Tuesday, June 23, 2009


There is a tradition, particularly among Jewish scholars, called mishnah. It is storytelling based upon a biblical text that attempts to retell the text in a new way. It puts faces and lives on people about whom Scripture tell us just a little. I would like to share with you a mishnah I learned many years ago on this Sunday's gospel from Mark.

There was a young man named Jairus and a young woman named Miriam. Their fathers arranged, as fathers did in those days, for them to be married to each other. Jairus and Miriam were quite please with the match and it was no time at all before they fell deeply in love.

A year after the marriage, Miriam gave birth to their first child. Jairus was so delighted to be a father that he didn't even mind that this first child was a girl. He named her Hannah. Miriam was sure their next child would be a son. But this birth had been a hard one. Miriam suffered from hemmorhages and there would be no more children.

The laws of Israel are quite clear about this sort of thing. The hemorrhaging made Miriam unclean, ritually unclean. Because Jairus was a leader in the synagogue, it was most important for him to follow all the laws religiously. Miriam's problem was not only embarrassing, it jeopardized his own ritual cleanliness. And so, Jairus had to divorce his wife even though he still loved her. He gave back her dowry and set her up in a house with her favorite maid.

For years, Miriam sought a cure. Every quack and magician soon learned that Miriam was an easy touch. She rapidly ran through her dowry, had to send the maid back to Jairus and ended up sleeping on the street and begging for a living.

In the meantime, Hannah was growing up in her father's house. As she grew towards adulthood, she was afraid her mother's disease would also be hers. Hannah thought if she didn't eat, she wouldn't grow up. So she stopped eating. Soon Hannah was so malnourished she became very sick, so sick she was close to death. Jairus was beside himself. First he had lost his beloved wife and now it appeared his daughter was going to die.

A servant told him that the Teacher was nearby. Jairus knew all about Jesus. He knew that synagogue leaders weren't supposed to have anything to do with this man. But Jairus believed that Jesus really did heal people. He ran to find Jesus. He begged Jesus over and over to come heal Hannah.

Miriam had also heard that Jesus was there and she rushed to the square in the hope that this man could do what no one else could. There were so many people crowded around Jesus. It was hard for Miriam to work her way through them all and when she finally got to the front of the crowd, she was shocked to see Jairus on his knees begging Jesus. She was more shocked to hear that her daughter was dying.

Miriam followed Jairus and Jesus, keeping back far enough in the crowd that Jairus would not see her but not so far back that she couldn't reach out and touch a corner of Jesus' cloak. She knew that was all it would take to heal her finally.

As she touched the hem, she felt the disease leave her. Jesus stopped and asked his disciples who had touched him. But they pointed to the size of the crowd and said it could have been anyone. So Jesus asked the crowd the same question.

Miriam was afraid to tell him but she knew she had to. Jesus compelled her to speak just by his quiet presence. So she stepped forward and knelt to beg Jesus' forgiveness. Jairus couldn't believe it was her! Jesus simply said, "Your faith has made you well," and then he began walking again.

Now a servant of Jairus' household broke through the crowd and told Jairus that Hannah was dead. Before either Jairus or Miriam could cry out, Jesus said to them, "Do not fear. Only believe."

When they came to the house, Jesus took three of his disciples inside along with Hannah's parents. When they came to Hannah's room, Jesus took her hand and said, "Little girl, get up!" Hannah got up from her bed and walked toward her parents. "Give her something to eat," Jesus told Miriam.

In a fairy tale, this is when I'm supposed to say they lived happily ever after. That's only partly true. Jairus was glad to have his wife and daughter back but he couldn't imagine leaving his prestigious job in the synagogue. He thought his happiness was there.

Miriam was glad to see Jairus and Hannah again but she knew that her life was different now. She wasn't too concerned about happiness. She had been healed because of her faith in the Teacher and she knew that she had to follow Jesus.

Even to the foot of the cross.

[I first saw this story more than twenty years ago on a preaching listserv. Alas, I did not save that original message so I don't know who the author was. I have added a few touches of my own but the original is not mine. Thanks to the woman who originally wrote it.]


Juniper said...

oh margaret, this is just lovely. thanks so much for sharing it!!

Sarah said...

If you can get hold of a book called 'celebrating women' edited by hannah ward, Jennifer Wild and Janet Morley there is a lovely misnah written by Joan James there of Jairus daughter recounting this episode as an adult. It also talks of a little girl not wanting to grow up so stops eating

Sarah said...

I really like this mishnah and the way it brings everyone together but doesn't end with "happily ever after." Shows how we're all connected, yet life is not perfect. Thank you for sharing it!