Commentary on Mark 5:21-43
Mark 5:21–43 is a nested story of two suffering women and Jesus, who saves each from her respective hopeless state.
An excited crowd meets Jesus on his return to Capernaum after he has healed a demoniac across the Sea of Galilee (5:1–20). Jesus’ fame is spreading, and people are coming out in droves to see the miracle-worker who teaches about God with unparalleled authority and is upsetting many religious leaders. But Mark quickly shifts the focus from the many to two women facing seemingly impossible problems.
The first woman who appears in the story has been suffering from 12 years of hemorrhaging. Mark mentions neither her name, nor age, nor other descriptors; he introduces her with a string of misfortunes (notice Mark’s quantifiers). She has been bleeding for 12 years; has endured great (polla) physical, mental, and/or emotional stress under the care of many (pollon) physicians; has spent all (panta) she had to no (meden) benefit; and despite all that, her condition has only deteriorated (cheiron) (5:25–26).
Whoever she is or whatever she had done prior to the sickness, now her malady defines her. It has taken over her identity and life. It marks her as ceremonially unclean and isolates her from the world. It has made her a picture of despair.
With no one to represent her, but with an unwavering desire to be healed, the woman takes the matter into her own hands. Her desperation and courage to seek Jesus speak louder about who she is than does her illness. Her fragile body burrows through the crushing crowd and stealthily comes up behind Jesus. Whatever she has “heard about Jesus” (verse 27) has convinced her that touching even the edge of his cloak will restore her health.
True to her faith, she is miraculously healed. Her healing is so instantaneous and evident that she actually feels her symptoms vanish. Jesus is so powerful that even touching his garment suffices to cure her completely! The theophany fills the woman with awe and fear. She is also afraid because Jesus notices that power has been released from him, and he begins to investigate who touched his clothes.
The disciples dismiss their Teacher, blaming the throng shoving and pushing around them, but he does not abandon his quest. He is determined to draw out the person who approached him in faith, though discreetly. The woman can no longer hide. She must face the consequences for having contaminated every person and thing that has come into contact with her. More importantly, she must come face-to-face with Jesus—the powerful divine manifestation before her. Trembling in fear, she falls down before Jesus and tells him the unvarnished truth. The woman had lived many years in the shadows, plagued by her own tragic story. Now, she must come into the light and tell a new story of redemption and hope.
To her surprise, Jesus does not reprimand or shame her for her actions. He restores her dignity by endearingly calling her “daughter.” Whereas her illness had forced her to hide away from the world, Jesus sees her to the core—her desperate faith. He pronounces divine peace over her and publicly confirms her complete healing before eyewitnesses (verse 34).
The second suffering woman barely makes an appearance in the story. She is only 12 years old but is, tragically, on the verge of death. The young girl, like the bleeding woman, is unnamed, but she is nonetheless not poor or alone. She is on her death bed but is represented by her father, Jairus—a man of a notable name and status as a synagogue ruler. She is his precious “little daughter” (verse 23).
Jairus was a man of order and tradition, a synagogue ruler who oversaw worship arrangements and rituals and was a caretaker of the facility. His day-to-day life required planning and predictability, but on this day something beyond the ordinary and conventional was needed. He would need a miracle and faith that Jesus could enact it. So with desperate faith, the dying girl’s father seeks out the One who was rumored to do the impossible. He pushes through the crowd and, upon seeing Jesus, humbly prostrates himself at his feet and unceasingly begs him to “come and lay [his] hands on [his daughter] so that she may be made well and live” (verse 23).
Hope is on the horizon as Jesus sets out for Jairus’ place but is quickly dashed when their journey is interrupted by the bleeding woman. In the delay, Jairus receives the devastating news that his daughter has died. Death has won; hope is lost. What is the point of Jesus visiting a dead girl now?—so presumes the messenger from Jairus’ household.
Jesus, on the other hand, thinks differently. He reassures Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe” (verse 36). To Jesus’ disciples, these are familiar words, words reminiscent of what Jesus asked them the night he made the raging sea “smooth as glass” (4:39, The Message): “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (4:40). Will Jesus come through this time as he did then? Can Jesus, who has already been shown to have authority over nature (4:35–41), demons (5:1–20), and disease (5:25–34) overcome death too?
How long the journey must have felt to the father who had just lost his little daughter! How many times he must have repeated Jesus’ words to himself! He had no idea of what Jesus would do next or what might come out of this tragedy. There are things about God “too great and too marvelous” for human beings to comprehend (Psalm 131:1). Jairus had to “calm and quiet [his] soul” (131:2) in the presence of Jesus, and rest and hope in him (131:3).
The chaos of weeping and wailing back at home threatens to toss Jairus back into waves of fear and doubt. Then he hears Jesus say to the mourners, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping” (Mark 5:39). People laugh at Jesus, but Jesus is unflustered. Jesus is confident about a future that no one else yet sees. He takes Jairus and his wife into the room where their daughter lies, where he will make the future he sees into their present reality. Taking the girl’s lifeless hand into his, he simply commands her: “Little girl, get up!” (verse 41). Immediately, the girl obeys. She is full of life—she gets up, walks around, and is well enough to eat. All who see the miracle are amazed.
The impossible happens with Jesus. He is more powerful than anything life throws at us. Jesus is enough.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
God of healing, when someone in your world suffers, you suffer as well. Restore your world and heal your children so that no one needs to suffer any longer. Amen.
Do not leave your cares at the door, Elizabeth Stanley