The Faith of Desperadoes (This is the final part in a 2-part series.)

talitha cumi

Is my faith securely placed?

Faith” has come to mean many things, including a personal religious preference. We all have faith in something, whether in ourselves and our abilities, or a person or relationship. The Bible describes the faith of a Christ-follower as the God-given ability to believe certain things that are true and to stake your whole life on them. Jesus taught that it is not the quantity of faith that matters, but the object of that faith. Over and over again he rewarded the faith of desperadoes. Wouldn’t this Easter be a good time to ask the question, is my faith securely placed?

Mark 5:21-43 (NIV)

Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

A somebody and a nobody

Our text is about two contrasting characters: A woman with a bleeding disease and Jairus, the synagogue ruler. Jairus is a prominent Jewish man with a good name, a home and family. People respect and admire him. Like a successful businessman or professional today, he was not needy or dependent on anyone. This is the picture of a privileged, self-made man who lacks nothing. He is a somebody.

In contrast, the bleeding woman is a nobody. Her perpetual religious uncleanness robs her of temple worship, fellowship and renders her an outcast.  She is nameless, childless, friendless, bankrupt and plagued by unrelenting shame, loneliness and fear. When I visit a local retirement home, I see many old people like this woman, haunted by incessant depression and despair. They feel abandoned by their children and isolated from true community. On the other side of the spectrum, I have walked alongside much younger friends who are paralysed by regret or hopelessness over a situation they cannot change. Despite my best efforts, I am powerless to loosen the grip of despair over their lives. They have no hope, no consolation and no faith.

The brick wall

Both the needy woman and the self-made man come to Jesus in desperation, with problems too big to fix. In part 1 we saw how Jesus rewarded the woman’s desperate act of touching his clothes by healing her completely and then encountering her personally. The Saviour, the Messiah, is more than just a miracle worker and a cosmic vending machine. He is God in the flesh, the Prince of Peace, who comes to earth to restore wholeness and shalom to anyone who reaches out to Him. This salvation is at soul level, much deeper than physical healing. “Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame…For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:11 & 13). There’s no uncertainty there and the ‘saving’ brings complete wholeness.

So how does Jesus deal with Jairus, the successful man who reaches the brick wall of death? “Your daughter is dead…Why bother the teacher anymore?” (verse 35). Those must have been the most devastating words a father could hear, an irrevocable nightmare. Yet, Jesus wants to teach that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. “Don’t fear, just trust”, Jesus replies. Jesus tells Jairus to hold onto faith when his daughter’s heart has stopped beating. That’s a tall order.

Jesus leaves the professional wailers who have arrived to help the family express their grief and goes to the little girl with just the parents, Peter, James and John. She is indisputably dead, yet Jesus says, “she is not dead but asleep.” Why give a grieving family false hope and minimize their suffering? Then Jesus does something that astounds everyone. Read the text again so that the impact of this miracle is not lost in the three understated sentences of verses 41 -42.

“Talitha Koum!”

Talitha literally means “little girl,” but in the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke, it was a pet name, a diminutive term of endearment more like “lambkin” or “sweetheart.” “Koum” means to “arise.” He touches her dead body (making himself unclean) and regenerates her dead heart and spirit. She gets up instantly and walks around as though nothing has happened!

This is how Tim Keller puts it:

“Jesus is facing facing the most implacable, inexorable enemy of the human race and such is his power that he holds this child by the hand and gently lifts her right up through it. “Honey, get up.”

Jesus is saying by his actions, “If I have you by the hand, death itself is nothing but sleep.” . . .

. . . There’s nothing more frightening for a little child than to lose the hand of the parent in a crowd or in the dark, but that is nothing compared with Jesus’s own loss.

He lost his Father’s hand on the cross.

He went into the tomb so we can be raised out of it.

He lost hold of his Father’s hand so we could know that once he has us by the hand, he will never, ever forsake us. (Tim Keller, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, pp. 67-69.)

This is what the Easter message is all about! Jesus cares deeply for his people, whether you are an important somebody like Jairus whose 12 year old daughter was dying, or a lonely nobody like the sick woman who had suffered from a shameful disease for 12 years. Jesus did these miracles out of compassion, but He was teaching us a much greater truth– that He has power over everything; that He is Lord over all, and has come to offer us completeness, wholeness and life itself.

Faith that pleads earnestly

As I meditated on the text and wrote this devotional, it became clear to me that I can relate both to Jairus and the sick woman. Gender is irrelevant here. Sometimes I see myself as privileged and buffered against hardships because of wealth, education and support of family and community. I see my little empire doing nicely. Then, all of a sudden, some great meteorite comes crashing through the buffer zone of my secure life and I am reminded that I cannot control the things that matter most in life! I’m nothing more than a candle in the wind. Being a parent makes me realise my profound weakness and powerlessness. I cannot control my children’s wellbeing, their choices, their faith or future. I cannot control the political situation or the economy. I feed my family healthy food and vitamins, but I cannot determine their health and safety. If the truth be told, I cannot save myself or anyone I love from anything that matters. I cannot create a happy family. That’s why I need to get on my knees seriously, like Jairus, and implore Jesus to do his saving work, to soften hearts and to meet our needs with his grace and lovingkindness. Jairus pleads with Jesus earnestly because he knows how urgent his needs are and that Jesus has the power to help him.

Is my faith as desperate, bold and earnest as Jairus’s? Do I come to Jesus as he did, “pleading earnestly” for what matters most to me?

Faith that touches the hem of the Saviour


On other days, I am more like the sick woman, a desperado who can barely approach Jesus. Sometimes, when I’m most overwhelmed with problems, discouragement, shame, despair or inadequacy, I don’t seem to have the energy or boldness to come to Jesus and pour out my heart to him. I back off from him and stand in the shadows.

This encounter reminds me graphically that when I am in the deepest pit, it’s best to come to Jesus, touch the edge of his garment and fall at his feet. When I choose to do this rather than remain in the shadows, He always draws me into an intimate encounter with Him and gives me the deepest kind of shalom.

Jesus loved Jairus and his daughter as much as He loved the sick woman. He loves us the same way and wants each of us to acknowledge that we are incapable of saving ourselves, even if our world tells us we are secure. No status, strength or achievement is a buffer against the ultimate enemy, which is death, and God loves us enough to give us reminders of our mortality. Unless we acknowledge that we are spiritually sick and come to the Healer in repentance, we cannot be made right with God.  Unless we acknowledge we are spiritually dead and put out faith in the source of Life, we cannot be blessed by his power, presence and peace. Without faith in the Way, the Truth and the Life, we cannot find our way to the eternal Kingdom of God. Without Jesus as the object of our faith, we will remain desperadoes clinging to mists and shadows to protect us.

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32.)

Easter Friday

That is why Jesus came to this earth and laid down His life willingly on Easter Friday. He did it for his people, like Jairus and the bleeding woman in the first century, and like me and you in the twenty-first century. That’s how much he loves us.

 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”  (John 10:11, 18).

Easter Saturday

Jesus was not at the mercy of anyone. He lived and died and was buried because it was planned that way. It was for the love of his ‘flock’ that Jesus died, forsaken by his own Father, sent into darkness, his body buried in a cave for a full day in history. (Matthew 27:62-66). That is what Easter Saturday is all about.

Easter Sunday

Jesus demonstrated that He is the only worthy object of our faith when He took up his life again on Resurrection Sunday. What a graphic mirror of his command to Jairus’s daughter, “Talitha, Koum!” It’s the resurrection that proves that Jesus is God’s Son, the only one who has power and authority over death and who can bring us back into right relationship with God the Father.

Faith like a mustard seed


If you realise you are a desperado, unable to save yourself, you stand with a small mustard seed of faith in your hand. Don’t clutch it in your fist where it cannot see the light. Bring it to Jesus so that he can plant the seed and nurture it to become a fruitful plant. No matter how respectable the mask you wear, don’t be afraid to fall on your knees before Jesus and ask Him to be your own Saviour. I’ve found that having faith is not a once-off event. For me, faith is coming to Him day by day with my fears and hopes and dreams, depending on Him, hearing him say to me over and over again, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Do you personally know Jesus as the one who made himself unclean by touching the body of a little girl and spoke those tender, personal words, “Talitha Koum?” 

At this Easter time, why not read through the Gospel of Luke to see who Jesus is?

The full account of the Easter story is in Matthew 27:1-61; Mark 15:1-47; Luke 23:1-56 and John 18:28-19:42. I’d love to hear from you!