I’m a dad. I can only begin to imagine Jairus’ anguish – in despair he’s thrown aside the reputation he has as a leader of the synagogue and come to beg Jesus to heal his young daughter. On the way, Jesus stops not only to heal but also to talk with a woman who’s been ill for as long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive. He wouldn’t have to be callous about her need in order to think that she could have waited a few hours longer – especially when he heard that his daughter had died before Jesus got there.
It’s just struck me that this interruption goes against the general urgency of Mark’s gospel, with its love of the word ‘immediately’. At the very moment when it seems that ‘immediately’ is most needed, Jesus stops on the road.
But Jesus, the maker of time, has his own sense of what should be done at each moment – and no-one else will lose out because his attention is for a moment focussed on completing the healing of a woman whose illness afflicted her not only physically but also socially and spiritually. She was expected to stay away from contact with those who were ‘clean’, and certainly not to come to the synagogue where Jairus was a leader. That perhaps explains the fact that Jesus does not let her slip quietly away into the crowd once her bleeding has stopped. She needs to make her healing public, so that it can go beyond the restoration of her body – she has to be known to be healed so that she can be restored to society and worship. It could not, in fact, wait – she needed to be seen in public at that moment, before she went back into hiding in the crowd.
In Jairus’ despair, he doubtless couldn’t begin to see this. But he still went with Jesus into the house. And now, a miracle takes place in secret. The woman he met on the way needed the crowd to see that she was healed, whether or not she wanted them to know. Jairus’ daughter, on the other hand, didn’t need to go through life with the pressure of being the ‘Miracle Girl’. So Jesus put up with the ridicule of the crowd to insist that she was only asleep, then restored her to life. His delay, measured by human time, had taken her past the last moment of life; but to him that was no absolute barrier, and his healing (for this is more to do with his healing miracles than with his own resurrection) was still complete. Knowing adolescents, he then tells her parents to feed her…
I’m (re-)reading Stephen Cherry’s wonderful ‘Beyond Busyness’ at the moment. He draws an important contrast between the different kinds of time. Chronos is our usual concept, of time as a resource which passes and is expended; to be used as well as possible. The other kind of time is kairos, the moment of opportunity. In this incident of nested stories, at least, Jesus lives by kairos more than by chronos. Perhaps his ability to stop and seize the moment to complete a work of healing is a challenge to us – a challenge not to be so dominated by the urgent that we forget the important. Perhaps it’s also a challenge to trust God that he will not let us down if we do pause for a moment with the person who needs us in the present moment – so long as we then get back on track in faith and trust.