Gospel of Mark 5:21-43
According to the predominant Two-Source Theory, it is presupposed that The Gospel of Mark (herein GoMark) is our earliest written gospel and both GoMatthew and GoLuke borrowed material from GoMark. The parallels of the Jairus’/bleeding woman story can be found at GoMatthew 9:18-26 in an abbreviated form and at GoLuke 8: 40-56. This will concentrate specifically on the Markan version, because it could very possibly be the earliest telling of these stories.
GoMark tells of Jesus’ questioning before the priests and elders following his arrest and also of Peter’s public denial of Jesus, but the way he tells these two stories is an example of a specific literary device used by the author to relay another level to the stories, greater that the sum of it’s parts, so to speak. It can be found at GoMark 14:53-72. As Jesus is led to be questioned, Peter follows along and hangs out by the fire. Then the scene changes and moves into the Council chambers where Jesus is questioned about being the “the Christ, the Son of the Blessed” to which he replies, “I am; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN” a reference, by the author, back to Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13. Immediately he is rejected, spit upon and beaten. Outside, Peter is confronted by others near the fire. He lies about who his identity and avoids potential suffering and possible death as a henchman of this troublemaker who had just been arrested.
This is an example of the Markan literary device known as an intercalation. It starts with one story, interrupts that story to tell another story and then returns to complete the first story. The device will sometimes be referred to as a sandwich. It is an intentional act by the author and allows for a comparison and/or contrast between the two separate stories. What is learned by Mark’s telling of that particular story this way? Jesus stands up to the challenges of others and suffers for doing so. Peter denies Jesus, cowers and fails and thereby avoids potential suffering. Doing what is right will bring about suffering.
Was the unknown author of GoMark a witness to these events? There is no evidence of that, he is telling a story. Could the author have known what was said in the privacy of the council chambers where Jesus faced his accusers? Unlikely, he was telling a story.
GoMark uses this device known as a Markan intercalation or a Markan sandwich not once, not twice, but no less than six times throughout his Gospel. Some even argue for as many as nine examples, but six are widely accepted and easily identifiable. Another such example is the cursing of the fig tree/Jesus’ vandalism of the Temple/ the visible result of Jesus’ curse against that innocent, out of season, fig tree. Both stories combined make a point greater than the two individually.
But we didn’t come here to talk about that, we came to talk about another one of those sandwiches, the raising of a little girl from the dead, or mostly dead, and the healing of a woman with the issue of blood.
Here again, the unknown author of GoMark is telling a story. Was the author a witness to these events? There is no evidence of that, he is telling a story. Perhaps he draws his information from other people who had told these stories before him, who had perhaps heard these stories from other people before them. Perhaps he’s just telling a story, a fictional story, with lessons and a specific intent.
Miracles are attributed to numerous characters throughout the history of humanity. These are typically written off by intelligent people as myths and folklore. A contemporary of Jesus named Apollonius of Tyana was credited with performing many of the same type miracles as Jesus of Nazareth. Should we simply believe these as well? Why should we believe one and not the other? The stories of the great miracles of Jesus are no different. Is it possible that Jesus and Apollonius were capable of helping to heal other people’s illnesses? Yes, it is very possible. Is it possible that Jesus or Apollonius were capable of healing disease and overcoming death? This is myth and folklore, developed in a culture that looked for, believed and lived by myths and folklore.
But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to talk about the miraculous stories of the reincarnation of Jairus’ dead, or mostly dead daughter and the healing of an unknown, unnamed woman who had experienced a constant menstrual flow for twelve years.
Jesus had just come back from the “other side of the lake” after being run off due to his miraculous works, and/or perhaps for destroying a man’s business. According to the story, he did leave behind one man; the man who had previously been possessed by “unclean spirits” who then went around the Decapolis, or Ten Cities, and spread the word, to the gentile populous, “how much Jesus had done for him”.
Jesus leaves “the country of the Gerasenes” and travels back to the Galilean side of the lake in a boat that may have looked something like this: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/galilee-jesus-boat.htm
But we’re not here to talk about the Gerasenes, a man possessed by unclean spirits or some silly old boat; we’re here to talk about the unnamed daughter of a leader of a Galilean synagogue named Jairus and an unnamed woman who had suffered for 12 years. So let’s do that….
I’m going to include the full text from GoMark from the NIV, but I’m going to separate the two stories so that they can be reviewed side-by-side. The text as it appears combined in the bible can always be found at GoMark 5:21-43 in whatever your favorite translation might be.
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him….<second story should insert here>
While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?” Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
The Woman with the Issue of Blood
And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” You see the people crowding against you, his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ “But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Looking at these two stories side-by-side, it is possible to compare and contrast the two different situations.
1. Who is Jairus? Jairus was a prominent member of the elite class, a leader of a Galilean synagogue. He is the epitome of Jewish cleanliness.
Who was the woman? She was nobody, she is not even named. She is a nameless, faceless person in the crowd, who because of her constant menstrual flow had been ostracized by her own culture for twelve long years, in accordance with Jewish Law. She is the epitome of Jewish uncleanness.
When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. Whoever touches them will be unclean; he must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. ‘When she is cleansed from her discharge, she must count off seven days, and after that she will be ceremonially clean.
2. How did they approach Jesus?
Jairus fell to his knees in desperation and begged for Jesus to come to his house and help. Then Jesus offered to help.
The woman took it upon herself, in desperation and faith, to reach out and touch Jesus’ garment and was immediately healed. Jesus was unaware that the incident was going to happen. She <then> bowed and told Jesus her story.
3. What about the crowds?
The woman’s healing took place among the crowd, with a nameless, faceless and curious mob witnessing the exchange.
The crowd at Jairus’ house, likely fellow elites, was told to leave and Jesus took only his closest associates, Peter, James and John, along with the girl’s parents into the privacy of their home.
4. What direction did Jesus give them following their own personal miracles?
To the woman he said “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
To Jairus and his wife, “He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this”, oh and “told them to give her something to eat.”
5. What about the miracles themselves?
When touched by the unnamed woman, Jesus asked, “Who touched my clothes?” and “kept looking around to see who had done it.” This was not an intentional, conscious action taken by Jesus. The text even identifies that he was unaware of exactly what had happened, only that “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him”.
To raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead, or mostly dead, Jesus followed Jairus home, took the girl’s hand, said the magic words, “Talitha koum!” and “Immediately the girl stood up and walked”
6. How old was Jairus’ daughter?
“…she was twelve years old”
How long had the woman been afflicted with her medical condition?
“…had been subject to bleeding for twelve years”
Now if one wants to believe that the great miracles of Jesus are historical events, that is no business of mine. The important thing to note is that the unknown author of GoMark was telling a specific story, for a specific reason, to a specific group of people, to relay a specific message at a specific time in history.
In the combined stories of the resurrection from the dead, or mostly dead, of Jairus’ daughter and the healing of a nameless woman with an unnatural menstrual flow, there is a LOT more going on than just a story about the supernatural ability of the christian icon, Jesus Christ.
Addendum to this post: Miraculously Miraculous Miracles