Commentary on Mark 5:21-43
The healings of Jairus’ daughter and of the woman suffering from a hemorrhage are stories told in each of the Synoptic Gospels (compare Matthew 9:18-26 and Luke 8:40-56).
Mark is rarely the longer version of a shared story in the Synoptics, but in this case Mark’s treatment of these stories is the longest of the three.
Unlike the earlier terse healing stories in Mark, there is more in the way of context and set-up here. First, the two stories are intertwined (as they are in Matthew and Luke as well). Second, Jairus, identified by Mark as a “leader of the synagogue,” comes to Jesus asking him to heal his daughter; here the request is not made by a suffering person for himself (cf. 1:40-45), but is made on behalf of another. Just after this request a woman who has (merely) heard of Jesus comes and does not so much as ask to be healed, but simply touches his cloak and is healed. Only in the exchange which follows does Jesus name her actions as faith, faith which has made her well. Finally, after the interruption to his accompanying Jairus, the report comes that Jairus’ daughter has died. It is too late.
And here in the midst of the intertwining of these two stories there is, at the seams of vv.34-36, a two-part piece of faith which centers these stories. First, the woman is declared faithful by Jesus, “your faith has made you well.” Second, Jairus is encouraged to retain his faith, even in the face of death, “Do not fear, only believe.” The first is descriptive, the second prescriptive.
This is the tension around the person of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel: the proclamation of God’s Son that the kingdom of God has come near will be welcomed by faith, and it will produce faith; or perhaps this should be a question, “will the kingdom of God come near be welcomed by faith, or will it be doubted and denied?” The story of Jairus’ daughter contains the first instance of flat-out disbelief in what Jesus promises. There are many different reactions to Jesus in Mark.
Even the demons recognize and know him (24).
His preaching is received as new (1:27).
He is criticized for the company he keeps (2:16).
He is opposed by the Pharisees and others who are threatened by what they call blasphemy (2:7).
He is called crazy (3:21).
But this is the first time that he is mocked, laughed at in sheer disbelief. When Jesus tells the crowd gathered at Jairus’ house that his daughter is not dead, but sleeping, they laughed at him. But this laughter — contrasting with the remarkable faith of the woman we have just heard about, and the desperate faith of Jairus who is hoping against hope — serves only to heighten the tension of the story. After Jesus takes the girls’ hand and bids her rise up, which of course she does, the disbelieving laughter of the gathered crowds turns into megale ekstaseis, “great ecstasy.” Jesus presence — the kingdom of God comes near — is the transformative agent in these two stories of astonishing faith.
I want to return now to the three questions that I suggested (in my commentary on Mark 1:1-20) as framing questions for all of our readings from Mark for the year. When taking these twined stories to the pulpit:
How is God’s time “fulfilled” in this story/text?
How is that in this story/text, the kingdom of God is coming near?
How is one brought to repentance and faith by this story/text?
I will not answer each of them, at least not specifically. I think it best for each preacher to make that particular move independently. But I will suggest, in broad summary terms, an angle for answering these questions by restating the tension that these two stories present.
The Jesus of Mark both proclaims (through his deeds and his teaching) and is proclaimed (by the Gospel itself and by its many and various characters) that the promise of God has come to pass, come to fullness and presence and immediacy in Jesus. This proclamation, and this promise, demand a response or, if it is easier to swallow, a reaction.
How will we receive the proclamation of the kingdom? How will we share it? How do we need to repent of our disbeliefs, and change our minds about what Christ has done, and what Christ means for us?
In the early days of a new year these are questions well worth asking. How will we be and bear the continuation of the proclamation of the Good News to a world hungry for healing, hope, and wholeness?
PRAYER OF THE DAY
Lord 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