June 24, 2018 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
Today’s Gospel has a number of people in it. The two principal characters are Jairus and an unnamed (anonymous) woman “afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years”. Other people are the disciples, the crowd, the people from the synagogue, the mourners making a commotion in Jairus’ house.
The Gospel writer Mark is at pains to establish a stark contrast between Jairus and the no name woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.
Jairus is a synagogue official. He is head of his family and appeals on behalf of his twelve year old daughter.
The no name woman is poor and alone, lost in the crowd. She is economically poor (“spent all that she had”) This could indicate that at one time she was wealthy. She is ritually unclean according to Jewish law (“afflicted with hemorrhages for 12 years”). She has been exploited (“she had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors” ….”yet she was not helped but only grew worse” We must not forget her inner pain. She can have no relationship, no tenderness, no affection, no warmth for 12 years. For as long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive this woman has been alone. The situation was impossible, but so was her hope.
Jairus makes an assertive approach to Jesus as befits male social equals. He falls down at Jesus’ feet, a proper granting of honor prior to asking a favor. He lays expectations upon Jesus, “Come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” And we are told that “He (Jesus) went off with him, and a large crowd followed.” It appears that the first will be first and the last will be last.
But Jesus’ mission to lay hands on the 12 year old daughter of Jairus is interrupted by the touch of a woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. The woman is a no name figure who is part of the crowd (who would have been predominantly poor people). She makes an ashamed and covert attempt to gain healing. Her action would thus be doubly audacious, 1) a violation of social codes for proper female behavior (For a woman to touch a male in public is highly improper.) AND 2) a violation of religious law (because she was considered impure, because of the flow of blood, her touch would transfer her impurity to Jesus.)
In the case of Jairus he begins with a gesture of kneeling before Jesus. The anonymous woman when singled out by Jesus comes forth “..in fear and trembling.” There is good reason to believe that these words here do not mean fear as in afraid but fear as in awe. They indicate a human being not only overwhelmed but gladdened and changed by divine power. “She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.” The healing of the body of this woman is dramatized by the two references to physical sensations, 1) “she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. ” 2) “Jesus was aware at once that power had gone out of him.”
Jesus addresses this woman with the title, “daughter” he makes her a member of his family. She has gone from being an outsider to being an insider.
What is the meaning of these stories for us? There is clearly the level of restoration of bodily wholeness. Both women are restored to health. The woman with the hemorrhaging demonstrates a particular kind of active aggressive faith. Some have questioned whether it was desperation with her condition that got her through what was forbidden by social codes and religious law. She should not have touched Jesus. Or was it her faith that impelled her to do what she did. This woman has become an important figure for those speaking and writing about the need for liberation for women.
In the case of the twelve year old girl it was her father’s appeal that brought her to Jesus. He too must have felt a sense of desperation and impossibility in his daughter’s condition.
In both stories there are people who are obstacles. In the first story the 1) apostles deride Jesus for asking, “who touched me.” Jesus looks around to see who did it. 2) In the case of Jairus’ daughter the people who come from the synagogue tell him, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer.” Now it is Jesus who exhorts (the roles are reversed): “Do not be afraid, just have faith.” 3) At Jairus’ home the professional mourners deride Jesus when he comes to the house and says “the child is not dead but asleep.” “He put them all out.” and you know the rest of the story.
But this story is also working at another LEVEL.-REVERSAL AND REJECTION.
In this story as in the story of the cleansing of the Leper (1:40-45) the purity code is very much at issue. Jesus again both violates and reverses the contagion by his “touching”.
Jesus accepts the priority of the (“highly inappropriate”) importunity of this woman over the (“correct”) request of the synagogue leader. Here is an example of the last becoming first and the first last. REVERSAL JESUS’ mission to “lay his hands on Jairus’s daughter” touch Jairus’ daughter, is interrupted by the “touch;” of the doubly poor (economically and socially) woman, and now she is the one who falls at the feet of Jesus. Jesus accepts her touch and rejects the purity laws of the Jews. He also speaks to a woman in public and lets her touch him which would be against social norms. REJECTS PURITY CODE AND SOCIAL NORMS From the bottom of the honor scale this woman intrudes upon an important mission on behalf of the daughter of someone on the top of the honor scale. And by the end of this part of the Gospel she has become the “daughter” at the center of the story. REVERSAL From being excluded she is now included and accepted as a member of Jesus family by the name “daughter”. She is hailed as a person of faith in contrast to the lack of faith of the apostles. And this delay results in the apparent failure of the original mission and violation of the agreement of honor that had been made: “As he was saying this” the synagogue ruler is informed that his daughter has died.
Jesus advises this prominent man to be a person of faith as was the ritually unclean poor no named woman. Jairus’ contact with Jesus started with him exhorting Jesus to do something. Jairus a prominent man came to Jesus as a folk healer. Now Jesus exhorts him, “Do not be afraid, just have faith.” The folk healer teaches the official of the synagogue and the woman, poor, unclean, anonymous, without name is hailed as the example of faith that the prominent synagogue official, named Jairus, should imitate. The REVERSAL is complete: the last woman has become first and the first Jairus has now become last and must learn from the faith of the last, the no name woman.
This passage is teaching us how Jesus again bursts through certain obstacles of the Jewish religion to teach the people of his time and us what is really important. What would Jesus say to President Trump and Attorney General Sessions about their policies of separating children? The Catholic Bishops at their recent meeting declared these actions immoral. It is a start in the right direction. Where do we find ourselves in this story?