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The Raising of Jairus' Daughter
by Richard Chenevix Trench
Chapter 6 from The Miracles of our Lord
Matt 9:18, 19, 23-26;   Mark 5:22, 24, 35-43;   Luke 8:41, 42, 49-56
(see original text for extensive footnotes)
THIS miracle is by St. Mark and St. Luke made immediately to follow our Lord’s return from that eastern side of the lake, which He had quitted when the inhabitants, guiltily at strife with their own good, had besought Him to depart out of their coast (Matt. viii. 34). By St. Matthew other events, the curing of the paralytic, his own calling, and some discourses with the Pharisees, are inserted between. Yet of these only the latter (ix. 10—17) the best harmonists find really to have here their proper place. ‘While He spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped Him.’ The two later Evangelists record his name, ‘Jairus,’ and more accurately define his office; he was ‘one of the rulers of the synagogue,’ all of which St. Matthew, who has his eye only on the main fact, and to whom all its accessories seem indifferent, passes over. The synagogue, we can hardly doubt, was that of Capernaum, where now Jesus was (Matt. ix. x); the man therefore most probably made afterwards a part of that deputation which came to the Lord pleading for the heathen centurion (Luke vii. 3); ‘ the elders of the Jews’ there being identical with the ‘rulers of the synagogue’ here. 

But he who may have pleaded then for another, presents himself now pleading for his own; for he comes saying, 'My daughter is even now dead; but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live.’ Thus St. Matthew; but the other Evangelists with an important variation: ‘My little daughter lieth at the point of death' (Mark v. 23): ‘He had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying' (Luke viii. 42). This, which the after history shows to have been more exactly the fact, is not hard to reconcile with the statement in St. Matthew. When the father left his child, she was at the last gasp; he knew not whether to regard her now as alive or dead; he only knew that life was ebbing so fast when he quitted her side, that she could scarcely be living now ;a and yet, having no certain notices f her death, he was perplexed whether to speak of her as departed or not, and thus at one moment would express himself in one language, at the next in another. Strange that a circumstance like this, so drawn from the life, so testifying to the reality of the things recorded, should be urged by some as a contradiction between one Gospel and another. 

That Lord upon whose ear the tidings of woe might never fall in vain, at once ‘arose and followed him, and so did his disciples.' The crowd which had been listening to his teaching, followed also, curious and eager to see the end. The miracle of the healing of the woman with the issue of blood found place upon the way, but will naturally be better treated apart; being, as it is, entirely separable from this history, though not altogether without its bearings upon it; for the delay, the words which passed between the Lord and his disciples, and then between Him and the woman, must all have been a sore trial to the agonized father, now when every moment was precious, when death was shaking the last few sands in the hour-glass of his daughter’s life,—a trial in its kind similar to that with which the sisters of Lazarus were tried, when they beheld their beloved brother drawing ever nigher to the grave, and the Lord tarried notwithstanding. But sore as the trial must have been, we detect no sign of impatience on his part, and this no doubt was laid to his account. While the Lord was yet speaking to the woman, ‘there came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead, why troublest thou the Master any further?' St. Luke mentions but one, probably the especial bearer of the message, whom others went along with, as it is common for men in their thirst for excitement to have a kind of pleasure in being the bearers even of evil tidings. What hope of effectual help from Christ they may before have entertained, had now perished. They who, perhaps, had faith enough to believe that Christ could fan the last expiring spark of life into a flame, yet had not the stronger faith to anticipate the harder thing, that He could rekindle that spark of life, after it had been quenched altogether. Perhaps the father’s hopes would have perished too, and no room have been left for this miracle, faith, the necessary condition, being wanting; if a gracious Lord had not seen the danger, and prevented his rising unbelief. ‘As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He saith to the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe.’ There is something very gracious in that ‘as soon.’ The Lord spake upon the instant, leaving no room for a thought of unbelief to insinuate itself into the father’s mind, much less to utter itself from his lips, but preoccupying him at once with words of encouragement and hope.’ 

And now He takes with Him three of His Apostles, Peter an James and John, the same three who were allowed, on more than on later occasion, to be witnesses of things withdrawn from the other We read here for the first time of such an election within the election and the fact of such now finding place would mark, especially when we remember the solemn significance of the other seasons of a like selection (Matt. xvii. 1, 2; xxvi. 37), that this was a new era in the life of the Lord. That which He was about to do was so great and holy that those three only, the flower and the crown of the apostolic band, were its fitting witnesses. The parents were present on grounds altogether different. With those, and these, and none other, ‘He cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and seeM the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly’ (Mark); ‘the minstrels and the people making a noise,’ as the earlier Evangelist has it. There, as everywhere else, He appears calming and pacifying: ‘He saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed Him to scorn.’ 

Some, and those not unbelievers, nor yet timid half believers, who have come to regard miracles as so much perilous ware, from which it is always an advantage when the gospel can be a little lightened,—Olshausen, for instance, who manifests no wish to explain away the wonderful works of our Lord—have yet considered his words, common to all reports of this miracle, ‘The maid is not dead, but sleepeth, to be so explicit, that in obedience, as they believe, to them, they refuse to number this among the actual raisings from the dead. They account only a raising from a death-like swoon; though possibly a swoon from which the maiden would never have been recalled but for that life-giving touch and voice. Had this, however, been the case, Christ’s word of encouragement to the father, when the tidings came that the spirit of his child had actually fled, would have certainly been different from that which actually it was, He might have bidden the father to dismiss his fear, for He, who knew all, knew that there was yet life in the child. But that ‘Be not afraid, only believe,’ points another way; it is an evident summoning him to a trust in the almightiness of Him, to whose help he had appealed. Then, too, Christ uses exactly the same language concerning Lazarus, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleepeth’ (John xi. 11), which He uses about this maiden; and we know that He spoke there not of a death-like swoon, but of death. When to this obvious objection Olshausen replies, that Christ explains there distinctly that He meant the sleep of death, adding presently, ‘Lazarus is dead,’ it is enough to answer that He only does so after His disciples have misapprehended His word: He would have left those words as He had spoken them, but for their error in supposing that He had spoken of natural sleep; it was only then that He exchanged ‘Our friend Lazarus sleepeth’ for ‘Lazarus is dead.’ But as Lazarus did but sleep, because Jesus was about to ‘awake him out of sleep,’ so was this maiden only sleeping, because her awakening in like manner was so near. Beside this, to speak of death as a sleep is an image common to all languages and nations. Thereby the reality of the death is not denied, but only the fact implicitly assumed, that death will be followed by a resurrection, as sleep is by an awakening. Nor is it hard to perceive why the Lord should have used this language here. First, for the father’s sake.  The words are for the establishing of his trembling faith, which at the spectacle of all these signs of mourning, of these evidences that all was finished, might easily have given way altogether; they are a saying over again, ‘Be not afraid, only believe.’ He, the Lord of life, takes away that word of fear, ‘She is dead,’ and substitutes that milder word which contains the pledge of an awakening, ‘She sleepeth.’ At the same time in that holy humility which makes Him ever withdraw His miracles as much as possible from observation, He will by this word of a double significance cast a veil for the multitude over that which He is about to accomplish. 

And now, having thus spoken, he expelled from the house the crowd of turbulent mourners; and this for two reasons. Their presence, in the first place, was inappropriate and superfluous there; they were mourners for the dead, and she was not dead; or, at all events, death in her was so soon to give place to returning life, that it did not deserve the name; it was but as a sleep and an awakening. Here was reason enough. But more than this, the boisterous and tumultuous grief of some, with the hired lamentations of others,’ gave no promise of the tone and temper of spirit which became the witnesses of so holy and awful a mystery, a mystery from which even Apostles themselves were excluded—to say nothing of the profane and scornful spirit with which they had received the Lord’s assurance that the child should presently revive. Such scorners shall not witness the holy act: the pearls should not be cast before them (cf. 2 Kin. iv. 33). 

The house was now solitary and still. Two souls, believing and hoping, stand like funeral tapers beside the couch of the dead maiden—the father and the mother. The Church is represented in the three chief of its Apostles. And now the solemn awakening finds place, and this without an effort on His part who is absolute Lord of quick and dead. ‘He took the damsel’—she was no more than a child, being ‘of the age of twelve years’ (Mark v. 42)—‘by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise.’ St. Mark preserves for us, probably from the lips of Peter, the very words which the Lord spake in the very language wherein He uttered them, ‘ Talithi Cumi,’ as he does the ‘Ephphatha’ on another occasion (vii. 34), And at that word, at the touch of that hand, ‘her spirit came again, and she arose straightway (Luke viii. 55) and walked’ (Mark v. 42). Hereupon, at once to strengthen that life which was come back to her, and to prove that she was indeed no ghost, but had returned to the realities of a mortal existence (cf. Luke xxiv. 41; John xxi. 5; Acts x. 41), ‘He commanded to give her meat;’ a precaution all the more necessary, as the parents in that ecstatic moment might easily have forgotten it. 

These miracles of raising from the dead, whereof this is the first, have always been regarded as the mightiest outcomings of the power of Christ; and with justice. They are those, also, at which unbelief is readiest to stumble, standing as they do in more direct contrast than any other to all that our experience has known. The line between health and sickness is not definitely fixed; the two conditions melt one into the other, and the transition from this to that is frequent. In like manner storms alternate with calms; the fiercest tumult of the elements allays itself at last; and Christ’s word which stilled the tempest did but anticipate and effect in a moment what the very conditions of nature must have effected in the end. Even the transmutation from water to wine, and the multiplication of the bread, are not without their analogies in nature, however remote; and thus, too, is it with most of the other miracles. But between being, and the negation of being, the opposition is not relative, but absolute; between death and life a gulf lies, which no fact furnished by our experience can help us even in imagination to bridge over. It is nothing wonderful, therefore, that miracles of this class are signs more spoken against than any other among all the mighty works of the Lord. 

The present will be a fitting moment to say something on the relations of difficulty in which the three miracles of this transcendant character stand to one another; for they are not exactly the same miracle repeated three times over, but may be contemplated as in an ever ascending scale of difficulty, each a more marvellous outcoming of the power of Christ than the preceding. For as the body of one freshly dead, from which life has but just departed, is very different from a mummy or a skeleton, or from the dry bones which the prophet saw in the valley of death, so is it, though not in the same degree, different from a corpse whence for some days the breath of life has fled. There is, so to speak, a fresh-trodden way between the body and the soul which has just forsaken it; this last lingering for a season near the tabernacle where it has dwelt so long, as knowing that the links that united them have not even now been divided for ever. Even science itself has arrived at the conjecture that the last echoes of life ring in the body much longer than is commonly supposed; that for a while it is full of the reminiscences of life. Out of this we may explain how it so frequently comes to pass that all which marked the death-struggle passes presently away, and the true image of the departed, the image it may be of years long before, reappears in perfect calmness and in almost ideal beauty. All this being so, we shall at once recognize in the quickening of him that had been four days dead (John xi. 17) a yet mightier wonder than in the raising of the young man who was borne out to his burial (Luke vii. 12); since that burial, according to Jewish custom, will have followed death by an interval, at most, of a single day; and again, in that miracle a mightier outcoming of Christ’s power than in the present, wherein life’s flame, like some newly extinguished taper, was still more easily re-kindled when thus brought in contact with Him who is the fountain-flame of all life. Immeasurably more stupendous than all these will be the wonder of that hour when all the dead of old, who will have lain, some of them for many thousand years, in the dust of death, shall be summoned from and shall leave their graves at the same quickening voice (John v. 28, 29).