So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 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, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. Then 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. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!' And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:21-43)
Two females are at the center of this week’s reading from Mark and their paths cross because of a shared need for healing. We do not know a lot about them. They – like many other women in the Bible - do not even come with names; although, one of them will at least be made known to us through her named father, Jairus, one of the leaders of the Synagogue (which, in the first century, likely meant a prominent person in the community rather than an actual religious official)[i]. These two females appear very different from each other, their only connections known to us are their need for healing and the number 12. The girl is 12 years old, while the woman has been hemorrhaging for 12 years.
Twelve is an important number in the Bible and it connects today’s Gospel with the Hebrew scriptures and the history of Israel. There was Ishmael, the father of twelve princes (Gen 17:20), Jacob who was renamed Israel by God and had twelve sons (Gen 35:22-29) who became heads of the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen 49:28). In Leviticus there were 12 loaves to be set aside for the dedication of the tabernacle (Lev 24:5) and David created 12 military divisions (1 Chr 27:1-5) whereas Solomon created twelve districts (1 Kings 4:7-19). And then there is Ezekiel, who received a word from God on the 12th day (29:10), on the twelfths month of the twelfths year (32:1), and in the 12th year of the exile (32:17, 33:21). Perhaps the author of Mark intended for these two females to symbolize Israel[ii].
Let us follow their stories…the stories of these two females….imagine them, see them…
One is a girl – by ancient standards almost a woman – yet her father Jairus still calls her his ‘little daughter’. Maybe he is not ready yet to see the woman she is becoming or maybe it scares him to think of her leaving his house. Either way, he tenderly calls her his little daughter as he approaches Jesus to ask – no, beg – for help. We are told that he falls on his knees and that he begs not only once but repeatedly – for Jesus to lay his hands on her so that she “may be made well, and live” (Mark 5:23). I think many of us can identify with Jairus – we too have probably found ourselves begging for a miracle on behalf of a person we love and care about or even for ourselves.
The other woman appears to be older. We are not told how old; however, while the young woman still has al her adult life ahead of her, this woman has spent her adulthood with an illness that would have kept her from living a full life. It seems important for us to know that she was not only sick but that the illness she suffers from is one that would have left her ritually unclean for all those years. Nevertheless, her major concern is her illness. We are told that “[s]he had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse” (Mark 5:26). Illness takes a toll on the body and 12 years of constant illness would be hard on any of us, and she asks what anybody would ask for – she wants to be made well. She wants to be made well just as much as Jairus wants his daughter to be made well, but she does not seem to have anybody speaking up for her, and so she must take matters into her own hands and look after herself.
Two females - One the daughter of a rich, well known man on the brink to adulthood, the other robbed of her life and her resources for 12 years. If the author of Mark intended for these two females to represent Israel, then Jairus’ daughter may represent Judaism or the center of Judaism. The lack of a mention of anything that would make her unclean under religious law, suggests that, if it was not for the fact that she is sick, she would be fully included into the community and community life. Whereas the older woman may represent those who have been marginalized by the law – the outcasts the unclean, the untouchables. Being well would have meant for her to be able to participate in the community in ways that were impossible for her before.
And then Jesus comes - his reputation as healer precedes him and crowds gather around him. They know that he is the one who can still storms. He is the one who can cast out demons. He is the one who can bring hope and healing. Both the woman and Jairus know, too. Jairus, as community leader, can get close to Jesus and he breaks down, falls on his knees, and begs Jesus to heal his daughter, thereby publicly declaring his hope and faith in Jesus’ power of restoration. Without hesitation, Jesus follows him to his house. The woman on the other hand must first make it past the crowd to get to Jesus. Maybe others closed off the way for her. Maybe she also did not want to be quite as public as Jairus. Maybe the 12 years of constant impurity due to her condition had made her simply be used to not being seen or heard or taken seriously and so her only chance for help was to not ask but to act. She sees Jesus on the way to Jairus’s house and pushes through the crowds little by little, one step at a time – aiming for the only thing that gives her hope: to touch his cloak. Her reaching out to touch Jesus’ cloak mirrors Jairus’s fall on his knees – giving all to Jesus – their bodily movements become prayers of faith and of trust and of submission. Jairus trusts that Jesus’ touch can heal his daughter – the woman trusts that all it takes to heal is to touch Jesus. So she reaches out, and she is healed.
We can almost imagine Jesus stopping dead in his tracks as he asks, “who touched my clothes?” No accusation, just a question, “Who touched my clothes?” And the woman steps forward and admits that she was the one bold enough to reach out and to touch and to claim Jesus’s healing powers for herself. Rather than angry at her, Jesus turns back and calls her daughter. How tender his words must have been to her ears. No longer an outcast but she is assured of her part in God’s family. She is made well not only physically but all is well. She can now fully participate in the life of the community. She can now fully live. As New Testament Scholar Ira Driggers writes, “[u]nder God’s reign, the woman is not an outcast subject to oppression but a “daughter” of Abraham for whom God intends ‘peace’ (v. 34).”[iii]
And it is only then that Jesus turns back continues on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter even amid laughter from those who still do not seem to understand that his healing powers are not limited to some people or some situations. Unperturbed by the commotion, Jesus, having healed one daughter, now turns toward healing another. In healing the woman before the girl, “Jesus does not “cater to the demands of the socially privileged at the expense of the destitute….At the same time, Jesus does not reverse the Hierarchy, placing the outcasts “on top” and the privileged “on the bottom. This would merely to perpetuate the same oppression over against the reign of God”.[iv] Instead, what Jesus’ actions showed the early church is that Israel will not be healed unless both Jews and Gentiles are healed – and in the same way, insiders are not healed unless outsiders are healed -- or, to make it simple: None of us will be fully healed and fully live into our humanity, unless all people are healed and able to live into their full humanity.
God’s healing power is to bring shalom to each person – all sons and daughters of God – and all of creation. Shalom is often translated as peace but it means so much more – it means a full restoration. Cornelius Plantinga Jr., in the book ‘Not the Way It's Supposed to Be’ described the concept of shalom as “far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed…”[v] And what the author of the Gospel of Mark wants us to know is that shalom is possible and that – no matter what – at the end, God’s dream of shalom will come true. The story of the healing and restoration of two females becomes the story of healing and respiration for us all. Christ can restore us to fullness of life. Christ knows us, sees us, and hears us, and Christ will restore.
We all have places within us that are broken and in need of restoration to fullness of life in Christ. And so, our reading is a good reminder that like Jairus and like the woman without a name – each and all of us can come to God with our brokenness of body or mind or spirit. God has the power to touch us and to restore us as individuals but also as peoples of a nation and of the world. And we are reminded that, like Jairus, we can partner with God in the healing process. The healing of these two women give us hope for personal and communal restoration in Christ. Pastor Bruce Epperly writes, “Divine healing energy is released in dramatic ways through the faith of friends, the love of a parent, the willingness of persons to cross social, ethnic, and political boundaries, and one’s personal trust in the healer Jesus despite a lifetime of failure and alienation.”[vi] We are both recipients as well as conduits to God’s power of healing. All we must do is have faith and to keep living our faith even when other voices tell us not to. Be it falling on our knees like Jairus or reaching out our hand like the woman – the risen Christ is here among us and the risen Christ still has the power to make us whole – as individuals, as a nation, and as members of the world community. Believe with all your heart and then reach out in faith for God’s healing powers
[i] Jewish Annotated New Testament (2011), Oxford University Press, p. 70
[ii] Raquel S. Lettsome, Fortress Commentary on the Bible: New Testament (2014) p. 187
[iii] Ira Brent Driggers, New Proclamations Commentary: Year B 2012, Easter Through Christ the King, Fortress Press, p.101-102
[v] Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, Eerdmans (1995)
[vi] Bruce G. Epperly, Healing Worship: Purpose & Practice, Pilgrim Press (2006)