July 1, 2018 – 6th Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 5:21-43 – The Healing of the Hemorrhaging Woman and the Raising of Jairus’ Daughter
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
This morning’s lesson from Mark’s Gospel is an interesting example of what New Testament scholars call “intercalation,” which means the enclosing or “sandwiching” of one story within another, so that each affects the interpretation of the other. You will see what I mean as we consider the two stories: the account of Jairus’ daughter whom Jesus raised from death which surrounds the account of the healing of the hemorrhaging woman. We’ll begin with the story in the middle.
The healing of the woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years is unique among the biblical accounts of Jesus the healer. In the other accounts we have, healing was requested of Jesus directly. Crowds of sick people gathered when they heard Jesus was in town, so that they could see him face to face and ask to be healed. The friends of the paralytic man lowered him through the roof so that he could be in the presence of Jesus the healer. Blind Bartimaeus called out to Jesus repeatedly, ignoring the disciples who told him to be quiet. Sometimes a person who was well requested healing for another – the father of an epileptic boy; Jairus, the synagogue leader, in today’s lesson asking Jesus to heal his daughter; the centurion whose slave Jesus healed at a distance. Moved by compassion and full of the power of life from God, Jesus healed when he was asked to heal.
The woman with the flow of blood did not think she could meet Jesus face to face and request him to touch her with his healing hands. According to Jewish religious law anyone with a discharge of vital bodily fluid, such as blood, was regarded as ritually unclean. That meant that this woman could not enter the Temple or take part in religious rituals. It also meant that family and friends should avoid touching her, or her clothes, or a bed where she had slept, or a chair where she had sat (Leviticus 15:19-27). In her culture this woman with a hemorrhage, who had spent all her money on doctors, was also socially isolated. She should not even have been in the crowd. She certainly felt she could not ask to be touched by Rabbi Jesus.
But the woman had heard about Jesus and had faith that just touching his clothes would heal her. So she “came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak” and “immediately her hemorrhage stopped.” The woman felt the healing power of Jesus flow into her body, and Jesus felt the power flow out of him. “Who touched my clothes?” Jesus wanted to know more about what had happened. Naturally, the woman was afraid that Jesus might become angry because what she had done was forbidden. Instead, Jesus said comforting words. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” By these words Jesus affirms her physical healing and acknowledges her place in a family, his family, the family of those who have faith. The account of the story in the middle is now finished.
Let’s consider the story which surrounds this one, the story of Jairus’ daughter. Jairus was an important leader in his synagogue. In the Greek text his office comes before his name, emphasizing that importance. Jairus approaches Jesus face to face, to beg him to heal his daughter, with faith that if Jesus put his hands on the girl, she will be healed. They are on the way to Jairus’ house when they are interrupted by the hemorrhaging woman.
Back on their way again, they are met by messengers who say that it is too late, the girl is dead. Jesus turns to her father and says, “Do not fear, only believe.” Have faith! Accompanied by Peter, James, and John (the disciples who will later witness his transfiguration), Jesus walks on to the house. The professional mourners have already arrived. There is noise and chaos inside. Jesus dismisses them and restores peace to the house – much as he rebuked the wind and calmed the sea in last week’s Gospel lesson.
Jesus says that the child is asleep, not dead. At this point you may recall another account of Jesus’ ministry, found in John’s Gospel (chapter 11), the raising of his friend Lazarus from death. In that case Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus, whom they had all heard was ill, had fallen asleep and he would wake him. The disciples believed that Lazarus was only asleep, but Jesus said, “Lazarus is dead.” Lazarus had in fact been dead and in the tomb for four days. When Jesus arrived, he told the people to remove the stone from the tomb. He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, alive again. This time, holding her hand, Jesus quietly tells the girl to get up, again giving life where there had been death.
The two “sandwiched” stories differ in some ways – Jairus’ father approaches Jesus directly to beg for his help while the woman approaches Jesus from behind, only hoping to touch his clothing; the woman has been afflicted for a long time, twelve years, while the child has only been alive for twelve years, perhaps ill only for a short time; Jairus was an important member of the religious community, while the woman was excluded from her community. Several differences, but much more important similarities – the faith of the people seeking Jesus’ help and Jesus’ power to heal and to give life.
The shape of our lives is similar to the shape of this lesson from Mark’s Gospel. In the middle of our stories we experience afflictions, as the woman with the hemorrhage did. We may sometimes have diseases or injuries that keep us from fully living for a time, until we are well again. We may suffer for many years and spend all our time and energy and money seeking healing that eludes us. The pain of grief or loss or trauma or evil or fear may cripple us. There are many afflictions in life, including the death of our bodies. People of faith are not spared from them.
Yet, that is only the middle of our stories. The larger context is life, full life, life from God and going to God. The beginning of our stories is the gift of life itself. God created us. As our lesson from the Wisdom of Solomon reminds us, God “made us in the image of his own eternity.” And the end of our stories is resurrection from death. Jesus calls death “sleep.” Sleep is temporary, isn’t it? By God’s power we will be awakened to new life with God, eternal life with God. It can be challenging to hold onto faith that this will be the end of our stories. Extremely challenging when there is so much suffering in the world and when the forces of darkness are clearly powerfully at work.
But I hope and pray that we can listen to Jesus when he says to us, as he said to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” We are called to trust in God’s goodness, in life, in righteousness, in what is wholesome. We are called to hold on to God and the promises of God, and to do what we can while we can to show the world the compassionate and healing love of Christ. May God grant us the strength and grace to respond to this call. In Jesus’ name. Amen.