Who, According to Mark, Was Jairus? Studies in Mark, Pt. 12

Traditionally, when one reads Mark's story of Jairus and the healing of his young daughter, they come away with a greater sense of faithfulness, they are inspired by this synagogue ruler's persistence and they admire his seemingly deep respect for Jesus. After all, even when people come from the ruler's home and say to him, “Your daughter is dead, why bother with the Teacher any longer?” Jairus presses on. Indeed, he leads Jesus directly to his home. But I wonder if there may be good reason to question such an ivory tower view of Jairus. In fact, it might well be the case that a closer reading of the story suggests that Jairus was not nearly as interested in Jesus as we would like him to have been.

There are two sections of the text prior to the Jairus story (Mk. 5.22-43) that must be borne in mind when reading Mark's account of the Gospel, these two sections are: Mk. 3.1-6 and Mk. 4.1-20. We will look at 4.1-20 first. As I have written in a previous post (click here for that post), the parable of the soils is, according to Mark, the key to understanding all other parables (4.13). The reason for this is because at the heart of the parable is the divinity of Jesus (again, see the other post for more on this). Thus, if one gets this point, they can make sense of all the other parables (in context, of course). While that is the chief point of the soils parable, there is yet another point that flows from that one: Jesus is telling His followers the four types of persons they will encounter as they proclaim the divinity of Jesus (that is what the four types of soils represent, four types of people that Jesus and His followers repeatedly encounter in Mark's narrative).

The four types of soils and thus, types of people, are: 1) closed-minded and hard-hearted people who have it made up in their minds that Jesus is a liar (4.15), 2) shallow people seeking Jesus for self benefit, who, when they do or do not get want they want, turn away from Him (4.16-17), 3) persons close to Jesus who, for whatever reasons, be it honor status, riches, etc., attempt to stifle His ministry, and 4) Those who hear the word (the seed) and let it permeate their entire lives. As I said, we see these four types of people repeatedly in Mark's story and these are the types of people that Jesus speaks to His disciples of. Indeed, when Jesus sends out The Twelve on their first mission, He warns them of such people (6.1-6).

It might well be the case that Jairus falls within the second people group: shallow people seeking Jesus for self benefit, who, when they do or do not get want they want, turn away from Him. In 1.40-45, such a character has already been mentioned and in 5.35 the people from the home of Jairus suggest the same thing. So, if Jairus decides to continue on to his home with Jesus by his side, how does that suggest that he thought the same thing? Well, this is where the second passage that I mentioned above comes into play: 3.1-6.

In 3.1-6 Jesus attends the synagogue on the Sabbath, conducts a healing and evidently upsets the social norm and the religious leaders. In fact, 3.6 says, “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” If you remember, 5.22 says that Jairus is a synagogue ruler (archisynagogon). So, not long after Mark mentions the plot by the synagogue leaders to kill Jesus, he tells the parable of the soils and shortly thereafter, the story of Jairus. Is all of this a coincidence or has Mark ordered these stories on purpose and with reason? I would argue that Mark has definitely ordered these stories with intention.

Could it be that the elderly woman who was bleeding for twelve years, who shares the story and scene with Jairus is actually a contrast to Jairus? Possibly. And what about Mark's portrayal of the synagogues and their rulers? The first exorcism in Mark takes place in a synagogue (1.21-8). Jesus is indignant with the synagogue rulers in 1.40-45. The synagogue rulers begin their aggressive attack on Jesus by whispering about Him during one of His healings (2.1-12). The synagogue rulers challenge His followers in 2.18-22 and they challenge Him to His face in 2.23-28. Again, they set Him up and then begin to plot to kill Him in 3.1-6. The try to shame Him in front of others by saying that He is of satan in 3.10-34. And in 6.1-6 they mock Him and resent Him in His hometown. In the first six chapters, the synagogues and their rulers are viewed negatively. Why, then, should we take the story of Jairus (a named synagogue ruler) differently? I would say, “We should not!”

In fact, it could very well be the case that the name of Jairus is mentioned as a shaming effect. Mark could have left his name unmentioned but he did not; he wanted everyone to know the truth about this ruler: "Jairus" was attempting to use Jesus and take advantage of Him. Of course, having already been to the synagogues, Jesus would have been aware of Jairus and who he was. That may actually be how Jairus knew of Jesus; perhaps he saw the healing take place in 3.1-6 and used Jesus as a last resort. Most commentators are preplexed that Jairus, (evidently, a little well-to-do), actually went to a wandering "magician" or "physician," my hypothesis could explain why: he was using Jesus was a last resort. It may be telling though that Jairus is never mentioned again in Mark. If he were a synagogue ruler on Jesus's side, maybe he would have been.

From my perspective, it appears as though Jairus is not an example of faithfulness after all; it seems that he, like so many others, was seeking Jesus for self benefit with no intentions of following Jesus. Has much changed since then? I think not.

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