Jesus healed two women, restoring both to a state of ritual purity – Mark 5:21-43.
Mark presents two stories about women in need of healing. The theme that links the two accounts is that of a woman in need of physical healing and restoration to a state of ritual purity. Both were “unclean” due to their physical condition; the first because of a flow of blood, and the second due to her recent death.
One of the women initiated her deliverance by touching Jesus. The other received her restoration when Jesus touched her. In both incidents, he appeared unconcerned about matters of ritual purity, as stipulated in the Levitical codes and the later “traditions of the elders” – (Mark 5:21-34).
Most certainly, Jesus respected the Law of Moses including its regulations for ritual purity. However, the immediate needs of God’s people took precedence over lesser matters that might upset lesser minds consumed with the smallest legal details.
The synagogue leader, Jairus, was a man of high standing who commanded respect in the Jewish community. As such, he could approach Jesus directly and summon him to his house, though here, he did so with humility.
On the way to his home, the woman with the “flow of blood” made her way to ask Jesus for help. In contrast to Jairus, she was not fit for “polite company” due to her affliction, and she was also someone with little standing in the community. So much so, she felt the need to approach him discreetly from behind – Quietly and meekly.
In the end, the only hope for either woman was whether Jesus would intervene on her behalf. Both the daughter of Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood were beyond human help. The latter had exhausted her resources pursuing help from doctors, and all to no avail, and the daughter of Jairus died before Jesus arrived. Only divine intervention would save either woman.
The superior social position of Jairus did not give him an advantage when receiving help from Jesus, just as the ceremonially unclean state of the woman with the flow of blood was no disadvantage. In either case, what was needed was faith.
Under the Levitical code, a woman with a flow of blood was ceremonially unclean, until her condition had disappeared. Consequently, this woman had remained a social outcast for years since her “flow of blood” had continued unabated for twelve years. And her condition rendered her unfit for marriage if she was single, and it would have been grounds for divorce if she was married. Anything she touched would have been rendered “unclean” due to her flow of blood. Additionally, she was ritually unfit to enter the Temple, and therefore, she could not participate in the worship life of the covenant community, as stipulated in the Torah:
- “When a woman has a discharge of blood which is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean” – (Leviticus 15:19).
In Matthew, this woman touched “the fringe” of his robe, and in Luke, the dying girl was described as the “only-begotten” or “only-born” daughter of Jairus.
The woman’s condition is described with four Greek participles: “she, having suffered much under many physicians, and having spent all her means, and having benefited nothing, but rather, having become worse…” From a human perspective, she was out of options. But she responded to Jesus in faith: “Having heard about Jesus, having come in the crowd from behind, she touched his cloak.”
She approached him with fear and meekness. Her presence would have offended the crowd if they knew her condition. To be in public and to touch Jesus were violations of the Law. But Jesus did not reprimand her or recoil from her approach.
Mark does not explain why the woman assumed that by touching Jesus she would be healed. What it does note are her actions. She “heard,” she “came,” and she “touched.” But it was not the touching that healed her, but her faith (“Woman, your faith has saved you”).
DAUGHTER OF JAIRUS. Jesus ignored the news brought by others about the daughter of Jairus. He had a choice: To believe the circumstances, or to believe in the God who was active in his ministry – (Mark 5:35-43).
Jesus allowed only his “inner circle” to enter the house with him. He claimed that the girl was only “sleeping.” That she died meant that she was “unclean,” and to a dead body rendered a person ritually unclean. However, Jesus did not simply touch the girl, he “grasped” her hand. The command, Talitha coum, is an Aramaic clause meaning “lamb, get up” (or perhaps, ‘little lamb’). “Talitha” was a term of endearment, not her name.
In both stories, Jesus was untroubled by the ritual impurity of either woman. Moreover, he did not recoil from physical contact with either one. Instead of rendering him “unclean,” contact with him “cleansed” both women. A devout Pharisee with scruples about purity regulations would have been offended by his actions and his seeming indifference to ritual matters.
Thus, with the arrival of the Messiah, the Levitical purity codes were beginning to lose their importance. The “Son of Man” had come to restore and unite God’s people, and intentionally or not, those same purity codes often had the opposite effect.