This week’s story from Mark is in the middle of last week’s story—in fact, this one is the interruption in the other one. And it is fair to say that it interrupts in a variety of ways.
First, it interrupts what Jesus is already in the middle of, which is going with a leader of the synagogue to heal his daughter, who is on the brink of death. So this is a pretty inconvenient interruption for the man—and certainly for his daughter. Timing would seem to be pretty crucial in this situation, and yet here is a delay. And you might wonder what Jesus is doing even responding to it, what with the serious nature of the task at hand. Shouldn’t he be more focused?
Second, not only is it an inconvenient interruption, it probably seems to the man—and maybe even to us, if we’re in his shoes—as a mis-prioritized interruption. This is a leader of the synagogue, with a dying young daughter. He’s a respected member of the society, and you would think a good guy, being a good observant faithful and religious person. And this woman is unclean—bleeding makes a person “unclean” in the purity codes of their religious faith, much less bleeding for 12 years. And she’s a woman, with no standing, no rights, in essence negligible value in a society where men are all that matter. Every category that she is a part of is far inferior to every category that he is a part of. So why should Jesus even bother? Plus, an unclean person touching someone else—and therefore making the someone else also unclean—is a significant breach of protocol. It’s impolite. Not to mention invasive. She has made Jesus unclean. All sorts of reasons why this is not just an inconvenience, but wrong, wrong, wrong, at so many levels.
She knows all of these things; she knows it’s so incredibly wrong to reach out and touch him—to approach him at all, much less touch him. But she is desperate. Twelve years she’s been dealing with this, and no doctor has been able to help, and the medical costs have basically bankrupted her of whatever limited resources she, as a woman in that culture, might have. So she bursts past all of the protocol, all of the prohibitions, and out of her desperation crosses all of the lines. No wonder she’s afraid when he cries out “Who touched my clothes?”
And yet Jesus responds to her, and calls her “Daughter”—a familial term, the same term as the religious man’s little girl. He praises her faith, sends her forth to live in peace and be healed. Of course, as a marginalized woman in a patriarchal culture, to “live in peace” is a very relative term. But so much is better, health-wise, and “cleanliness”-wise, and she has been praised for her faith by the one who is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
So basically Jesus does what he always does—he values every human being as a child of God—every woman as a “daughter”—no matter what society says about worthiness, value, “in”-ness or “out”-ness, or religious category. Jesus desires wholeness for each individual—and in so doing, also desires wholeness for each society—all of whom marginalize some while elevating others; all of whom “keep score” and prioritize some lives as of more worth than others.
We still have to learn those lessons, don’t we?
GOSPEL Mark 5:21-34
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24 So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,28 for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31 And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32 He looked all round to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’