Shrink Your Circle

“And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”

And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”

And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”

And they laughed at him.

But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.” Mark 5:21-43

While reading during my study time recently, I came across this passage in the book of Mark. This particular incident is also written about in Matthew 9:18-26 and Luke 8:40-56. It is a frequently-taught section, often cited for the suffering woman’s faith or the synagogue ruler’s trust in the Lord, or the miraculous healing of the young girl. As with much scripture that may be familiar, it’s sometimes easy to mentally skim past it, assuming that there’s nothing new, no fresh spiritual insights to be gained. I try, when tempted to make such assumptions, to look a little more closely to the details of a passage, imagining it fleshed out as a historical event rather than a Bible story. I find that helps me connect a little better to the details of the incident. In this particular case, using my imagination in that way brought me to an insight that I think is worth sharing with you.

Picture the scene: Jesus is surrounded by throngs of people, perhaps thousands, all wanting to witness some unbelievable act or needing something from Him. Think pre-Covid Disney World crowds, all pressing in around Him. Crowds so thick, you can practically smell the sweat, feel the heat radiating off of the sea of humanity, all coming with great needs mixed with great curiosity.

Among the innumerable people, the author Mark describes Jesus’s intimate interactions with two specific individuals: the woman with an issue of blood and Jairus, a ruler in the synagogue. I hope to return to the woman another time, but for now, let’s turn our attention to Jairus. While he is described as a religious ruler, Jairus is different than the Pharisees and Sadducees that are frequently rebuked by Jesus for their hypocrisy and hard-heartedness. We learn that Jairus comes desperately to Jesus, falling at His feet and imploring Him to come heal his little girl, who is on the verge of dying. The honesty with which he comes to Jesus, his willingness to humble himself and state his need, gains the Savior’s attention. Jesus agrees to go with the father to heal his child. And still the throng clings to Him.

Along the way, Jairus receives word that it’s too late—his daughter is dead—so he should leave the Teacher alone. Jesus overhears yet dismisses the messengers and focuses His attention on the father, this desperate man who has the humility and faith to come this far to ask for help. “Do not fear; only believe.” I can picture Jesus locking eyes with Jairus as He commands him. At this point, Jesus clears the crowds. He permits only His inner circle of Peter, James and John to continue with Him to Jairus’s house. The number shrinks from thousands to five. Upon arriving at the home, Jesus finds another crowd, a group of professional mourners. Historically, these were usually women who may or may not even have known the person for whom they mourned. They typically arrived at the home of the deceased from the time of death until the burial, leading family members and others in the community to mourn as a sign of wealth and/or respect. Often these mourners were compensated for their services.

Jesus, entering the home with only four others, addresses the crowd: “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” Suddenly the weeping and wailing turned to laughing and mocking, as the mourners and others gathered have no idea of Jesus’s plan, power, or purpose. Again, Jesus dismisses the crowds, sending them all out. Again, Jesus gathers the fewest number of people possible; this time, only the girl’s father and mother are permitted to go with Him and His three closest disciples. Again, Jesus causes the crowds to shrink.

Once Jesus has pared the numbers down from the greatest to the most intimate, He takes the hand of the young girl and speaks to her, saying, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” And miraculously, she does!

Here’s how I read this: When you are depending on the Lord in a desperate situation, especially a seemingly hopeless situation, shrink your circle. You may be surrounded by people daily. You may have hundreds of FaceBook friends or a Twitter following of thousands. You may be acquainted with a huge number of coworkers or neighbors. There may even be a great circle of church-going, godly, well-meaning friends about you. Great crowds do not automatically equal great faith. In fact, the more people surrounding you, the more doubt or fear may creep in, because each of those people brings his or her own issues, agendas, misconceptions about God, about what’s possible, conditions of spiritual blindness, fears, disappointments, or doubts.

Sharing prayer concerns widely to the public may invite public opinions, scrutiny, comparisons, judgment, or any number of reactions that dilute your ability to believe God. We’ve all witnessed —or worse— participated in, prayer chains that became gossip chains. These don’t serve to increase petitions to heaven; rather, they invite doubt and weaken the effectiveness of that which they were intended to strengthen.

When it comes to situations requiring powerful prayers and great faith to believe God, often less is more. Jesus not only sent away crowds of strangers; He also separated from nine of His own disciples, taking only those closest to Him.

Perhaps we should follow His example.

Another instance of Jesus shrinking His circle can be found during His moments of deepest personal need. Mark 14:32-36 details an event leading up to Jesus's arrest. "And they (Jesus and His disciples) went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Jesus left the majority of His disciples, taking with Him only, again, His closest three: Peter, James and John. When He reached the point of spiritual anguish, Jesus even left them behind to meet only with God, His Father to plead with Him, to be strengthened by Him, and ultimately, to submit to His Father's will, alone.

Like Jesus, when we face what is humanly impossible, perhaps we should walk away from the masses, the spectacle-seekers and the mockers. Rather than listen to the bearers of bad news and those with something to gain from hopeless situations, the ‘I told you so-ers,’ and the ‘it’s no use-ers’, quietly send them away. Instead, take only your most faithful, faith-filled, few. I’m talking about the people who know who they are in Christ, who know the Word, who regularly go to the Father, believing. The ones who will not entertain doubts because they know that God has the final say. These are the ones who will truly stand in the gap and believe with you, not in a ‘name-it-and-claim-it’ kind of way, but who believe that we are to persistently ask, seek, knock, and ultimately accept God’s will, believing that He is good, and works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom.8:28). By now, your circle has shrunk to two or three, maybe even one other person. Now you’re there. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:20.

When you shrink your circle, you have a clearer view of Jesus when He locks eyes with you and tells you, “Do not fear; only believe.”