Jesus told Jairus to be like the bleeding woman

This Sunday, the lectionary invites us to feed on Mark 5:21-43. The English Standard Version supplies the passage with the heading “Jesus Heals a Woman and Jairus’s Daughter.”

The passage is about two healings, just as the title indicates. But why does Mark place it in this position in his gospel? Why does he choose the details he includes? Why does he choose the words he uses?

Those questions are important because none of the gospels are designed to be strict chronological accounts of what Jesus did. The goal of the gospel writers was not to describe events in the order in which they occurred. Their goal was to explain Jesus. What he did. What he said. How people reacted to him. How his life ended. How we should respond.

Therefore, many of the questions we have aren’t answered in the gospels. For example, we can’t be sure which healings and miracles Jesus performed before he sent out the Twelve members of his inner circle to go out and heal, cast out spirits, and proclaim the coming of the kingdom.[1]

We must read the gospels the way they are designed to be read. So, we ask why Mark placed these healings at this point of his gospel; and why he chose the details to include and the words to use. The answers are tied to each other.

This point in Mark’s gospel is after Jesus has explained to the Twelve that some people are “in the kingdom,” because they understand his parables[2] and recognize who he is. This point is after Jesus calmed the storm, and the Twelve still wondered who he was.[3] This point is after Jesus cast demons out of a deranged, violent man who lived in a graveyard.[4]

Mark puts in our ears the failure of the Twelve to recognize who Jesus was after he calmed the storm. Then Mark puts in our ears the fact that others recognized who Jesus was.

He tells us the demon-possessed man fell down before Jesus and addressed him as “Son of the Most High God.”[5]

He tells us Jairus fell at Jesus feet and pleaded for him to go and heal his daughter. Jairus, a synagogue ruler. Highly respected. Member of the elite. Upper class. Father of a 12-year-old who’s on her deathbed.

Jesus agrees. He gets going. But he’s interrupted. By a woman who’s been bleeding for 12 years. She’s spent all her money on treatments. Mark tells us she too fell at Jesus’ feet.

Mark stresses that the demon-possessed man, Jairus, and the woman, all believed Jesus had power, and would use it to meet their pressing needs.

But the Twelve still didn’t get it.

Mark tells us the response of the Twelve when Jesus asked: “Who touched my garments?” Their response was, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” Mark doesn’t say who of the Twelve. Because he wants us to know that it was all of them.

Mark chooses to stress that the Twelve, hand-picked members of Jesus’ inner circle, who’d seen all of Jesus’ miracles, often didn’t get it. Why?

I think because Mark’s readers were persecuted Christians. I think he recounted the weak faith of the Twelve to show that weak faith is okay.

What about the blending, the “sandwiching” of the woman’s healing within the story of the girl’s healing? One commentary suggests:

This technique of narrating an episode within another one increases the sense of drama and urgency in the Gospel narrative.

But I doubt that’s the reason for blending these two stories. I think the stories are blended because that’s how it happened. There really was an interruption. Mark’s point is that Jesus’ days weren’t in “ordinary” time.[6]

Consider this. A child is dying. A surgeon is speeding on the highway. To the hospital. To perform emergency surgery on the child. But he’s stopped on the way. He needs to first help a woman who’s been in a car crash.

In “ordinary” time the delay means the girl will die. But we’re not in ordinary time. We’re in the time of the breaking-in of the kingdom.

The woman answers Jesus’ question, “Who touched me?” She falls at his feet. She “confesses.” She explains. For 12 years, she’s been trying to get healed. Tried everything. Nothing worked. She’s broke.

She knows she mustn’t touch anyone. Because anyone she touches will become ritually unclean, according to the law of the day. But she knew Jesus has power to heal. So, she reached out. She touched.

She’s healed. But now she’s afraid. Trembling. Maybe she’s afraid she’ll lose the healing. But Jesus is pleased. Very pleased. He commends her. He addresses her as “daughter.” He says to her:

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

The interruption is over. Jesus rushes to the home of Jairus. People are weeping and wailing, as is the custom. The custom when someone dies. Jesus tells them the child’s not dead. They laugh at him. He casts them out. Mark uses the same word he uses when Jesus casts out evil spirits.

Jesus sets to work. He goes to the girl. He tells her to rise up. She does.

What’s the point of today’s passage?

I don’t think Mark expects us to beat ourselves for not being healed. I don’t think Mark expects us to think we’re not healed because we don’t have enough faith.

I think Mark wants us to see that Jesus was ok with being touched by the ritually unclean woman; that he was ok touching a dead body. Both would have made him ritually unclean. But he was ok. We should be ok too.

I think Mark wants us to see that Jesus’ chief concern was doing good. Bringing relief and healing. To the demon-possessed, to the sick. To the high class, and to the excluded. That should be our chief concern also.

I think Mark wants us to listen and hear what Jesus told Jairus after people came and told him his daughter had died. Jesus told Jairus to be like the bleeding woman, “Do not fear, only believe.” The kingdom was breaking-in. The child would live.

2,000 years have passed. The truths we believe have not changed. Suffering, pain, and death are not part of God’s plan for creation. Even Jesus experienced them – he was lashed and nailed till dead on a cross.

Suffering, pain, and death are present still. They’re the results of mankind’s rebellion against God. They will remain till God restores creation.

But God has provided means for healing – herbs, medicines, parents, siblings, doctors, nurses. Many are routinely healed, both through natural means and miraculous means. We should seek healing, so that we might be the salt and light we’re called to be, for the sake of our neighbours.

When we encounter sickness, pain, and death, we should weep. We should weep because these encounters make us see very clearly that the world is broken. We should plead with God for restoration.

I end with these words of the Apostle Paul, who suffered much:

… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.[7]

Peace be with you.

[1] See Matthew 10:1-42; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6.

[2] Mark 4:10-20.

[3] Mark 4:41.

[4] At the cost of 2,000 pigs drowned in the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Gennesaret.

[5] Mark 5:7.

[6] I’m not using “ordinary time” in a liturgical sense. Liturgically, “ordinary time” is the period between the major seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter.

[7] Romans 8:26-28.

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