Mark 5:21-43

So far in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has healed people with words or a touch, commanded unclean spirits, and controlled the weather. Now the power and holiness that radiates from him heals a woman who merely touches his clothes in the throng of a crowd pressing in, and he brings a young girl back from death. He shows himself to have power over creation and power over death itself.

Although both women remain anonymous, they are quite different. One is out of money, bankrupted by her healthcare advisors and shunned from engagement with her community; the other one has a father (Jairus) who possesses status because of his leadership role in the synagogue. One approaches Jesus sneakily, while the father of the girl, Jairus, lowers himself before Jesus in front of the people.

The woman with a haemorrhage has endured the failed attempts to cure her humiliation and alienation for 12 years. Jairus’s daughter has been alive for the same amount of time, 12 years, and one assumes that Jairus has afforded her the privileges of his position during her childhood. 12 years is a very long time to be ill and outside the favour of society, and at 12 years the girl will be being primed for marriage and adulthood. Mark is portraying two characters who represent the opposite ends of the social spectrum.

Touching Jesus’ cloak stops the haemorrhage. It cures her ailment. But a more holistic healing and restoration comes when Jesus hears her story and publicly commends her faith. He calls her “daughter.” She enters the scene alone, in secrecy. She departs having been restored by Jesus as a daughter of Israel. She reaches out in shame and leaves restored in all ways.

Meanwhile Jairus’s daughter dies. In the upside down nature of Christ’s ministry the “worthless and nameless” woman is permitted Jesus’s attention despite the relative importance of Jairus’s daughter in the social order. These details are always important in the Gospels.

Jesus does of course heal Jairus’s daughter also, albeit he makes everyone wait while he attends to the worthless woman.

The number used (12) is significant. It is the number which denotes the tribes of Israel.  These “daughters” represent the advantaged and the impoverished of those the Father is calling to the Kingdom. The thrust of the reading I propose is this: the offspring of the synagogue (church) is “on the verge of death.” Jesus’ ministry and thus the ministry of the Kingdom must make any necessary detour to attend to the pain of the excluded. In this case the sick and alienated woman. Only when the outcast woman is restored to “daughterhood” can the daughter of the synagogue also be restored. That is the repeated order of the Biblical narrative, which is the Kingdom mission in a nutshell.

Charles Maasz

With grateful thanks to the work of: Ched Myers, J. Moiser, Vincent Taylor, Prof. Mark Skinner