Monday, 22 June 2009

Mark 5 21- 43 dealing with daughters

One device that Mark uses frequently in his gospel is to interrupt one story with another: thus each story shines light on the other. Back in Galilee, one of the leaders of the synagogue is anxious about his daughter who is dying. He asks Jesus to heal her but the journey to the house is made difficult by the crowds pressing in on Jesus and hampering his progress. Meanwhile hidden in the crowds is a woman who has been haemorrhaging for twelve years. By the strict purity laws of the day she should not have been in direct contact with people, but she pushes through and touches Jesus’s coat, believing that even that small touch will heal her. Immediately she experiences healing. Jesus, aware that power has gone out of him, stopped and asked who touched him. The woman steps forward, expecting a rebuke, but nevertheless admitting her guilt. Jesus, far from admonishing her, addresses her personally: "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." While Jesus is still speaking, messengers come from Jairus’s house; they say,"Your daughter is dead”. That juxtaposition of the word daughter is as powerful as anything in the gospel.

For many people the life of the unclean woman in the crowd with the 12 year haemorrhage, which had been persistently treated by doctors to no avail, was not worth the same as that of the twelve year old daughter of a leader of the synagogue. Yet by the use of the word daughter Jesus immediately and unequivocally puts a value on that woman as she relates to him as directly equivalent to that of the little girl as she relates to her father. Moreover, Jesus could have allowed the woman to have slipped away into the crowd, healed but unnoticed. By drawing attention to her, by singling her out, by making her step forward and by addressing her so publicly, Jesus makes plain to all around, even to Jairus, that he has been touched by a woman who is unclean. The received wisdom was and always has been that clean is made dirty when it touches something contaminated.
“As dirtie hands foule all they touch,
and those things most which are most pure and fine” (George Herbert)
Here Jesus breaks the eternal rule: instead of him being contaminated he feels power flow out of him, the clean one, to purify the unclean. The damage of the fall has been thrown into reverse.

A challenge has now been thrown down to Jairus. If he wants his daughter be restored to life he has to accept Jesus into his home whether clean or not. His faith overcomes his misgivings. Jesus then clears the crowd, including all but three of his disciples and makes his way to Jairus’s house; at the house mourning rituals are already in motion. Again Jesus clears the house of all but the immediate family: this healing is to be an intimate private affair, possibly out of sensitivity to the child. Gently calling her to her feet, Jesus raises her to life and tells them to give her something to eat, and to respect the private way in which she had been raised.

At this point a number of parallels between the two stories become apparent. First of all the twelve years haemorrhaging of the woman is mirrored by the twelve years of the little girl’s age. Possibly the repeated number twelve is intended to be symbolic of the twelve tribes and the twelve disciples, whose faith seems to have been haemorrhaging away. Possibly the mention of the girl’s age in the context of the twelve years’ haemorrhage reminds us that she, too, was about to begin to menstruate, or perhaps is simply there to indicate the appalling suffering of the woman whose needs had been ignored, indeed whose condition had been exploited by unscrupulous doctors, for the whole lifetime of Jairus’s precious daughter.

The ability of an articulate leader of the local community to come and plead with Jesus for healing on behalf oh his daughter is contrasted poignantly with the woman with no-one to plead her case, who has to approach surreptitiously, hiding herself in the crowd and illegally touch him for healing. Only then, when already clean was she able to come out of the crowd and ask formally in the way Jairus had done, though, even then, only in fear and trembling. In the end it was not the nature of the approach, nor the issue of social class or age, gender or status that was significant: only faith.

The professional mourners who made a living out of death are treated scathingly by the story teller. They have the temerity to laugh at Jesus, the Lord of life. Their mocking prepares the way for the mockery of the Golgotha crowds just as surely as the amazement of the family prepares us for the similar amazement of the women as they fled from the open tomb at the very end of the gospel.

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