Mark 5: 21-43
Today’s scripture centers on two healings interwoven by a literary technique used frequently by the author of Mark. Called the Markan sandwich, one story is interrupted or “sandwiched” by another. In this case, there is a healing within a healing. The purpose is to emphasize each story by using the other. Therefore, if possible, the preacher should use the stories together to highlight the theme.
Besides Jesus, there are two central characters that inspire the discussion of acts of faith: Jairus, the synagogue leader, and the unnamed woman with a hemorrhage. Jairus, a male, is an important leader. He has a name and is well connected to the community. On the other hand, the woman has no name and is a social outcast. Jairus is wealthy and influential while the hemorrhaging woman is impoverished and unclean. Jairus approaches Jesus directly while the woman tries to draw close to Jesus secretly and quietly. However, both have lost hope and are in despair. Both are frantic and persistent.
Additionally, Jairus and the woman break social norms through their actions. Jairus prostrates himself humbly in front of Jesus, begging repeatedly—an action a man of his social stature would not do. The woman, unclean and impoverished, violates purity standards by presenting herself in public and pushing through the crowd. She then crosses gender boundaries by touching the clothes of a male teacher. Jairus’ and the woman’s faith demonstrates courage, persistence, and audacity.
Both are blessed by Jesus. However, it is important to note that Jesus, who is on the way to provide ministry to Jairus’ daughter, is interrupted by the hemorrhaging woman. This part of the story is essential to a proper understanding of the passage. Jesus allows his service to Jairus, an advantaged member of the community, to be disrupted by the ministry needs of a socially outcast, no-name woman. In other words the theological message is that the needs of the least, lonely, and lost are dealt with before those of the powerful and socially connected.
The process of the woman’s healing also provides important insight to our Christian journey. In verse 29 it appears the healing is complete. The hemorrhaging has stopped and the woman feels she is healed from the disease. However, Jesus doesn’t move on from there. Rather, he requires more engagement with the healed woman. He wants to meet her. When the woman approaches him in fear and trembling, Jesus then provides a complete healing. He addresses her publicly and calls her “daughter,” an endearing term that brings her back into relationship with others. Jesus encourages her to go in peace (shalom), liberates her from the physical affliction, and heals her completely by giving her full reintegration into the community.
The full meaning of the story is not complete without a mention of Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter. She deepens the meaning of the story of Jesus’ healing and ministry. Both the hemorrhaging woman and girl are powerless. They are female victims of illness who are unclean. The woman is bleeding and the girl is dead.
Mark connects the two further by using the number 12, which was significant in the Jewish tradition. The woman bleeds for 12 years. The girl is 12. Jesus calls the woman “daughter” and the other is a daughter in the story. They are socially unclean or dead. However, both are healed and restored to life and to the community.