Wisdom 1. 13 – 15; 2. 23, 24

Mark 5. 21 – 43

Fr Alex


Two stories for the price of one in today’s Gospel passage, and two very powerful ones. 

Occasionally the Gospel narratives can feel a little like just a sequence of stories, sometimes related to each other and sometimes not – especially when we read only a little chunk each Sunday.

It’s a bit unusual to have two stories mixed in with each other like this – and by inserting a second story within the first, I think Mark is trying to tell his audience something important about how to interpret these two fascinating events in Jesus’ ministry.

There also seems to be some significance to two unusual details.  Both stories feature female protagonists: one a young girl, a daughter; the other an older woman, who becomes a daughter in her encounter with Jesus.  And this number 12: the young girl is 12 years of age, and the older woman has been suffering for 12 years.

It’s likely Mark’s first hearers would’ve picked up on this, and I wonder if they would’ve started to see these stories as not just another sequence of miracles: but rather as about them, and the plight of their nation under Roman occupation.

Israel and her 12 tribes; Israel the ‘daughter of Zion.’

If so, then the first story tells us that, like the young girl, Israel is suffering and dying.  And it goes all the way to the top: the girl is a daughter of an important man in society, the leader of the temple.

The second story tells us why; that the nation is polluted, not just by the collusion of the leaders with the Roman occupiers, but by all who have turned from God’s way.

Blood was considered unclean in Jewish law, and a woman who could not stop her bleeding would’ve been thought of as polluted and impure; she would be shunned, lest any righteous person become tainted.

Two stories, two understandings about the plight of Israel; but only one solution: Jesus Christ. 

The only way the nation can rid itself of its pollution is to turn to Christ, who brings healing and freedom; just as the woman knew the only way she could be healed was by touching Christ, the one who gathers in the outcast and raises up the downtrodden.

And the only way the nation can bring an end to its suffering and save itself from death, is by embracing the new and eternal life that Jesus brings.

They’re not to look for God in the temple any more: the friends of the leader of the synagogue all laugh at Jesus when he comes to heal the girl.  They’re to look for God in the person of Jesus.  (And if you want even more number significance, Jesus was 12 years old when his parents found him in the temple, amazing the authorities with his understanding and his teaching.)

Of the two stories, we might think the first about the raising of Jairus’ daughter to be the more miraculous, and therefore the most important.  But in fact there are quite a few instances of ‘temporary resurrection,’ as it were, in the Bible.  There are a few in the two Books of Kings, and a couple in the Book of Acts; Jesus himself raises this little girl, and also the widow’s son at Nain, and of course his friend Lazarus before he goes to Jerusalem.

I think it’s actually the second story about the older woman that is the more surprising.

Mark tells us that Jesus’ power ‘goes forth’ from him, in this encounter.  So not only does no uncleanness transfer from the woman to him; purity transfers from Jesus to her. 

She has tried everything she can, she has spent all that she has on trying to fix the problem.  But the transformation comes about only because of Jesus; because his purity is more infectious than her uncleanness.

This would’ve been radical, even quite shocking, to those who heard it.

But it says something powerful to us, too.  We might be thankful that we don’t have those same exclusionary and damaging purity laws now.  But in a sense, our society is obsessed with purity, in one form or another.

Think of Covid, and all the messaging about physical cleanliness.  And how desperately afraid we are as a society of disease and death, so that we refuse to talk about it.  Think of what young people are told about what to eat, who to associate with, what medicines and procedures they need in pursuit of the perfect body, and the perfect life.

And the biggest one of all, our modern obsession with ideological purity: a culture that pulls down statues of the dead and cancels the living for believing the wrong things.

But Jesus showed us another way.  He didn’t have the perfect body: his was torn and broken on the cross.  He wasn’t interested in the rich or powerful or beautiful: he sought out those with a beautiful heart.  He didn’t come to cancel and divide and punish: but to unite all people in love.

Part of our calling as Christians is to draw others to share in that better way: not by trying to be the most perfect and the most pure, but rather by living as people who believe that it is only the power of Jesus that can bring about the transformation we long for in our world.

Jairus and the woman both discerned in Jesus the power to transform their lives.  May our eyes be similarly fixed on him, and his saving love.  Amen.