Talitha Cum – Rise Up!

Miracles in Mark:  Part V – Talitha cum

Mark 5:21-42

July 28-29, 2012


Jesus says,

“Talitha cum.”

“Rise up, little girl!”

“Talitha cum”  is an Aramaic phrase.


Our New Testament Bible has a mix of languages.

In their everyday life, Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic,

but our Bible wasn’t written in Aramaic.

The disciples also knew Hebrew,

but our New Testament wasn’t written in Hebrew.

The New Testament was written in Greek –

and not classical Greek, but a special Greek dialect – Koine Greek .[i]


In our gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,

there are very few words remaining in the original, spoken language of Jesus, Aramaic.


“Talitha cum” is one such phrase.


What was so important about this phrase meaning, “Rise up little girl!”

for the early Christian community that it was kept in the original language?


One  possible explanation is that this Aramaic phrase

was repeated by believers over and over again.

Maybe it was a saying of Jesus that they used in worship;

maybe these were words uttered in prayer and devotion.

Perhaps “Talitha cum” became a meditative phrase.

Talitha cum.        Talitha cum.        Talitha cum.


It wouldn’t be surprising that such a phrase

would come from a heartwrenching scene like this.

Picture it for a moment.

Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee.

Now there’s a Gentile side and a Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee,

and throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus is going back and forth.

Here he’s returned to the Jewish side.


He meets a leader of the synagogue named Jairus (which incidentally means, “one who will be awakened.”)

Now when I was in seminary, in pastoral care classes, over and over again, it was stressed,

that the role of religious leaders in a crisis is to be a “non-anxious presence.”

Leaders are supposed to remain calm, cool, and collected.

They are supposed to keep their wits about them.

They are not supposed to fall to pieces in an emergency.

But Jairus has a 12 year old daughter who is sick – really sick.

And suddenly what he learned in rabbinical school doesn’t matter any longer.

He no longer cares how the manual says he’s “supposed to” act in such situations.

He’s a father whose daughter is the only thing on his mind.

He falls on his knees in front of Jesus,

and begs him-

over and over again he pleads with him – to heal his daughter.


Jairus doesn’t care that leaders don’t  beg.

Jairus doesn’t care that leaders don’t fall on their knees.

Jairus doesn’t believe for a minute that leaders don’t shed tears.

He is facing the loss of his child and he’s devastated and he’s desperate.


And Jesus listens and goes with him

to his home.


On the way, they are interrupted.

There’s the woman who has been bleeding for 12 years whom Jesus heals.

And just as Jesus is speaking to the crowd about that,

the word comes to Jairus– don’t bother Jesus any more – it’s too late — your daughter is dead.


Jesus looks down at the broken man,

and he says what Barbara Brown Taylor called the shortest sermon of his career, “Do not fear, only believe.”


Taylor says this sermon was not just for Jairus’ benefit,

and not just for the early church Mark addressed, but for “all of us who suffer from the human condition, who are up against things we cannot control.”

Do not fear, only believe.


Jesus breaks away from the crowd

and takes just three of his disciples  with him.

They reach the home and outside there is a commotion.

There is weeping and wailing on a scale that only happens when a child dies;

there is grief the enormity of which is felt only when things go horribly wrong –

grief of the scale of Aurora, CO last week or presently in Quincy Township perhaps.


Jesus enters the house and says,

“Why do you weep?  The child is not dead, but sleeping!”


And the people inside start laughing at him!

Laughing at him!


Jesus throws them out of the room,

and we are left with a tender scene.

It is Jesus and a mother and a father and a child.

The room is hushed.

Jairus and his wife have already exhausted their tears.

They stand with Jesus, whom they know is the only one – the only one,

who can bring them comfort now.


Jesus takes the girl’s hand,

and he says – in Aramaic – “Talitha cum.”

Talitha cum.

Rise up little girl!

And she does!


Rise up little girl!

Talitha cum!


When you are up against things you cannot control, Jesus and only Jesus comes down says, “Rise up!” Talitha cum.

When you have been out of work for months and the unemployment benefits are running out,

Jesus takes your hand and says, “Rise up!”


When there is historic drought in the Midwest and you are losing your crops,

Jesus takes your hand and says, “Rise up!”


When you’re a child whose been beaten and abused and you think no one is listening, Jesus takes your hand and says, “Rise up!”


When the school you love and support has been hit by scandal, Jesus takes your hand and says, “Rise up!”


When your father or mother returns from serving their country and is not the same as before they went, Jesus takes your hand and says, “Rise up!”


“Rise up little girl!”

“Rise up old man!”

Talitha cum.


When your adult children are getting a divorce, Jesus says, “Rise up!”


When your parents start forgetting things, Jesus says, “Rise up!”


When your teenage son is not home and you hear sirens, Jesus says, “Rise up!”


“Rise up young man!”

“Rise up old woman!”

Talitha cum.


When your friends betray you,

and your government doesn’t listen to you,

Jesus says, “Rise up!”  Talitha cum.


When you lose the gold medal,

or after spending your lifetime preparing for this day and you don’t make it into the medal round,

Jesus says, “Rise up!” Talitha cum.


When children can’t go to school,

and malaria is rampant,

and medical care is unaffordable,

Jesus says, “Rise up!”  Talitha cum.


Whenever things are out of your control, Jesus takes your hand and says,

Rise up!  Rise up!  Rise up!

Talitha cum.  Talitha cum.  Talitha cum.



Now we all know that when Jesus says, “Rise up!”

it doesn’t always mean that your child comes back to life,

or the cancer goes away,

or the violence stops.


And after we’ve been talking this summer for five weeks about miracles,

we can begin to wonder when ours is going to happen!


But maybe the thing we think is miraculous – is not the true miracle.


Maybe what is truly miraculous in this Bible passage is not that a man could bring a girl back to life,

but that this man – Jesus – was such a sign of hope and healing for hundreds or even thousands of needy people that they  would drop everything to  follow him about, and they would later say that they experienced resurrection – new life – in his presence – no matter what their circumstances.


As Douglas John Hall has said, maybe what is truly miraculous is not that a dead body should come to life again,

but that through the journey with him, the disciple community was enabled to

find hope in the midst of despair,

faith that could live with doubt,

and the courage to live beyond the sting of death.”[ii]


Rise up! Rise up to new life in Jesus!

Talitha cum.  Talitha cum.  Talitha cum.




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