Portable Commentary

27 June 2021

Thought for the day  
We may miss the shock factor in both stories today. Given the strict rules surrounding ritual purity, it was unprecedented that a woman with some kind of gynaecological complaint should actually touch a man. Conversely, Jesus touched a corpse, also strictly forbidden and entailing ritual impurity. Both acted courageously and against the established tradition for the sake of something greater.

Help us, Lord, to know when to reach out, when to touch and welcome the excluded. Help us to know when to set aside received practices which hinder the Gospel in our day. May this woman’s example gives us courage!

Mark 5:21
  When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.
25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Mark 5:35   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?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 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. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Initial observations
The double story style is known as the “sandwich technique” and is fairly typical of Mark’s writing. There is a profound symbolic meaning in the contrast between the mature woman and the young girl. The stories are also found in Matthew 9:18-26 and Lk 8:40-56.

Kind of writing
The story of the young girl frames the story of the woman with the haemorrhage. This framing technique is used elsewhere in Mark and invites the reader to link the stories. Furthermore, they belong to a series, as noted last week: The Stilling of the Storm (4:35-41); the Gerasene Demoniac (5:1-20) and the Woman with the Haemorrhage (5:25-34) including Jairus’ daughter (5:21-23, 35-43). There is meant to be a progression: authority over nature, evil spirits, sickness and even death itself. As with all the stories in all the Gospels, the faith of the community after the resurrection influences the expression of faith in Jesus.

It is notable that both narratives have women as central characters and both underline the need for faith. Apart from the heightening effect of the inserted story, the number twelve links the two tales – the women suffered for twelve years and the little girl was twelve years old. Both are also called daughter. Both are freed to become bearers of life, at a symbolic level: the woman can now have children and the girl is at the age appropriate for marriage in the culture.

There is a tremendous contrast between the turmoil of the crowds in both scenes and the magisterial calm of Jesus. The final teaching of the passage is that the resurrection of Jesus brings victory over death and conquers the fear of death, which can paralyse us.

Old Testament background

On the raising of Jairus’ daughter see 1 Kings 17:17-24 and 2 Kings 4:18-37. On the story of the woman with the flow of blood see the regulations in Lev 12:1-8; 15:19-30. Fluids to do with reproduction, in the cases of women as well as men, render a person ritually impure. Ritually pure people had to avoid such a person and rites of purification were prescribed after childbirth, menstruation and touching a corpse.

New Testament foreground
Jesus does perform similar miracles in the Gospel of Mark. E.g. the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (1:29-34), the cleansing of a leper (1:40-45) and so forth. There is something close to the raising of the dead in 9:14-29, when the boy seems to be dead and the texts reads: “But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand” (Mark 9:27-28). The Greek for “lifted” reads literally “raised”, the same word used for Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead.

St Paul
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)

Brief commentary
Verse 21 We are meant to think of the west side of the sea of Galilee.
Verse 22 Falling down before him is elsewhere in Mark – e.g. 3:11. The leader of a synagogue had to oversee the functioning of the house of study and prayer.
Verse 23 Laying on of hands is typical in Mark: 6:5; 7:32; 8:22, 25. In Greek, “made well” is literally “be saved” – an extra layer of meaning.
Verse 24 This is the crowd mentioned at the start and now they have a role.
Verse 25 The second story supervenes: it is usually assumed that the complaint was gynaecological, which would lead to ritual impurity for anyone who touched the patient and for anyone with whom she came into contact.
Verse 26 A rather damning picture of the medical profession!
Verse 27 Touching is the problem here.
Verse 28 This is a rather magical view of the power coming out of Jesus. However imperfect, it brings to expression at the same time an act of faith.
Verse 29 “Immediately” is typical of Mark.
Verse 30 Notice again immediately. Touched my clothes seems odd when we expect touched me, but the question respects the tentativeness of the woman.
Verse 31 The response of the disciples seems reasonable.
Verse 32 The meaning here is one of glaring!
Verse 33 Fear and trembling are the usual reaction to contact with the transcendent.
Verse 34 It is very important that Jesus addresses her as daughter – it raises a kind of a fortiori expectation: he can do that much but what about the daughter who is dead? Faith is acknowledged as the key to receiving salvation. Peace is Hebrew contains the idea of physical well-being and so here “go in peace” and “be healed” are really two ways of saying the same thing.
Verse 35 The news serves to increase the suspense.
Verse 36 Cf. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:34)
Verse 37 This is the “inner cabinet”, being the first to be called, the witnesses to the Transfiguration and to the prayer in Gethsemane.
Verse 38 This reaction is a confirmation of the death and is altogether very human.
Verse 39 Sleep is a common metaphor for death. Here it is ironic.
Verse 40 This reaction, very dismissive, serves to present ordinary human scepticism at the idea that there can be victory over death itself.
Verse 41 A very gentle moment. The expression is in Aramaic, the common language of the period. Talitha (related to the word lamb) means youth or girl. . Cf. our use of “kid” as a term of affection. Cf. Is 40:11.
Verse 42 The immediacy of the cure is typical of miracle stories. Amazement is ambiguous in Mark because often it is static and “leads” nowhere.
Verse 43 The secrecy is a pattern in Mark. Here it is narratively illogical because there were so many witnesses to the fact that the girl was dead.

Pointers for prayer
1. Like this woman, have you had the experience of a cure, an improvement, a success, after a long period of nothing happening? What was that like for you? What made the difference? On that occasion was there anything different in you, in others, in the circumstances – something that paved the way for the change or improvement?
2. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. It seems a strange request with crowds milling around. Many people brushed against him but the woman made contact in a different way. The same can happen in our relationships. We brush against many people but make real contact only with a few. Who are the people you have touched, and who has touched you? What difference has this made to you and to them?
3. It can happen that there are many occasions when we brush against Jesus, and other occasions when we have a sense that we are in contact with him. What deepens your contact with Jesus?
4. Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has made you well’. What difference does it make to you that you have faith? In what ways does your faith make you well?
5. When Jairus asked Jesus to come and cure his daughter, some thought there was no point. Sometimes a situation can look like a lost cause. Has it ever happened to you that subsequent events showed there was hope where you thought there was none?

God of the living, in whose image we have been formed with imperishable life as our destiny, dispel from your people the fear of death and awaken within us the faith that saves.

Bid us rise from the death of sin to take our place in the new creation.

This prayer we make through your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.