hem-of-his-garmentIn today’s story, Mark 5:21-43 we find Jesus travelling around the countryside teaching and healing.

In the ancient world physicians talked about illness rather than treating it. It was the traditional healers who actually touched people and treated illnesses.[1] Jairus knows that even though his social and economic status should direct him to a physician Jesus, a traditional healer, will have more success healing his daughter.

Jesus follows Jairus to his home. The way is very crowded and there are people everywhere. The crowd is jostling with everyone going about their business as well as the people who had come to see Jesus. In this crowd of people someone touches Jesus. He stops and looks around trying to figure out who touched him.

He asks the disciples and the crowd who touched him. Finally, a woman speaks up. Here we have a woman reaching out to touch Jesus. Such things were not done in this ancient culture. She has violated a basic social code. Not only did she touch Jesus but in order to reach him she walked into the crowd. This is also inappropriate since she has been hemorrhaging for twelve years and is considered unclean. She was to have no contact with the community. Here is a woman without a man to protect her, provide for her or speak for her. She is acting and speaking for herself—also inappropriate.

Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh also indicate that because she has used all her money on physicians it is likely that she was wealthy at some point but has been taken advantage of by the physicians were supposed to heal her.[2] Someone with status and wealth has become an unwelcome and unnamed member of the crowd.

The woman comes and falls at Jesus feet and explains to Jesus what she did and why. As a woman she had no right to touch Jesus, no right to ask for healing from him. Jesus responds, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed.” As she is healed, Jesus claims her as family. She is no longer an outcast in the community but a valued member of Jesus’ family. She has a role and status as a daughter.

Meanwhile, Jairus’ daughter has died. Social code would dictate Jesus should have attended to Jairus and his daughter first. Jairus is a man, probably wealthy and he certainly has a status within the community. Instead, Jesus has wasted his time on a nameless, impoverished woman who had no right to be in the community.

Now that the woman has been healed, Jesus continues on to Jairus’ home and once there sees a crowd of people. Laughing Bird paraphrase describes the scene this way: “When they arrived at the home of the synagogue leader, it was in a state of chaos. Everywhere there were people crying, and you could hardly move for funeral directors, neighbours, and people bearing condolences and casseroles.”

Jesus goes into the room with the girl, touches her hand and tells her to get up. She gets up and her family feeds her.

The gospel of Mark is always flipping things around and playing with our minds. Things that should be are not. Things that should not be normal are quite normal when Jesus is around. Jairus should not have come to Jesus: He is wealthy and powerful. He should have sought help from people of his own social status. The woman should not have come to Jesus for help. She is impoverished and ostracized with no man to speak for her. Jesus should not have attended to the woman at all and he certainly shouldn’t have placed her needs about Jairus.

But the story is bigger than the woman and Jairus’ daughter. You might have noted that the woman was bleeding for twelve years and that Jairus’ daughter was twelve years old. There are twelve tribes of ancient Israel. The number twelve in the personal stories is significant because it indicates that the story has a connection to the larger story of the faith community.

Mark’s gospel has a strong emphasis on forcing Jesus to cross boundaries and to interact with people in ways that are shocking and in many cases seen as inappropriate. According to Ched Myers the gospel of Mark is attempting to establish, within the Jewish faith, “a new social order with equal status for all. This alone will liberate the lowly outcast and snatch the “noble” from death.”[3] It is reminiscent of other places in the gospels where we hear (like further on in Mark 9:35 and 10:31) that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Mark’s gospel recognizes that individual healing and healing the social-political world go hand-in-hand. When individual lives are healed, the community is changed. When the community is changed, lives are healed. Sometimes it is easy to get caught in the idea that Jesus’ healing is for us as individuals but as we are healed it changes and heals everyone and everything that we come in contact with. By healing the woman in the street, Jesus brought her back into her community. This small act changed the way the community interacted. It made the community more compassionate, more open, more loving. When we offer healing by inviting people into community, our own communities receive healing by becoming more compassionate, more open and more loving.

Part of our work as followers of Christ is about healing, not just those who are worthy in the eyes of our culture, but seeking healing wherever there is brokenness in life. Last week, the in the parable of the seeds and sower, we were reminded to spread the seeds of love far and wide. This story continues the theme of spreading the love far and wide—without regard for worthiness, propriety, status or wealth. We are called to heal the world. Healing the world might seem like a big task but by healing the brokenness in our own lives and community we contribute to the larger healing of creation.

[1] Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Kindle version) Location 3515.

[2] Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Kindle version) Location 3515.

[3] Ched Myers. Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988), 203.




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