April 17, 2013

Why Jesus let Jairus’ daughter die

by Jesse Johnson

I recently preached on the passage in Mark 5 where Jesus healed the unnamed woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. One of the more striking elements in that passage is that Jesus had the rich and powerful Jairus wait while he not only healed the woman, but then went on to teach her about the gospel (apparently for hours). In fact, Jesus spent so much time teaching her, that while he was doing so, Jairus’ daughter died.

Jarius daughter

Llya Rypin, the Raising of Jairus’ Daughter, 1871

Why did Jesus tarry? Why did he let Jairus’ daughter die? Didn’t he know she was at death’s door? There are at least three reasons:   

1)  Jesus tarried in order to highlight the importance of his teaching.

This was a matter of life and death, and he chose to teach the gospel to the crowd rather than saving the little girls’ life. Those who believed the gospel were obviously mesmerized by this, but those who rejected it viewed Jesus with disdain. You even see it in their words; when the news arrives that Jesus’ delay cost the little girl her life, Jairus’ entourage  tells him, “why bother the teacher any longer?”  You can read the disdain in their voice, and can almost feel their sarcasm in their use of the world teacher. It is exactly this teaching that cost the girl her life.

Which, by the way, is nothing  new in the Gospel of Mark. This had been going on since the start of Jesus’ ministry. Mark presents Jesus as trying to teach, but being interrupted by those who want to be healed (Mark 1:22-23, 32). This was happening so frequently  that Jesus steals away in the night to escape the crowd (Mark 1:33-38). In Mark 2, he finally seems to have solved the dilemma by teaching in a house, but the lame man’s friends burrow through the roof to lower him at Jesus’ feet (Mark 2:2)! In Luke, Jesus finally rebukes the crowd for only coming to him for healing, while not caring about his teaching, and then he tells them he won’t give them any more signs except his resurrection (Luke 11:29-30). But—wouldn’t you know it—when people continue to bring their sick to them, he still heals them. There is this obvious tension between healing and teaching, and Jesus came as a teacher, not a healer; nevertheless because of his constant compassion, he healed every sick person that crossed his path. He never turned his back on a single need, and yet he never let his healing crowd out his teaching.

2. Jesus had Jarius wait in order to highlight the significance of the anonymous woman whom he had healed.

That poor woman had been sick for twelve years—the same amount of time Jairus’ daughter had been alive. She was unnamed, destitute, unclean, forgotten and an outcast. Meanwhile, Jairus was known, rich, a religious leader, and esteemed in the city. Yet Jesus was not concerned with Jairus’ social standing, and he did not dismiss the unnamed woman for lacking it. He was no respecter of persons, and he was unimpressed by social status.  Instead, he made Jairus wait, while he taught the woman and the crowd.  Which also explains why Jairus’ staff was so incredulous with Jesus. Didn’t he know who Jairus was? Well, yes…but he wasn’t impressed. He was more impressed with the woman’s faith who navigated the crowd, opened herself up to public shame, all out of faith in Jesus as the Christ.

3.  Jesus allowed Jairus’ daughter to die so he could raise her from the dead.

In some sense this is exactly like when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick. He waited for days until Lazarus died, then went to him. Why? So that everyone would see the power of God in Jesus’ life. In Mark 5, Jesus wanted to raise the girl from the dead to show his power, to demonstrate himself as the author of life, and also to highlight his role as greater than Elisha—who also resurrected a dead child in a very similar situation.  But whereas Elisha had panic, raced to the child’s bedside and then frantically tried anything to resurrect him (2 Kings 4), Jesus calmly walked there. He operated on his own time, and unlike the desperation of Elisha, Jesus would simply grab the child’s hand, and whisper to her. How dramatic that scene must have been, and it only happened because Jesus had enough faith to wait and teach, rather than to run and raise.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Marshall

    Can you please tell me what in the text makes you think Jesus spent hours with the woman teaching her? I see absolutely nothing to make me think that. And you say, “he not only healed the woman, but then went on to teach her about the gospel.” Where does it say he taught her the gospel? The only thing the text says is that Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”
    I’m not saying your 3 points aren’t necessarily valid, but it seems to me that you’re reading way too much into the text.

    • Good question Marshall, and you aren’t the only one who has asked!

      Mark 5:35: “While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house…”

      The Greek is emphatic with the word “still” (eti). It implies a duration of time. In English you might say something like “Are you still speaking?” It doesn’t mean they interrupted them, like you might think, as much as Jesus (in the mind of Jarius’ contingent) was going on and on. This effect is further highlighted by the verb tense of “speaking.” It’s the present participle, which implies a duration of time as well. That, combined with the emphatic use of “still” paints this picture of an instructional time that is quite extended.

      That’s followed by the word for “there came.” Its not the word for arrived, but the word for the journey, and it starts at the ruler’s house. So in other words, while Jesus was STILL talking, Jarius’ contingent saw his daughter die, and set out to find him. They tracked him down, and he was still next to Jesus, who was (you guessed it) still talking. Think about the amount of time that must have transpired. The text says that they left Jarius’ house while Jesus was talking, and the implication is that they walked a considerable distance to find Jesus (although the points in my post are even more stark if he was just outside the fence). In fact, we know that they had to be at least some distance away because of the verses 37 and 38, where Jesus left 9 of the disciples with the crowd and then later arrived at Jarius’ house.
      So think of the logistics of Jarius leaves and finds Jesus, and starts working back to his house. Then he stops. While he is talking, Jarius’ daughter dies, adn some of his slaves or assistants or whoever set out. They find Jarius listening to Jesus teach a woman. This all happens while Jesus is still teaching the woman. That colors their response of “Why bother the teacher any longer.” Notice the phrase “any longer” also. Its the same word from verse 35! Still. They leave Jarius’ house while Jesus is still talking, they find Jarius while Jesus is still talking, and they then ask Jarius why he is still bothering Jesus.

      That all explains why Jesus says “Don’t be afraid, only believe.”

      Does that help Marshall?

      • Marshall

        Again, I believe you’re reading way too much into the text and the Greek words. Yes, ἔτι implies a duration of time, and yes, λαλοῦντος implies a duration of time. But the length of those durations of time are not specified. You must determine that by context. It could be very short, or it could be more protracted.

        For instance, Mark uses the exact same structure later in Mark 14:43, “And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came…” Well, what was Jesus saying when Judas came? “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” There is no way to spin that statement of Jesus into a long (possibly several hours) speech. It was a short comment about Judas and the guards arriving. And it was while he was saying those words that they appeared. So you see? Same structure, same words, very short amount of time that Jesus was speaking.

        Also, if I understand you correctly, your conclusion is that while Jesus was speaking to the woman, they saw Jairus’ daughter die, started on the journey, arrived to where Jairus and Jesus were, and then told him his daughter was already dead. While it is true that ἔρχηται is used to speak about a journey and not just the arrival at times, it is also used to speak mainly of the arrival. Again, context is key. Like most words, it has a variety of meanings and nuances. It can mean: 1) to come 1a) of persons 1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of persons arriving and of those returning 1a2) to appear, make one’s appearance, come before the public 2) metaph. 2a) to come into being, arise, come forth, show itself, find place or influence 2b) be established, become known, to come (fall) into or unto 3) to go, to follow one.

        There is no reason from the context to assume that they started their journey while Jesus was speaking to the woman. The same exact word is used in vs. 38, “Then He came (ἔρχηται) to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly.” Again, the point is not the entire journey from point of origin to destination. The emphasis is on the arrival, same as in vs. 35 when people from Jairus’ household arrive to where Jairus and Jesus are.

        The most logical and natural understanding and reading of the passage is that Jairus’ daughter died at some point in time after Jairus had set out to find Jesus. They immediately set out to tell him and find him and Jesus while Jesus is talking with the woman.

        Regarding the content of Jesus’ conversation with the woman, why do you think “it stretches credulity to think that is the sum total of what Jesus said”? Could Mark be summarizing? Sure. But could he not also be giving the entirety of what Jesus said. Of course. I refer you again to the passage with the same verbal construction (Mark 14:43). Take a look again at what he said to his disciples. Would you argue that Mark is summarizing? That Jesus spent possibly hours teaching them the gospel at that moment in time? Of course you wouldn’t. But why not? Because nothing in the context would lead you to that conclusion. Your argument for saying so in the case of the woman lies wholly in the Greek words. Yet the same words are used in Mark 14:43. There are plenty of other occasions recorded where Jesus healed somebody, made a quick statement about that person’s faith, and was done. He didn’t spend possibly hours teaching that person the gospel. Why single out this passage and make that claim?

        Rather, what I believe is the emphasis of this encounter with the woman was not to highlight his teaching (of which I think there was minimal), but to highlight this woman’s faith. Consider what she had been through for 12 years. Consider the efforts she made to come to Jesus. Consider the fact that she would have been ceremonially unclean due to her hemorrhaging. Consider that she reached out in faith to just touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. That’s why Jesus stopped. Not to teach, but to highlight this woman’s faith, and to show her (and the crowd) that it was her faith that had healed her – not some magic property of Jesus’ garments.

        • Thanks for your thoughtful interaction here Marshall. I agree with what you are saying, but I want to point out that in this passage it says “While he was still speaking people came from the synagogue leader’s house…” The other uses you gave all use that construction to paint the arrival, but here Mark ties it to the departure. IN other words, while Jesus was speaking, they journeyed from the leader’s house to where Jesus was. Certainly that takes more than a sentence!

          Also, several commentators bring out that the way Mark structures this passage highlights the interruption Mark sets up this account to demonstrate that Jesus’ delay with the woman cost Jairus’ daughter her life. I think that in this context, the interruption is the natural reading of it, combined with the emphatic use of still (which Mark uses 2xs here) and the present progressive of Jesus talking, all make the natural reading that they journeyed while Jesus was speaking.

          On top of that, Mark also uses the present progressive for what Jairus’ companions were saying to Jesus. Jesus was still talking, and the companions were saying to Jairus, implying that they were repeatedly saying it to Jairus. They kept saying “your daughter is dead.”

          On top of that, the text says Jesus was ignoring the comments (and the word for comments is also a present participle, btw) which could easily be rendered “And Jesus, ignoring what they were saying.” What does it mean that Jesus ignored their comments, if he then immediately answered them? Plus if that was the case you’d expect the word for their news report to be in the aorist. Instead, Jesus words to the woman are present progressive their words to Jairus were present progressive, and Jesus’ ignoring of them were present progressive The only aorist here is Jesus speaking to Jairus and telling him not to fear.

          Finally, I think the natural reading of the text makes it obvious that Mark’s point was that the delay cost the girl’s life. That doesn’t even make sense if the delay was one sentence. Are you saying that the girl died before the delay? And they just happened to arrive while Jesus was saying his one sentence? That would set aside Mark’s use of still (2xs) and all the present progressives, and the whole way Mark structured the story. I see what you are saying, but I’m just not sold on it. I hope this answer helps you see what I’m saying, even if you are not sold on it either 🙂

          Thanks Marshall–and thanks for all the work you obviously did on those words today. I appreciate it.

    • Also, the second part of your question was about the content of the preaching. Mark often gives us one sentence summaries of what was obviously an extended time of teaching. In this case, the summary is “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” So just in that sentence alone you have faith, healing, and peace with God. You have the restoration between humans and the divine through faith, as well as the fact that moments earlier, this woman was ceremonially unclean, treated like a leper, and now she is cleansed (how? by faith) and sent back into the crowd. That is a nice summary that Mark provides, but it stretches credulity to think that is the sum total of what Jesus said.

  • Heather

    This was such a blessing to me this morning…truly, more than words can say. The Lord knew I really needed to read it today. How often I make work in the ministry more important in my life, rather than sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning from Him, in the quietness of my room in prayer and meditation over Scripture. How often we focus on the works (in their case, healing), and lose sight of feeding our soul with the food of His Word. In the end, learning His Word would have been far more valuable to them than even healing their temporary bodies. I don’t know if this makes sense in connection to your post, but I guess that’s it…I feel malnourished and am up to my neck in work to do in the ministry, but I think I need to let it wait today, and go sit at Jesus’ feet and soak in His teaching and just have quality fellowship with Him today. Thanks, Jesse.

  • You’ve spelled Jairus correctly in the article but you got it wrong in the title.