It was the religious leaders who were after Jesus. Not the crowds. Not the Romans. The “righteous” people. The ones who held the reins of religious power.

Jairus was one of them.

He was a Synagogue Ruler. He was responsible for the good order, upkeep, and orthodoxy of the local house of worship. He was a religious man, with religious duties religiously carried out.

But Jairus’ daughter is sick. Jairus knows she is dying. And even staunch religious traditionalists grow open to novel ways when their daughters’ lives are on the line.

So Jairus, the enemy of Jesus by reason of position and politics, comes to Jesus and begs him to lay his hands on his child … so she can be healed … so she can live.

Jesus, without a recorded word, postpones all other business and follows Jairus to his home.

They were still on the way, wordless, when people coming from the house met them.

“Your daughter is dead,” they announce abruptly—not the most sensitive thing to say to a father who adores his child. “Why bother the Teacher anymore?” they continue, adding insult to injury. The implication is clear. “He can’t help your daughter now. She is beyond help.”

Jesus, like a modern tennis fan, turns his head from Jairus to “friends” … attending to their harsh assessment and then to the grief of the father … watching them lob their bad news and then scrutinizing the way Jairus receives it.

Moments tick by. The tension builds. Jesus sees the slump of Jairus’ shoulders. He sees the hope leak from his eyes. And he tells him, “Don’t be afraid.”

Contained in that moment is the essence of Jesus’ ministry. “Don’t give up,” he urges with a look. “Don’t believe the same old bad news … embrace hope,” he utters with a glance. “Your daughter is not dead, she is sleeping. Do you have faith, Jairus?”

They arrive at the house to the noise of mourning and wailing and grieving. They enter a home where everyone knows how this story will end. The people they meet there are not bad people. They are just people for whom “normal” includes death and tears. They are people who do not realize the Lord of Life and Death, the Chosen One of God, the Alpha and Omega with resurrection power in his hands, stands in their foyer.

Jesus wouldn’t let many people climb the stairs to the daughter’s room … just the mother and father … a few of his disciples: Peter, James, and John. He closes the door, as if to shut out a definition of “normal” he does not share. He settles himself at the girl’s side and prepares himself for a different “normal” … a divine “normal.”

He takes the girl’s hand. He speaks two words: “Talitha koum!” (“Little One, get up.”)

And the glory of God enters the room. The power of God quickens the dead. The mercy of God pours out on this family.

At once, the girl stands up from her bier and acts as if nothing has happened. “What’s all the fuss?” she wants to know. “I’m hungry.”

Everyone in the room but Jesus and the little girl are “completely astonished.” Mark describes them as “astonished with a great astonishment.” The Greek term used here means to be thunderstruck … shocked, amazed, terrified … utterly flabbergasted.

It is from this Greek word we get the English word ‘ecstasy’: “a state of emotion so intense that a person is carried beyond rational thought and self-control … a trance, frenzy, or panic associated with mystic or prophetic exaltation.” Not directly related to the concept of involuntary urination, perhaps. But close.

Fear and Trembling

There is a group of semantically-related words we have killed with niceness.

‘Awe’ is a member of that group. We like to define ‘awe’ as being overwhelmed with a sense of admiration and praise. We use the word ‘awesome’ as a synonym for ‘Wonderful!’ ‘Awe’ is, for most of us, an experience both pleasant and pleasureable. We could all use a little more awe in our lives. Like laughter, it’s good for us.

But look closer at the etymology of the word ‘awe.’ It derives from an Old English word for fear or dread. It is what you feel in the presence of a power that can squash you, that holds your life or death in its hands. It is the daunting, unnerving, intimidating threat you experience when you bump into something bigger than you, stronger than you, other than you.

Awe is not pleasant at all. It is a heart-in-throat, stomach-churning, on-your-knees response to supremacy. If ever you experience true awe, you won’t look forward to experiencing it again.

‘Reverence’ is a member of the same underestimated semantic group. We equate reverence with respect and appreciation. We ‘revere’ our parents or our mentors—by which we intend to say that we think highly of them.

But, again, the root of this word suggests another, more primitive, meaning. ‘Revere’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘fear’ or ‘be afraid of.’ It is related to ‘wariness’—the idea of being watchful around a power that is greater than one’s own, of guarding against superior forces of unknown motivation, of protecting oneself from personal vulnerability and weakness in the presence of the potent.

‘Reverence’—contrary to common usage—doesn’t mean affection or fond feelings. It means to bow in submission to and fear of something bigger, stronger, and other than you.

‘Terrible’ belongs to the same group. In common English usage, we have downgraded this word to mean ‘bad’ or ‘inferior.’ (“That was a terrible movie!” “Their Kung Pow Chicken was terrible!”)

But, once again, ‘fear’ forms the basis of this word. ‘Terrible’ comes from the Latin for ‘provoke shivering, induce terror, cause fear and trembling.’ Like the words above, ‘terrible’ is a description of the effect great power has on the (comparably) weak. A being or circumstance is ‘terrible’ to the degree that it overwhelms and radically humbles.

What people felt (who met Jesus in Mark’s stories) was ‘awe’ in the truest sense: they were unnerved, intimidated, and threatened by his raw power. They ‘revered’ him in the sense that his power was so great, so extra-ordinary, that they weren’t sure they could trust him to use that power beneficently: they felt vulnerable to him rather than comforted by him. Jesus was ‘terrible’ to the people of these stories precisely because he induced tremors of fear by his unexpected, overwhelming response to storm, demon-possession, disease, and death.

To people who have cut their spiritual teeth on notions like “Jesus is my buddy” and “Jesus will forgive me; that is his business,” a few cold shivers can be therapeutic. They counter the overly-familiar, overly-comfortable brand of spirituality that can afford to take Jesus for granted because it has not concept who and what Jesus actually is.

A little involuntary urination in the presence of Jesus is not a bad thing … and should be expected.

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