SYNOPSIS – Jesus healed two women and restored both to states of ritual purity – Mark 5:21-43.
The gospel of Mark presents two separate but related stories about women in need of healing and cleansing that are “sandwiched” together for emphasis. The common theme is that of a woman in need of physical healing and restoration to a state of ritual purity – (Mark 5:21-43).
Both women were in a state of ritual impurity due to their physical condition – One, because of a flow of blood, the other, because of her physical death. One of the two women initiated her deliverance by touching the garments of Jesus. The other received her restoration when Jesus touched her. In both cases, he appeared unconcerned about matters of ritual purity as stipulated n the Levitical codes, and the later oral “traditions of the elders.”
None of this means that Jesus did not respect the Law of Moses, including its regulations for ritual purity. However, the immediate needs of a child of God took precedence over lesser matters that might upset small minds consumed with even the smallest details of a legal code.
Jairus was a man of standing in his Jewish community. As such, he could approach Jesus directly and summon him to his house, although he did so with humility when he came to beg Jesus to heal his daughter, who already was at the point of death.
On the way to the home of Jairus, a woman with a “flow of blood” make her way to see help from Jesus. She is not named in Mark. In contrast to Jairus, she was a social outcast with no community standing. So much so, she felt the need to approach him discreetly from behind – Quietly and meekly.
But the only hope of either woman was in whether Jesus would act on her behalf. Both the daughter of Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood were beyond human assistance. The latter had exhausted her wealth pursuing remedies from doctors, all to no avail. And the daughter of Jairus died before Jesus arrived – Only divine intervention could save either.
The superior social position of Jairus, the synagogue leader, did not give him an advantage in receiving help from Jesus, just as the ceremonially unclean state of the woman with the flow of blood was not at a disadvantage. In either situation, what was needed was faith.
Under the Levitical code, a woman with a flow of blood was ceremonially unclean until her condition disappeared. Consequently, she remained a social outcast for years – Her “flow of blood” had continued unabated for twelve years.
Such a condition rendered her unfit for marriage if she were single, and it would have been grounds for divorce if she were married. Anything and anyone she touched was rendered ceremonially unclean because of the flow of blood. Additionally, she was ritually unfit to enter the Temple – In other words, 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 the gospel of Matthew, the woman touched “the fringe” of Christ’s robe. In the account in Luke, the dying girl is described as the “only-begotten” or “only-born” daughter of Jairus. This latter detail emphasizes the preciousness of the girl to her father.
The condition of the woman with the flow of blood 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…” Their verb tenses signify past actions. 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.”
The woman approached Jesus meekly and with fear. Her presence would offend the crowd if they knew her condition – She was ritually unclean and would “pollute” anyone who had contact with her. To be in public and to touch Jesus were violations of the Law. However, Jesus did not reprimand her or recoil from her approach.
The gospel of Mark does not explain why the woman assumed that touching Jesus would heal her. What it does note are her actions – She “heard,” she “came,” and she “touched.” It was not the touching that healed her, but the woman’s faith (“Woman, your faith has saved you”).
Daughter of Jairus
Meanwhile, Jesus ignored the news brought by others about the daughter of Jairus. The synagogue leader had a choice – To believe the circumstances or to believe in the God who was active in the ministry of Jesus.
At the house of Jairus, Jesus allowed only his “inner circle” to enter with him. According to him, the girl was only “sleeping.” This was not meant literally and must refer to the state of death. The text makes clear that mourners were already present – Experienced mourners would not mistake sleep for death.
Jesus used sleep as a metaphor for death, a common enough usage in the period, and in the New Testament. That she died meant the girl was now ceremonially unclean. To touch a dead body rendered one ritually impure. But Jesus did not simply touch the girl, he “grasped” her hand – (Compare – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16).
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. That Mark transliterates the term into Greek letters and translates it for a Greek-speaking audience indicates this gospel was written for a Greek-speaking audience.
Besides meeting an immediate physical need, the command to give the girl something to eat served as a physical demonstration that demonstrated her restoration to life.
In both healings, Jesus was untroubled by the ritual impurity of either woman and did not recoil from physical contact with either one. Instead of rendering Jesus “unclean,” contact with him by either woman “cleansed” the woman’s ceremonial uncleanness. A devout Pharisee or scribe with scruples about purity regulations would have been offended deeply by his actions.
In the big picture, with the arrival of the promised Messiah, the Levitical purity codes that were integral parts of the Torah were beginning to lose their importance. The “Son of Man” had come to restore and unite God’s people. Intentionally or not, the purity codes often had the opposite effect.