When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 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.” 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.
In today’s Gospel, Mark offers two portrayals of Jesus as a healer. The first concerns the story of a man named Jairus whose daughter is dying. Mark describes Jairus as a leader of the synogogue, which also reveals that some Jewish authorities looked up to and relied on Jesus. While Jesus is on the way to help Jairus’ little girl, something remarkable happens.
Mark breaks into the story of Jairus and his daughter with an interlude, a story about a woman with a blood disorder. This woman approaches Jesus, a woman who who had “suffered” and “endured” a lot. Her disease had isolated her, hurt her, and left her penniless. And yet, she believes that merely touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak will make her well. She is cured, and moreover, Jesus tells her that her faith has made her well.
By the time Jesus arrives at Jairus’ home, the mourner’s announce that He has come to late and the child has already died. Jesus counsels Jairus, “Do not fear, but trust.” Jesus tells them that the child is not dead, but merely sleeping. Jesus takes the little girl by her hand and tells her to get up, and she rises and begins to walk.
At the time of these events, Jairus’ daughter was twelve years old. The woman had suffered from her hemoraging for twelve years. These two are linked together, as the life flows out of them. We might certainly read these stories in the light of the people of Israel (the twelve tribes). One is a daughter of a man of honor and prestige, the other an “unclean” woman lost in her desperation. Both the woman with the blood disorder and the little girl who had died are impure; by touching them, Jesus will share in this impurity. And yet, through the touch of this unique Rabbi, both will find new life.
I think we miss the point of this narrative if we merely read it as a story about how Jesus was really good at conquering disease and even death. I don’t think the message of the Incarnation was to simply to show us that God could work miracles. Rather, God became man to show us how deeply he loved us and how he wanted to heal the wounds that separated us from Him.
Both Jairus and the woman with the blood disorder ask “to be made well” (sozo in the Greek). This implies not just a curing them from their physical ailments, but also making them whole, restoring them, saving them. Both Jairus’ daughter and the hemoraging woman were made well. But Jesus offered them more than simply restoration of their health; He offered them life.
I don’t think these two stories are simply about Jesus’ remarkable power, or even about miracles. Jesus didn’t come to show us how powerful He was; He came to show us how much God loved us. He came to teach us about the extraordinary power of faith, and about the limitless compassion of the Living God. And if we will reach out to touch His Son, we also will be made well, and live.
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis