‘Raising of the Daughter of Jairus’
(1844 – 1927)
Museum of the Academy of Arts - St. Petersburg
Vasily Polenov was a Russian landscape painter. His contemporaries called him the “Knight of Beauty” as he was regarded as embodying both European and Russian traditions of painting. His vision of life was summarized in the saying: “Art should promote happiness and joy”. As a painter and a humanist, he truly believed in the ‘civilizing’ mission of Art, Culture and Education.
Vasily was born in St. Petersburg into a noble, enlightened family: his father was a senior officer in the Russian Imperial Army, with a passion for archaeology, while his mother was an amateur painter.
A young man of exceptional talent, he took Courses at both the Law Faculty of St. Petersburg University and at the Imperial Academy of Arts. In 1871, as well as his Law Degree, he obtained a Major Gold Medal from the Academy - for his painting of “The Raising of the Daughter of Jairus”.
Mark 5: 21-43
21“When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live’. 24So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.
[25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well’. 29Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32He looked all around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease’. 35While he was still speaking,]
Some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe’. 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping’. 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat”.
The Ancients considered healing was an act done by, and through, the power of God. In the case of Jesus, however, some of his adversaries affirmed that Jesus exercised miracles through the power of the “Prince of Demons”. But is an evil spirit capable of doing an act of mercy or of casting out another evil spirit?
Our passage starts with a link to a healing miracle narrated in the first part of the same Chapter. The account in which Jesus drove out an evil spirit called “Legion”.
In this context, it is reasonable to suppose that the man who had been cured of evil spirits had told everyone what had happened to him. Therefore, it is not a surprise to hear that a crowd was waiting for Jesus when He “crossed by boat to the other side”.
The reputation of Jairus
Publicly recognising that Jesus was healing through the power of God necessarily would bring one into conflict with the leaders of the Jews. As a leading member of the Synagogue, Jairus made clear his belief that Jesus acted through the power of God by seeking his help to cure his daughter. Obviously, Jairus was more concerned for the well-being of his daughter than for the opinion of his fellow Jews. By calling on Jesus, however, Jairus was putting his own reputation on the line.
This text has a parallel in the account that described Jesus raising a young man from death: the only son of the widow of Nain. Both accounts describe the death of a young person and a bereaved parent.
A further, though different, parallel to the raising of the daughter of Jairus can be found in the account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead: Jesus delaying his departure after receiving an urgent call for help.
Jesus seems to intentionally delay leaving for Bethany after having received the call from Martha and Mary. It seemed to them that Jesus had arrived too late to perform a healing miracle. What then happened was something unheard of, something no one expected or even dared to ask from Jesus: to raise his friend from the dead four days after his passing.
Here, too, there is an interruption in the narrative as Jesus makes his way to Jairus’ house. A woman approaches Jesus to regain her health from a long sickness by just touching the cloak of Jesus.
Jesus seems to again intentionally delay his leaving to meet Jairus’ daughter.
Two things stand out in this “intentional” delay of Jesus:
1. First, that Jesus takes the needs of each person to heart, without being compelled, pressurized or pushed by other ‘demands’. The most important thing for Jesus was the present moment, the here and now, the person He had in front of Him at the time.
2. Second, Jesus is clearly asking a ‘leap’ of faith from Jairus. Jairus had already shown a great degree of faith in Jesus by putting his own reputation on the line. The ‘leap’ of faith required of him is not only to believe that Jesus is able to perform miracles by the power of God, but that Jesus is God, because only God “has power over life and death”.
Jesus and his Mother
The text says that Jesus “over-heard” what was being said and took the initiative to talk to Jairus.
There is another moment in the Gospel of John when Mary, the Mother of Jesus, demonstrated the same attentiveness to the needs of those around her: the Wedding of Cana, “They have no wine”, said Mary to Jesus.
We may well say: “Like Mother, like Son!” Mary and Joseph educated Jesus and naturally will have taught Him to pay attention to others, to nurture the awareness and ability to see, and feel for, the needs of others. This is exactly what happens when Jesus, walks to meet the daughter of Jairus, overhears that the girl was already dead. Jesus encourages Jairus to believe notwithstanding everything: “Do not be afraid; just believe!”
We know that the healings of Jesus aim at more than the restoration to physical and mental health. Each miracle restored body, mind and soul. Jesus attends equally to the physical, mental and spiritual needs of the person. Even if individuals only ask for healing from their physical ailments, the gift that Jesus gives is greater and surpasses the requests of those who come to Him.
The Messianic Secret
The raising of the daughter of Jairus stands as one of the main miracles performed by Jesus. Although nothing would have prevented Him from performing the miracle in full view of the multitude, Jesus asked his only His closest Disciples to accompany him to witness what was going to happen. He is not interested in performing a miracle to increase His fame as miracle-worker. Jesus chose only the parents and three of his Disciples: James, John and Peter to accompany Him.
This desire for privacy goes hand in hand with His wish to keep his identity as Messiah secret “until he rises from the dead”.
The human sensibility of Jesus
The simplicity of the gestures in the narrative speaks volumes about the tenderness and the sensitivity of Jesus: in this healing we do not see the drama of the healing of the demoniac who was freed from the “Legion”, a few verses before. Jesus simply took the girl by the hand to help her up, as if she was only sleeping.
To add a last touch of tenderness to the scene, Mark writes how Jesus asks that the girl may be given something to eat, as if she had just arrived from a long, very long “journey”!
A Leading Synagogue Official becoming a Christian?
The identity of Jairus, the leading Synagogue Official, was preserved in the Gospel tradition, a sign that most probably Jairus and his household became ‘Followers of the Way’ after the Resurrection of Jesus.
PRAYER WHEN WE ARE DISTRACTED
“Jesus, our Saviour, we all risk being misled by many distractions,
by the pursuit of passing happiness, or by a world of recognition and fame.
Lured by these, we risk ignoring the fact
that You are right here next to us,
calling us to the greatest adventure ever: life eternal with You.
Jesus, to overcome these distractions,
please help us focus our attention, and attract us to the Gospel.
Let us return to You. Put the right words in our mouths
to be able to call others and help them
make their way back to You.
“How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth!
Your majesty is praised above the heavens; on the lips of children and of babes you have found praise to foil your enemy, to silence the foe and the rebel.
When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god; with glory and honour you crowned him, gave him power over the works of your hand, put all things under his feet”.
A little faith can go a long way. It is worth taking the risk! Jairus took a risk and got his daughter back alive. His faith grew from strength to strength.