The One who heals

Mark-5-two-miraclesThe full gospel reading for Sunday (there is a shorter option) contains two miracle accounts: the raising of Jairus’ daughter from death and the healing of the woman with hemorrhages. This is the account of a woman on rendered ritually “unclean” because of the flow of blood. Although suffering, she was very much alive, but at the same time face a kind of death because of her isolation from family and society. In yesterday’s post, the woman had reached out to touch Jesus’ garment as the passed by. “She said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.’ Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.” (Mark 5:28-29)Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30). In other controversy stories, Jesus shows himself aware of the inner thoughts and motives of his opponents, yet in this moment of healing, Jesus realized that “power had gone out from him” but seems unaware of the woman at all. This is an unusual expression which occurs only in Mark’s Gospel. We are perhaps surprised that Jesus seems to be caught unaware and that this power is not under his conscious control. The idea of dynamis (power) is intrinsic and constitutional in the biblical concept of the personal God. As Lane [192-3] notes: “Jesus possesses the power of God as the representative of the Father. Nevertheless, the Father remains in control of his own power. The healing of the woman occurred through God’s free and gracious decision to bestow upon her the power which was active in Jesus. By an act of sovereign will God determined to honor the woman’s faith in spite of the fact that it was tinged with ideas which bordered on magic.”

Jesus’ question “Who has touched my clothes?” might be simply the reaction to a moment that took him by surprise. The question seems pointless to the disciples since he had been jostled and touched by any number of people. It may well be that the disciples are trying to “keep Jesus on task” since the immediate mission was to assist Jairus’ daughter who was dying – any delay could prove fatal.

Or the question could might be far more important than simply mortal death. What is different about this encounter is that the power went out from Jesus. Certainly lots of people touched Jesus, yet not every contact resulted in an outflow of divine power and healing. It was not a unilateral event under the control and decision of the woman only – there is something more: a encounter of a personal nature. If the question is left unanswered, then the woman may well leave the encounter believing in the quasi-magical efficacy of touching famous and noteworthy people. In asking the question, Jesus is seeking to find the one who touched him with an expectation of salvation – immortal life. Her faith needs to be identified as the real source of her healing (v.34). In the meantime the disciples continue to be unaware of Jesus’ real power.

The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” (Mark 5:33-34)

Why would the woman approach in “fear and trembling?” Perkins [588] provides a wonderful explanation that I will simply offer in whole:

The woman’s fear at being discovered suggests the magical view of such healing powers. She might be accused of stealing what belongs to the healer without appropriate supplication (or payment)!213 Other interpreters suggest that her fear stems from the possible accusation of ritual contamination. Purification legislation from Qumran equates women with a flux of blood and males with a genital discharge. After the discharge stops, a seven-day purification period, followed by laundering clothing, is required before those who touch such a person are free from that contamination. Readers know that Jesus was not concerned about the problems of ritual contamination, since he had touched the leper (1:41), and the woman is said to be familiar with Jesus’ reputation. Therefore, ritual impurity does not appear to be the primary focus of Mark’s narrative. Unlike the story of the leper’s healing, Jesus does not instruct the woman to observe the required period of purification.

The exchange between Jesus and the woman removes any suggestion that Jesus’ clothes were endowed with magical power, nor does Jesus condemn her for attempted “theft” of his power. Jesus does not possess a magic force that accounts for his ability to heal. Instead, healing reflects the presence of God’s saving power (Deut 32:39; Isa 35:4–6; 53:4–5; Hos 11:3; Mal 4:1–3),215 and Jesus’ saving and healing presence demonstrates that the kingdom of God is near. The woman’s gesture of pushing through the crowd to touch Jesus’ garment resembles the faith exhibited by those who brought the paralytic to Jesus (2:5a). Jesus points to the woman’s faith as the real agent of healing and pronounces the cure permanent (v. 34).

The fear the woman exhibits as she responds to Jesus’ question stems from her knowledge of what has happened to her (v. 33). In other words, she recognizes the extraordinary divine power possessed by Jesus. Fear and trembling are common responses to the presence of the divine. The disciples were “filled with a great fear” after Jesus calmed the storm (4:41). In that situation, they were accused of having no faith (4:40). Likewise, the Gerasenes were so afraid of Jesus’ powers that they asked him to leave their country (5:15–17). Jesus addresses the woman as “daughter,” suggesting that she now has a personal relationship to Jesus as one of his family (3:35). (Some see his form of addressing her as an indication of the difference in social status between the two, although it appears to narrow the gap exhibited by the woman’s falling at Jesus’ feet.) The term may have been introduced when this story was combined with the cure of Jairus’s daughter (v. 35). It carries more personal overtones than would the term “woman,” which had been used for her in the rest of the story.

William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974)

Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press,1994)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.