Hopelessly Devoted: Mark Chapter Five Verses Twenty-One to Forty-Three

In an undergraduate class on the short story, James Joyce’s Dubliners in hand, I learned […]

Larry Parsley / 11.28.17

In an undergraduate class on the short story, James Joyce’s Dubliners in hand, I learned how to hunt for epiphanies. In Joyce’s Araby, for example, a young boy is infatuated with his friend Mangan’s sister. She is to him a chaste goddess — “Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.” In her presence, he was the harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires. Yeah, the boy’s got it bad.

One day she casually asks him if he planned to go to an exotic-sounding bazaar called Araby, and when he discovers she can’t go he tells her he’ll bring her something. He imagines himself a knight spiriting a sacred chalice to his beloved. But things go horribly wrong when he arrives late at the shabby bazaar. Searching out porcelain vases as a gift, he overhears the vapid flirtations of an older teenage girl with two young gentlemen. Walking out of the shop and through the dark hall, the boy has his epiphany. What had seemed beautiful and noble and dreamy — pre-adolescent love — now seems so tawdry and pointless: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.”

When the synagogue leader Jairus has his first epiphany, the stakes are considerably higher. After going on his quest to find the only one who could save his dying daughter, after falling at Jesus’ feet and begging him to come, after fighting through the oppressive crowd, Jairus hears the soul-crushing news from messengers sent from home. “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the teacher anymore?” Those words mixed bald truth (your daughter is dead) with deceptive implications (Jesus can’t help, doesn’t care, shouldn’t be bothered). The fact is that your daughter is dead, and death is of course irreversible. The advice is to let poor Jesus get on with his business. With harsh clarity Jairus gets his epiphany — the utter anguish and pointlessness of his errand.

But Jairus’ story is not over. It takes its turn with Jesus “overhearing what they said” (Mark 5:36). Jesus responds by telling Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe” or literally, “No fear; only faith.” In other words, Jesus “overhears” the soul-smashing and faith-defeating words spoken to Jairus and says Don’t give your heart to their words. Listen to mine instead. Later, taking Jairus’ daughter’s hand, Jesus says, “Talitha koum!” (Little girl, I say to you get up). And she does. This second epiphany swallows the first, reversing the death sentence Jairus overheard from the messengers.

I deeply need Jesus to overhear those words which crush my unprotected soul — those dark epiphanies that I speak to myself as much as hear from others. You are a fraud. Your best days are behind you. If people really knew the real you…I doubt even Jesus can get you out of this situation. Words like these punish my unguarded heart. Overhear them Lord; intercept them and overturn them with the gospel. No fear; only faith.