reaches down and picks up one of the little girls hands and speaks to her in Aramaic, his native tongue, “Talitha cum”. “Get up” is what he said. Is this further evidence that somebody who was there at the time heard the actual words Jesus said?
Listen old boys and girls with high blood pressure and arthritis and young boys and girls with tattoos and body piercing. Listen you who believe and you who sometimes believe and sometimes do not believe much of anything, and you would give almost anything to believe if only you could. Listen you happy ones and you who can hardly remember what it was like once to be happy. Listen you who know where you are going how to get there and you who much of the times are not sure you are getting anywhere. Listen Jesus says to all of us, “Get up!” For the power that is in him is the power to give life, not just to the dead like the child, but to those who are only partly alive which is to say people like you and me who much of the time live with our lives closed to the wild beauty and miracle of things.
It is that life giving power that is at the heart of this shadowy story. I believe this power is at the heart of all of our stories—the power of new life, new hopes, new being, that whether we know it or not, keeps coming to us day after day, year after year. It is the power to get up even when getting up is not all that easy anymore and to keeping getting up and going on and on toward whoever he is so that might reach out to take us by hand and say to us “Do not be afraid. Only believe, Get up!” (982)