Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Child, Get Up!

Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him.

While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.’ When Jesus heard this, he replied, ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, ‘Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’ Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened. Luke 8:40-42, 49-56

I have not been a professional bloviator for all that long. But I have been reading and studying and preaching on scripture for something like 18 years, and so certain stories are my old chestnuts, things I discovered way-back-when, stories that I almost know too well. (Narcissism alert!!! OK, for the record: unless my Greek improves beyond the ability to look words up in the lexicon, I officially don't believe I know any New Testament passage too well. Glad we got that out of the way).

So when I come, in the daily lectionary, to a passage like this, my mind begins a process that is both comforting and annoying... I simultaneously want to remember and forget everything I already know about the passage. I want to remember and forget the amazing poem I read about it once upon a time. I want to remember and forget the other gospels' parallel versions.

How do I come to the text fresh?

I have always loved this story, folded in as it is with the story of the woman with the twelve-year hemmorhage (Luke 8:43-48). But today I want to just consider the daughter of Jairus on her own. What we know about her is the following:

She is unnamed.

She is the daughter of a leader of the synagogue... always confusing to me, this. Are there synagogues at the time Jesus is preaching and teaching? Isn't the synagogue a post-temple phenomenon, therefore sometime after 70 CE? Anyhoo... Jairus is a Jewish official of some kind, not a priest. But he is a bigwig who has most likely exhausted all other options before coming to the controversial healer. And his desperation is palpable... he falls in a heap at Jesus' feet.

She is twelve years old... at the time the scriptures were written, this is most likely a borderline age... not yet pubescent, and not quite a child. It is a liminal time, a time of mystery and possibility.

She is dying, and then, she is dead.

I offer two poems, one found this morning in an internet search, and focusing on Jairus; one found in my files, and speaking from the point of view of his daughter.


So, God takes your child by the hand
and pulls her from her deathbed.
He says: 'Feed her, she is ravenous.'

You give her fruits with thick hides
-pomegranate, canteloupe-
food with weight, to keep her here.

You hope that if she eats enough
the light and dust and love
which weave the matrix of her body

will not fray, nor wear so thin
that morning sun breaks through her,
shadowless, complete.

Somehow this reanimation
has cut sharp the fear of death,
the shock of presence. Feed her

roast lamb, egg, unleavened bread:
forget the herbs, she has an aching
fast to break. Sit by her side,

split skins for so she can gorge,
and notice how the dawn
draws colour to her just-kissed face.

Michale Symmons Roberts, copyright 2004

In the interests of full disclosure, this next poem was published in the newsletter for the Center for Women and Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, as one of a pair of poems from Mark's gospel, not Luke's. I love it and I'm giving it to you anyway.

Jairus' Daughter

I am stealing gold from my father's synagogue.
I will not get caught. When I have enough,
I will run away and join the others in Jerusalem.

One girl would throw the beads as far as she could,
then we'd all race after them, each girl hopping on one leg,
up and down the alley chasing the beads.
One day the string broke. Crawling on my hands and knees,
sifting brown clay beads from brown clay dust, I looked up
and saw my father looking me over the way he looks over
camels for sale at the trough where the caravans drink.
And that night my mother looked at me
that way. I could not eat.

What ties an eye to an eye or a bone to a bone?
Who looks for bones in the gully? Like the mud beads
that slipped the string in the alley, let my flesh
slip off my bones and the bones scatter unbound.

I was hopping on one leg again, down an alley in the gloaming
away from the glittering eyes, into the simple dust.
He did not chase me-- it was as if I'd found Him there
walking ahead of me into the desert at evening, to be alone.
He waited for me and we walked for a long time.
Then He said: Little girl, neither one of us can escape, both of us
must go back. Come back with me. Come with me. Come.

And we returned to my father's house.
And I agreed to eat and become a woman--
but I did not promise to be good, or to marry, or to stay at home,
or not to bind over my life lawlessly to finding Him again.

Inna Jane Ray, 1995

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