Crossing over: context

Mark-5-two-miraclesThe Daughter of Jairus and the Woman with the Hemorrhage (5:21-43)

21 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. 22 One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing him he fell at his feet 23 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.” 24 He went off with him, and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.

25 There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. 28 She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” 29 Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30 Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” 31 But his disciples said to him, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

35 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?” 36 Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” 37 He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 So he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 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. 41 He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” 42 The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. (At that) they were utterly astounded. 43 He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat.

Context. Last week (the 12th Sunday in Year B) we heard Mark’s account of Jesus on the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41) during which Jesus calmed the seas with his word. Chapter 5 begins with Jesus and the disciples returning to Jewish land as they again cross the Sea of Galilee. In Mark, the lake represents literally and figuratively the boundary between Gentiles and Jews.

The lectionary moves into additional miracle accounts while skipping the story of the Gerasene demoniac. Our gospel selection includes a miracle within a miracle. They are the final two miracles of the “miracle section” of Mark (4:35-5:43), which includes four miracles and reactions to the miracles:

  • Calming the storm at sea — the disciples still have no faith (Mk 4:34-41)
  • Casting a demon from a man and the subsequent desire of the locals that Jesus leave town even as the healed man becomes a witness (Mk 5:1-20)
  • Raising Jairus’ daughter – “don’t be afraid, only believe” (Mk 5:21-24, 35-43)
  • Healing the bleeding woman – her faith saved her (Mk 5:25-34)

In these miracles, Jesus exercises his power over nature (or the god/demon of chaos?), over the demonic army, over sickness, and over death. Another detail which connects several of the readings is the association of Jesus and uncleanliness: the possessed man from the tombs (who is probably a Gentile), the flow of blood from the woman, and being in the presence of death all pull Jesus into the category of ceremonial uncleanness.

Ceremonial Cleanliness. These miracles have to be understood as within the framework of ceremonial cleanliness. What is clear is the both the woman and the girl were unclean. In Jewish thought uncleanness was infectious, a human being might incur it by contact with any unclean person or thing (Lev. 5:3); but the law regarded three forms of uncleanness as serious enough to exclude the infected person from society. These were leprosy, uncleanness caused by bodily discharges, and impurity resulting from contact with the dead (Num. 5:2-4). This is not a topic that is just being introduced in Mark 5. Recall the connection with the ending of Mark 4: the exorcism of the unclean spirits from the man living in the (unclean) tombs into the (unclean) pigs. Stoffregen writes that “All three characters in Mark 5 transfer their uncleanness to Jesus, and to each Jesus bestows the cleansing wholeness of God. Mark 5 might be called the ‘St. Jude chapter’ (the saint of hopeless causes), for the Gerasene demoniac, the hemorrhaging woman, and Jairus each find hope in Jesus when all human hopes are exhausted.”

Structure. An interesting details is how the healing of the women with hemorrhages for 12 years is “sandwiched” between the full account of the healing of Jairus’ daughter. Lane [189-90] notes that “The two incidents may have become associated in this way merely because there was an interruption to the journey which proved disastrous for the young girl. But it is possible that Mark saw more in this association: the healing of a woman who has lived with the impingement of death anticipates the healing of a girl who has actually experienced death. The structural device of [sandwiching] one incident within another is paralleled by other instances in which Mark uses the device of anticipation. The detail with which Mark recalls the woman with the hemorrhage indicates that his concern extends beyond the mere passage of time. The healing experienced by the woman is itself a reversal of death and a pledge of the raising of Jairus’ daughter.”

Jesus and women: life and trust. The account of the healing of the woman and Jairus’ daughter are part of a four-fold miracle narration in which Jesus has shown power over chaotic nature (4:35-41) and destructive demons (5:1-20), and now over debilitating illness and death itself.

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is closely involved with women nine times. Here in verses 21–43, Mark’s readers enter into two of Jesus’ more moving encounters with women (Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage). Both stories begin with someone seeking out Jesus, the healer. Both stories end in the cure of a person who had been hopelessly sick. Even the way Mark intertwines the two stories shows that Mark wants his readers to hear one important message common to both: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” (v. 36)! The father of the little girl trusts Jesus even after hearing the report that she is dead (vv. 35–40). He is invited to witness Jesus’ healing touch and word, and then sees his little girl walking around alive (vv. 41–42). The woman shows her trust by touching Jesus (v. 27) and by coming forward in spite of her fear (v. 33). She learns that her faith is rewarded by peace and lasting health (v. 34). Like Jairus and the woman, Christians of every age are urged by Mark to approach Jesus confidently with earnest appeals on behalf of the sick and dying.

Even as he reports Jesus’ miraculous power, Mark preserves the human side of Jesus. For example, the one who has more healing power than the physicians of his day (he cured the woman who had spent all her money and twelve years of time in going to doctors, who failed to help her, v. 26) did not know who touched him (v. 30). Likewise, the one who raises the little girl from her deathbed (v. 41) is also sensitive to her need for something to eat (v. 43). Such details make Mark’s Jesus very approachable; he was perfectly human (he was full of compassion). Mark’s readers can trust him now as those in need did when he walked on this earth. He is sensitive to the needs of those who seek him out.

It is important that Mark’s readers notice the details in this passage that point to the climax of the Gospel. Such hints reveal Mark’s desire to keep his readers moving with Jesus to the place where his journey leads. For example, Peter, James, and John, who witness the raising of the dead girl here, will soon question what “to rise from the dead” means (9:10). Likewise, the fearful, trembling woman with a hemorrhage points to the three women who will leave the empty tomb “seized with trembling and bewilderment,” so afraid that they say nothing to anyone (16:8). There is almost no section of Mark’s Gospel that does not draw his readers to its conclusion. Mark asks his readers, women and men, to stay with Jesus to the end. Even when life’s confusion and tragedies get them down, Mark’s readers are reminded: “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust in God, who brings life, even from death.”

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