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The resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, reflections for today

“And Jesus said to her,
‘Little girl, arise!’”

 E Gesù le disse: «Fanciulla, alzati!»  DCM-005
04 May 2024

The gospels speak very little about children, and even less about girls. Jesus does mention them - it’s true - as the “measure” for entering the Kingdom (Matthew 18:3), he uses them as a metaphor for the acceptance or rejection of God’s visit by his people (Matthew 11:16-17), and tradition, especially iconographic tradition, has emphasized the Master’s desire to have them near him (Luke 18:16). We can well suppose that, in all these cases, he never meant to exclude girls. However, stories of children, whether boys or girls, are not found in the gospels.

At Jairus’ House

The only narrative that features a young girl as the protagonist is transmitted to us by the evangelist Mark. It is a story of resurrection (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43). Anyone familiar with the Old Testament knew well that even great prophets like Elijah and Elisha had performed miracles of resurrection, as well as other wonder-workers mentioned in extrabiblical literature. Always, however, within homes. From the tone of the narrative as a whole, however, it is understood that the evangelist is keen to emphasize that Jesus is much more than a prophet and a wonder-worker: as in the case of Lazarus (John 11:17-46), so too in the case of Jairus’ daughter, one of the synagogue leaders, the narrative aims to point to the resurrection of the dead at the end of times, the final one, which does not depend on the action of any wonder-worker, but solely on that of God.

Then the dramatic tension of the scene is heightened by the fact that the story of the resurrection of the girl intertwines with that of the healing of the woman who had suffered from bleeding for twelve years, perhaps because in both cases they involve women, and all four Gospels are filled with numerous episodes featuring women. From a narrative standpoint, however, the encounter with the woman causes Jesus to delay responding to Jairus’ urgent request for him to immediately go to his house to lay hands on the dying girl. A large crowd impedes Jesus’ movements, the pace of the scene slows down, and thus the pathos of a story now dominated by skepticism increases: the Master heads towards Jairus’ house when there is nothing more to be done because by this point the girl is already dead.

Jesus’ claim to take back those who had gathered in the house to mourn, according to customs, has a touch of provocation: why didn’t they have faith in his coming and in the fact that, in the face of the power of God, death is nothing but a temporary sleep? His words spoken with authority accompany the gesture that “awakens” the girl from the sleep of death: “He took the girl by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha kum’, which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise!’”. The passage is sealed by the recommendation to give the girl something to eat, confirming that it is not a hallucination, but that the girl has been fully restored to life. The sobriety of the Gospels does not allow us to say more; indeed, the story concludes with Jesus’ command not to tell anyone about what happened, excluding any happy ending.

Seeds of future

Yet, the evangelist emphasizes the age of that young girl - twelve years old - and this detail makes one think. Not only because the death of a child is more striking than that of an elderly person, or because the grief of two parents who have lost a daughter is deeply moving. The gesture of Jesus, who restores the girl to life, has a broader significance than just the important act of restoring family ties. We cannot know for certain what that girl meant to her family, what the social expectations were for her, being the daughter of an important man like the leader of a synagogue. We are not meant to know, and it is just as well, because this is not about gossip fantasies.

However, it should make us reflect that restoring a child to life, saving them from illness or hunger, does not only mean returning them to their family. Because children are not only of their families. Thinking of them only within the small circle of their affections means not knowing how to look at them in perspective and depriving them of vital depth. Children belong to the world around them and the world they will decide to have around them, and restoring them to life means entrusting them to the future. We do not know what expectations there were for the future of Jairus’ daughter. The clarification about her age - twelve years old - suggests that, now becoming a woman, she might have been ready for marriage in her family’s eyes, with all that this entailed for Israelite society, leaving her father’s house and the many pregnancies. However, there is no need to indulge in fantastic hypotheses. It is enough to remember that a girl is much more than the object of affection of those who brought her into the world and to respect her life as a seed of the future. Where and how, her story will tell.