Question: "What is the meaning of talitha cumi?"
Answer: Talitha cumi or talitha koum is a transcription of an Aramaic phrase found in Mark 5:41. Jesus spoke this when He raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead (Mark 5:21–43). Aramaic was the common, everyday language in Israel at that time. Mark interprets the sentence for us: “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” The account of the healing is also found in Matthew 9 and Luke 8, but only Mark records the Aramaic words that Jesus spoke, talitha cumi.
Talitha is a term of endearment. It is etymologically related to a word that can also mean “lamb.” Jesus’ use of this term, coupled with His taking the little girl by the hand, provides an image of a compassion and gentleness. The Good Shepherd is lovingly gathering the lambs in His arms (see Isaiah 40:11): “My little lamb,” He says to her as He restores her life, “it’s time to get up.”
Jesus saying, “Talitha cumi,” comes in the context of a larger story. In Capernaum, Jesus was surrounded by a crowd when Jairus, a synagogue ruler, fell at Jesus’ feet. Jairus “pleaded earnestly with Him” because his 12-year-old daughter was dying and he wanted Jesus to heal her (Mark 5:22–23). The crowds following Jesus were not unusual, but a synagogue leader recognizing Jesus’ authority and requesting His help was.
On the way to Jairus’s house, Jesus was met by a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. The woman had been to doctors, spent all she had, and had only grown worse. She came up behind Jesus, unnoticed by the crowd, and reached out to touch Jesus’ garment, trusting that if she just touched His clothes she would be healed. She was healed, and Jesus felt power go out from Him. He stopped the procession to Jairus’s house and asked who had touched Him. The woman came forward and “trembling with fear, told him the whole truth” (Mark 5:33). Jesus responded with compassion, calling the woman “Daughter,” and told her to go in peace and be free from suffering.
The way the accounts of Jairus’s daughter and the woman with the issue of blood are juxtaposed is an interesting framing device. In both stories, Jesus’ compassion toward the woman with the issue of blood and the young girl seems to be highlighted. We understand that Jesus cares for all people—rulers of the synagogue, children, and women who are ceremonially unclean. In the midst of the crowd, He sees the needs of the one and is willing to respond.
Faith also becomes an interesting theme in this passage. The woman with the issue of blood believed she only needed to touch Jesus’ clothing to receive healing. As Jesus was affirming the woman’s healing, some people from Jairus’s house came to tell him that it was too late—Jairus’s daughter had died. Overhearing them, Jesus told Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mark 5:36). At that point, Jairus had to decide if he would believe his friends or Jesus. In this situation, when it seemed death had the final say and all hope was lost, Jairus continued to lead Jesus to his home. Both Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood showed bold faith and disregarded the pressures of the crowd in favor of looking to Jesus.
At Jairus’s house, Jesus was met by people weeping and wailing loudly because the young girl had died. Jesus responded by telling everyone that she was not dead but sleeping. The mourners laughed at Him, but Jesus took Jairus, Jairus’s wife, and three of His disciples with Him to the room where the little girl’s body lay. Then He took the little girl by the hand and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” and Mark translates: “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41, NKJV). Immediately, the little girl arose and walked around.
Both Jairus and the woman with the bleeding found the answers to their needs by coming to Jesus (Mark 5:22, 33). He responded to their faith and revealed that He is Lord over disease and death. That does not mean that God always heals or rescues people from danger (2 Corinthians 12:1–10), but it does mean that He holds the ultimate authority over death.
By Jesus’ word, talitha cumi, the girl arose. This same Jesus is the one we look to today—our Savior is both gentle and strong. He is loving and absolutely powerful—loving enough to be our Good Shepherd and powerful enough to raise us from the dead. Faith in Him takes away all fear, even the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14–15).