When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named
Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 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.” So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:21-43. The Lectionary
allows a shorter reading – Mark 5:21-24 & 35-43. In other words, omit the second paragraph, the story of the woman with the hemorrhages.)
A similar account is found in both Matthew 9:18–26 and Luke 8:40–56.
In the first half of Mark we find Jesus’ popularity mounting as he encounters various manifestations of human suffering and the demonic and is able to bring healing. This success will continue until the Transfiguration in Chapter 9.
The first six Chapters of Mark have fifteen references to Jesus being by the lake.
The hemorrhaging woman’s intention to “touch” Jesus or at least his clothes, reminds us of Exodus 39:27: “Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar, and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy; whatever touches the altar shall become holy.” See also the Hebrew Scriptures with accounts of healings by Elijah (1 Kgs 17:17–24) and Elisha (2 Kgs 4:25–37). Healing through touch was also commonly spoken of in the Hellenistic world.
Jesus is encountering both faith and lack of it here. He is also relating intimately with females and breaking some serious taboos by touching them. According to Torah a woman was “unclean” while she was menstruating – see Leviticus 15:19-27. Anyone who touched such a woman would also be “unclean”. “Unclean” meant banishment from the community until the ritual purification was done. In touching the menstruating woman and the dead body, he not only restores the “unclean” to the community he takes on himself their “uncleanness”. Jesus transcends social, cultural and religious limits and invites his disciples to do the same. The Kingdom has no such limits. (We should also note that the menstruating woman was violating the purity code by actually being in the crowd there, let alone her trying to touch Jesus. This might suggest that she recognised something in Jesus that was beyond the cultural and religious codes. It also suggests courage and initiative!)
“A ruler of the synagogue was the president or “head” of the local Jewish worshiping community, rosh ha-keneset in Hebrew (m. Yoma 7:1; m. Sot. 7:7–8). The title is found throughout the Mediterranean world in the first century, although it does not occur in Josephus or Philo. In a synagogue the conducting of public worship, reading of Scriptures, preaching, and public prayer were performed not by a professional class of officials but
by lay synagogue members. The ruler of the synagogue, accordingly, was not a worship leader or a professionally trained scribe or rabbi but a lay member of a synagogue who was entrusted by the elders of the community with general oversight of the synagogue and orthodoxy of teaching. His responsibilities included building maintenance and security, procuring of scrolls for Scripture reading, and arranging of Sabbath worship by designating Scripture readers, prayers, and preachers. Ordinarily, a synagogue had only one ruler, but not always. Acts 13:15 speaks of at least two rulers in the same synagogue. In v. 22, however, “one of the synagogue rulers” should probably be taken to mean “one from the class of synagogue presidents.” Inscriptional evidence from the first century a.d. ascribes the title to a surprisingly diverse lot of individuals, including individuals who bore Greek names and who wrote in Greek. Moreover, nearly two dozen Greek and Latin inscriptions dating from the first century b.c. onward from both Palestine and the Diaspora bestow the title on
women, and even occasionally on children.” (J R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, Eerdmans, 2002, 161.)
In Mark 1:38 we have heard Jesus say: “This is why I have come”. He is here to minister and he will go where that takes him. And so, when Jairus interrupts him in the middle of this crowd, and the woman interrupts him as he is moving to attend to Jairus’ daughter, he goes. Like Isaiah in the presence of the Lord (Isaiah 6:8): “Here I am. Send me.”
When Jesus asks, “Who touched me?” the disciples show that they are yet to grasp who Jesus is and what is happening here. “Though having just witnessed the mighty works of the stilling of the storm and the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, the disciples still seem unaware of the extraordinary nature of Jesus’ power (4:41, “Who is this …?”). (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, The Liturgical Press, 2002, 175.)
In this story of the woman with the hemorrhages, we have one of the truly delightful details of the Gospels – she “came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well’.”
It is not hard to visualize the scene. It is also not hard to imagine the woman’s feelings at this time – part fear, part excitement.
Her action also suggests several particular qualities about her character.
She would have been in no doubt about the significance and consequences of being there with her particular medical condition, in that jostling crowd, trying to touch Jesus. She was officially “unclean”, outside the community. She was violating the law and Torah says this may cause death (see Leviticus 15:31-33).
She was a woman of courage. She was also a woman of epicheia – she knew that there was something more than the law at stake here. Mark has already shown Jesus exercising this quality when he told the religious authorities that human beings are not made for the Sabbath, rather the Sabbath is made for human beings (see Mark 2:27-28).
She epitomises faith. It is hard to believe that her sole motivation would have been simply to be healed. In some deep sense she “knows” Jesus, she has already made a connection with him in her heart. Faith is not so
much about doctrine or law. It is about relationship and intimacy, about heart speaking to heart.
This is also a moment where we can contemplate their eyes meeting – Jesus and the woman face each other. Jesus acknowledges her deep goodness and longing. He does not say I heal you but, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”