Gospel Relfection June 27 – Fr. Morris
Sunday, June 27
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 5: 21-24, 35b-43
On the first day of the week, when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” He went off with him, and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.
While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said,“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.So he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out.
He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was.He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded. He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat.
In our Gospel this Sunday, St. Mark both quotes the Aramaic words of Jesus and immediately provides a translation of those words. Mark does this several times in his Gospel.
His editorial choice to do this is odd. His Gospel is composed in Greek, to a presumably Greek-speaking audience. Aramaic and Greek do not even share a common alphabet, so to include these phrases, Mark is both transliterating (representing Aramaic’s “sounds” with the same “sounds” in the Greek alphabet) and providing a translation of the Aramaic meaning into Greek. Why does he go through all the effort and bother to include these “foreign” sayings in his text at all?
It is perhaps not surprising that biblical scholars offer various answers to this particular question. But one that I always found persuasive holds that Mark is specifically, carefully including what he believes are the actual words that Christ spoke on these occasions. Whether by eyewitnesses’ testimony, the early Christians’ oral tradition, or perhaps even from the preaching of St Peter, Mark is careful to preserve in as original a form as possible several particularly poignant utterances of Jesus Christ in the commoners’ tongue of Aramaic.
Without our English translation (of Mark’s Greek translation!), we would not know what ‘Talitha Koum’ means. But WITH Mark’s translation in mind, we can then go back and read Jesus’ words and fill in the intimacy, gentleness, and mercy with which they would have been said.
Far from academic or linguistic concerns and ends, these “foreign” words help us to understand the human side of Christ’s ministry. Without an ability to read or speak Aramaic–can we not hear in those words something of the simplicity and compassion of Christ? To raise this young girl, Christ makes no grand speech, no showy gestures, not even a quote from the Old Testament. He gently takes her hand, and softly says two everyday, common words– talitha koum– and that young girl is miraculously restored from death to life.
Fr. Matthew Morris