Raised from being dead

Recently, I read a feminist interpretation of one of those stories in which Jesus goes and heals someone; alas, I can’t remember where I read it, so I’m going to have to reconstruct it on my own.

These healing stories tend to annoy me. I’m not friendly to supernatural explanations; I’m a religious naturalist; so I tend to dismiss those stories where a prophet brings someone back from the dead, because I know it’s just not possible. Obviously, however, I don’t have to think of these healing stories as literal truth; they can be considered as metaphorical.

So here’s the story: A man named Jairus, a ruler of the local synagogue, come up to Jesus, and says, “My twelve year old daughter lies at the point of death. Won’t you please come and lay hands on her that she may be healed?” Jesus goes to the man’s house, but when they get there, someone tells Jairus that his daughter is dead, so he should stop bugging Jesus. Jesus tells him not to be afraid, and goes into the house. He takes the girl’s hand, and says, “Talitha, cumi,” which means, “Girl, I tell you, arise.” And the girl gets up and walks around, and everyone is astonished.

Who knows what the original storytellers meant by this story? There are plenty of Christians today who will tell you that they are quite sure they know what the story means, and they will tell you that the story means that Jesus Christ can perform miracles and raise people from the dead. Well, this story comes from the book of Mark (5.25 ff.), and nowhere in the story is Jesus called “Jesus Christ,” and nowhere does the story say that the story has to be interpreted so literally as that.

Here’s another interpretation. Anyone who has hung out with twelve year old girls these days knows that it is a vulnerable age. Sometimes the alive, interesting, assertive girl of childhood seems to die at around age twelve. It’s like the girl that used to be so alive has died, or at least become this passive being that (metaphorically speaking) just seems to lie there; Mary Pipher wrote about this phenomenon in her book Reviving Ophelia.

Perhaps what those girls need is some adult who believes in them. That adult might say to the other adults in that girl’s life, “Be not afraid, only believe. The girl is not dead, only sleeping.” That adult might then say to the girl, “Girl, I say to thee, arise.” And perhaps it’s not a bad idea to have a respected male figure say this to the girl, someone who’s not her father, at least once in the girl’s life.

That interpretation makes this a story that’s not about physical healing, but instead about adults recognizing girl power when they see it.

7 thoughts on “Raised from being dead”

  1. Have you followed the stuff in the news on faster-than-light neturinos? If true, and it seems so, then much of our thinking on time needs to be rethought. The joke,

    We don’t allow faster-than-light neutrinos in here,” says the bartender.

    A neutrino walks into a bar.

    might not be such a joke.

  2. Charles Krauthammer wrote a column on this. He wrote:

    We shall need a new physics. A new cosmology. New understandings of past and future, of cause and effect. Then shortly and surely, new theologies.

    Why? Because we can’t have neutrinos getting kicked out of taverns they have not yet entered.

    Baar again: Risen from the dead not so far fetched if we’ve badly misunderstood past and future, cause and effect, so far…

  3. Intriguing. You ought to also look at the photo book “At Twelve.” Sally Mann’s powerful photos of girls at this age, or right before they hit the “dead zone” of puberty when expectations of what it is to be female start to kill off the real person.

    For what it’s worth, girls of that age who hang around horses do pretty darn well at preserving the life force of girldom. And women who start up with horses midlife? Same deal.

  4. Bill @ 1 & 2 — Yes, we need to rethink cause and effect — and that could be the basis of yet another interpretation of this and other religious stories. Having said that, did you hear about the two neutrinos who walked into a bar? You think the second one would’ve ducked.

    Jean @ 4 — Thanks for the pointer to the photo book; I’ll be looking for that. And yes, there are activities and communities that are more supportive of girls and girl power than other activities and communities. Needless to say, one of my goals is to make congregations such communities. Also, the research of Search Institute shows that when adolescents of any gender who engage in many such activities — what Search Institute calls “developmental assets” — that correlates to lower incidences of risky behaviors such as drug use, unprotected sexual intercourse, etc.

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