When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea…(Mark 5:21)
Among the lectionary readings, for this past week, is this fascinating healing “mash-up.” The gospel writer included not just one restoration story, but sandwiched a second within the narrative of the first. This is the familiar story of the resurrection of the synagogue leader’s daughter that incorporates the curing of the hemorrhaging woman. Though many ancient writers use the same enclosure device as a literary mechanism, the gospel writer is intentionally drawing our attention to a key theological principle.
Most of us remember the key parts of the story: Jesus is pulled toward the house of a synagogue leader whose daughter is dying. On the way, as a crowd is pushing into all of his personal space, another woman, who was not allowed anywhere near people, uses all the confusion to get close enough to Jesus to touch his hemline. She is healed after many years of continuous bleeding and has a quick interaction with Jesus. Then he finally arrives at his original destination where he shocks the scoffers in his midst by raising the little girl from death to life.
There are many fascinating things happening in this narrative – far more than we can focus on in one quick article.
So let’s consider the reason for the “mash-up” in the first place. Though both stories involve physical healing, there is an additional form of restoration at play in the center story. Surrounded by the girl’s resurrection from the dead, the woman is not only cured of her physical ailment, but also revived from social death.
We must remember that in Jesus’ day, any blood on a person rendered them “unclean” under the laws of Moses. Though men encountered this difficulty, women (due to the realities of our bodies) were hit particularly hard by the restrictions. A woman who is constantly bleeding would have been not only barred from temple worship, but also any form of commerce and every form of human interaction. She was ostracized. Cast out. Unwanted. Unclean. When Jesus heals the hemorrhaging woman, he not only removes her physical illness, but also restores her to true wholeness of life. She could return to life as a full member of the community.
Why does this matter?
Jesus came not just to raise us from death to life in eternity, but more importantly to new life here and now. These stories are meant to draw our attention beyond corporeal death to all the forms of death that plague this world: including social, economic, and bodily illness. We serve a Lord who is not concerned solely with “spiritual matters.” Christ is at work among us, with us, and through us to see fullness of life for all people – here and now. And Jesus calls his followers to continue his work of overturning the powers of this world.
So then, let us remember the twin lessons of this narrative: Jesus cares about peoples’ whole lives in this world (and so should we) and always keep your wits about you, because the next miracle does not have to wait for the current one to finish.