The Gospel story, told in Matthew 9, Mark 5 and Luke 8, is a familiar one. Jairus’ daughter is dying (Mark and Luke), or has died (Matthew), and Jairus seeks Jesus to heal his daughter. He is in a mortal hurry. He bids Jesus come that he might heal his daughter and save her from death. There is no time to waste. She may die at any moment.
As Jesus was going with Jairus to heal his daughter, a woman who has had a flow of blood for twelve years finally gathers her faith to touch the hem of his garment. Both Mark and Luke point out that the daughter of Jairus also was twelve years old. The woman is healed immediately, and Jesus stops to address her, tenderly speaking to her of her salvation.
Mark and Luke being the fuller accounts (Matthew here appears to be a whittled down summary of the key points), and Luke being a physician, we may take it as authoritative when they provide the detail that when Jairus sought Jesus his daughter was still alive. Then Jesus stops to heal the woman, and he is delayed in going to Jairus’ house. Having resumed their journey, Jairus is informed that his daughter is dead, and encouraged to not impolitely trouble the Master any longer.
What must have been going through Jairus’ mind? If we may take as one possibility the reaction of Martha to Jesus when he comes to Lazarus’ tomb, Jairus may well have said, “Lord if you had been here, my daughter would not have died.” Jesus accepted the reproach from Martha without rebuke, but then gently exhorted her to a new faith in who he was, that he held absolute authority over life and death. That is to say, Jairus may have still had faith in Christ, but such a faith needed stretching. His temptation may have been to have rejected that which his faith was not large enough to contain, to doubt even while he believed. And like the father of the demonized boy who met Jesus after his transfiguration, he may have cried in his heart, “I believe, help my unbelief!” We may assume, then, that Jesus would likely have replied in a similar way to Jairus as he did to Martha. “Have no fear, Jairus, if I have power over all sickness and all demons, then I have power over death as well.” But instead of a shout, Jesus tenderly takes her by the hand and says “Little girl, arise.” Who could resist such a command?
Or perhaps Jairus may have been tempted to a little desperate envy. He saw the woman with an issue of blood healed, and then he learns that his daughter has died. He may have lost hope, he may have said to himself, “Why couldn’t it have been me? Why didn’t I receive such a blessing for my daughter and for our family?” We should not be too harsh on Jairus. The man was in pain. He may have had the understanding that Jesus could only heal those who were alive. It may not have been comprehensible to Jairus that Christ could raise the dead. The raising of Lazarus would come later. He may not have known of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. Or if he had heard, he may have dismissed it as a mistaken report, or an old wives’ tale. Perhaps he thought Jesus could only perform one miracle a day. We do not mean to be flippant, only to suggest that in his pain, the man may well have begrudged the woman her healing which appeared to be at the expense of his daughter.
But it seems most of all that Jairus was tempted to despair. He had placed all his hope in a particular outcome, a specific chain of events. His daughter was dying. He would go to Jesus whom he believed could heal her. Jesus would come and heal his daughter. But that is not what happened. He did go to Jesus, and Jesus did say he would come and heal Jairus’ daughter. But then the course of events that Jairus had envisioned began to unravel. Jesus delayed. His daughter died. It was over. Do not trouble the master any longer.
But then, see the great mercy of Jesus: when Jairus had lost all hope, when he was tempted to despair, to give up, to not take that next step of faith into a fuller understanding of Jesus and his power, Jesus with great loving compassion says to him “Do not be afraid; only believe.” And Luke adds “And she will be made well.”
Do not be afraid. Only trust me. And she will be made well.
Made well? Jairus must have thought. She’s dead. How can she be made well? Yet she is made well, she is delivered from death. Luke describes her soul returning to her body. She gets up, walks and they are told, “Give her something to eat.” Because that’s what healthy people do after a long fast.
We may, like Jairus, have a great and pressing need. We may, in love, pray for others and see the blessings God rains down on them. We may thank God. But we may also be tempted to rebuke the Lord for what we perceive to be his failure to act in love. We may be tempted to a little envy, wishing the good of the other had been bestowed on us. Or, if our situation feels desperate, we may indeed be tempted to despair, to hopelessness.
It is at that lowest point that Christ says to us: “Do not be afraid. Only believe. It will be made well.”