I have been sitting in the Gospel of Mark for several days, and The Tale of Two Daughters in Mark 5 has caught my soul’s attention. You remember how the last half of the chapter goes: Jesus has just demonstrated his authority over creation by calming the storm on the sea for his disciples, has demonstrated his authority over evil by casting out a legion of demons from the Gerasene man, and now has once more crossed the sea and landed on the shore where he is met by a great crowd of folks.
Out of the crowd comes Jairus, one of the rulers of the local synagogue and a man of faith, who falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him earnestly to come and heal his little daughter who is at the point of death. And Jesus starts off with Jairus to do just that for Jairus’ daughter. I am moved by this father’s request on behalf of his beloved child, who even at 12 years old is referred to throughout as a “little girl”, so she’s probably pre-adolescent still.
Well, the ‘great crowd’ of people takes off with the two men and the disciples, and they are pushing and shoving and pressing up against Jesus.
In this crowd is a woman of faith who has had an ‘issue of blood’ for 12 years. Notice the parallel: the dying 12 year-old girl and the woman with 12 years of illness. For as long as the little girl has been alive, this woman has been hemorrhaging from a disease. And what a disease! According to Leviticus 15, her issue of blood makes her unclean. So besides suffering this messy, painful, weakening physical condition that all her money spent on doctors has not cured, she is ‘unclean’ as well. This means that her husband (and maybe children?) cannot eat food she has cooked, cannot sit on chairs upon which she has sat, cannot touch her even, without becoming ‘unclean’ themselves! She isn’t allowed into worship services. Yet she listens to Rabbi Jesus and she responds with faith. Unclean or no, she knows that if she can just touch his clothes, she will be made well.
Think of it! The Mosaic Law is reversed here: rather than the Lord Jesus becoming unclean and contaminated by her, she is healed and purified by the holy power that resides in him! This is who Jesus is, he is the Holy One: the Healer.
And so this woman of faith pushes in closely un-seen from behind, she reaches out, and touches Jesus’ clothes and immediately the flow of blood stops and she feels in her body that she is healed of the disease. After 12 long years of getting weaker and weaker, she is well, she is clean again. And Jesus responds immediately to the transfer of healing power and turns around and says: “Who touched my clothes?” And the disciples look at him like he is crazy and say, “What on earth do you mean ‘who touched my clothes?!’ Do you see all these people pressing in here?” But Jesus continues to look around and the trembling woman comes and falls at his feet and tells him the whole story. And Jesus looks at her and calls her “Daughter”.
“Daughter.” This one word turns my heart over and brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. I love Jesus for this. He calls her: ‘daughter’. On his way to heal Jairus’ dying daughter, Jesus stops and cares for one of HIS daughters. And he endorses her faith, “Daughter, your faith has made you well, go in peace, be healed.” Touching Jesus should have made him unclean, instead the touch made the woman clean! No longer a defiled, weak, poor, outcast woman who approaches from behind and speaks with her fearful face on the ground, she is recognized and named as a faith-filled daughter of God and she is healed and she walks away in peace. Hallelujah.
And yet the story takes another turn. While Jesus is still talking with his Daughter, through the crowd come messengers who Jairus did not want to see approaching. Folks from his household with sad faces come and tell Jairus that his little daughter has died and that he should cease troubling the Teacher. Dead bodies are so very dead; there is no mistake here. The little girl is gone. But Jesus overhears this side conversation and counsels Jairus to faith: “Do not fear, only believe.” I wonder if Jairus looked at the older woman standing there and gained faith from her healing?
Now Jesus tells the crowd to stay back, and he takes off with Peter, James, John, and the child’s father. Jesus had started out to heal this child, and so he continues on his way despite her death. Coming up to Jairus’ home they are accosted by a wave of noise with yet another crowd of people gathered there weeping and wailing loudly to the accompanying dirge of flutes (Matthew and Luke tell us).
Jesus rebukes the mourners, insisting that the child is only sleeping. At this, their weeping turns to mocking laughter. Jesus shoos them all out of the house and taking only the little girl’s mother and father and his accompanying disciples, he goes in to where the child is laid. And now he does something else amazing – he reaches out and takes her hand! We are told in Numbers 5 that touching dead bodies defiles a living person. But again, the holy power differential flows the other way with the Lord Jesus. He not only has authority over nature and over demons, he has authority over death! He is showing these Jewish folks that he is the authoritative Messiah about whom the prophets taught.
So Jesus reaches out and takes the little girl by the hand and says to her, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately she gets up and walks around…. which freaks her parents right out with amazement. They are stunned and overcome. “Give her something to eat!”, says Jesus. (I think he had a chuckle in his voice when he said that.) This is, of course, proof-positive that she is alive and well: you don’t feed dead people after all.
In meditating on these human interactions between Jesus and the two daughters, I am encouraged, I am heartened in my faith. This passage reminds me that our dear Lord Jesus cares for the disenfranchised, he cares for us humans when we are sick and suffering. When we are limited and brought low by suffering and sorrow, we too can call out to the Lord Jesus in faith for his healing and cleansing touch, for his attention. And I am reminded that for us who follow the Lord Jesus, when we fall asleep in that final sleep of death, we too will wake up to his beloved voice, “Daughter, Son! Get up! Come and eat!” And we will wake up in our Father’s Kingdom and eat at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19). The voice of Jesus is the Voice that we all will obey when he calls us to life.
The Lord Jesus brings life to the dead, cleanliness to the unclean, healing to the sick. Through salvation, he brings us to life and holiness. His intent is to reverse the law of sin and death and to give us instead holiness and life. Life and purity radiate from him and he gives them away freely. He is generous and always merciful. This has always been his characteristic way of responding to his daughters and sons. This is who he is.