Mark 5:21-43, The Redeemer of Israel

[June 28, 2015] Today is the 4th Sunday after Trinity Sunday. We continue from where we left off, still in the same section of Mark’s gospel. As I pointed out in my last post, on Mark 4:35-41, after giving us a number of parables in 4:1-34, Mark gives us a series of stories with parabolic import, all of which (there are really only three) fit into a sequence. The parables in chapter four basically all concern the growth and spread of the Word (the Gospel) in us and in the world. These three stories develop the same theme. What is growing is a community, the community that Jesus describes in the preceding episode (3:31-35) as his true family, the place where his home is, his “brother and sister and mother.” What follows in the beginning of chapter 6 is Jesus’ visit to Nazareth where he grew up, his other “home.” There, because they assume they know him, they do not know him, and “they would not accept him.” That pretty much closes the section (what follows is the sending out of the Twelve on their first apostolate, or mission).

The three stories are as follow: (1) the crossing of the sea, (2) the healing of the gentile demoniac, and (3) a combined story of the healing of a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years and the resurrection of a twelve-year-old girl who had just died. I had suggested that the crossing of the sea (conflating in our minds the Mediterranean Sea with the “Sea” of Galilee), represents the turbulent task for the church of bringing the Gospel to the gentile world. The gentile world, the people worshiping idols and therefore in bondage to false gods and demons, is represented by the demoniac who possesses a “legion” of unclean spirits. Jesus frees him, and as a result angers the people because their economy is disrupted (a nearby farmer did business in pig-farming and Jesus just ruined him—oops!). We are reminded of the owners of the soothsaying slave in Philippi who had Paul and Silas jailed because the apostles ruined the slave-owners’ profits, or of the artisans in Ephesus who rioted because they claimed that no one would now buy their silver statues of Artemis (Acts 16:16-24 and 19:23-31).

The third story is more complex, comprising three parts. It is, however, one story bound together by one of the stories bracketing the other and the importance of the number twelve in both. This story has to do with the hope of Israel.

Having crossed the sea back to the Jewish side (at least that is how Mark draws it—the other side was where they raised pigs), Jairus, significantly the president of the synagogue, falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him earnestly to come and lay hands on his sick daughter that she may be saved. Some sickness threatened her life and she was close to death. Jesus agreed and accompanied him to his house.

This story represents the synagogue community, the Jews, calling upon God to save them, for living under Roman dominion they recognize the judgment of God upon them and their sinfulness in God’s sight (as Moses and the prophets taught them to interpret such circumstances, though it was actually one long continuing “circumstance” since the destruction of the first Temple); they therefore begged for God’s mercy. The entire Jewish religion was (and is) such a plea and dependence on God for mercy. The Day of Atonement was and is such a plea. When would God have mercy on Israel and redeem her? God hears this plea and accompanies them on their historic journey to their final redemption.

The “large crowd that followed him” and pressed all round him represents, then, is Israel. All Israel awaits Redemption and the coming of the Messiah. They may not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but they are pressing all-round the Messiah nevertheless, and God recognizes this. Jairus, then, the synagogue president, represents the heart of faithful Israel, the synagogue community.

“Now there was a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she had spent all she had without being any the better for it; in fact, she was getting worse.” This is another picture of Israel. Hemorrhaging for twelve years she has a connection to the sick child (Jairus’ daughter) who is twelve-years-old (verse 42). She began hemorrhaging when the child was born. The narrative connects the two together. In terms of representation, they are the same.

The same—with a difference. “She had heard about Jesus, and she came up through the crowd and touched his cloak from behind, thinking, ‘If I can just touch his clothes, I shall be saved.’” So if the crowd represents Israel, the people of the Jews, and Jairus represents the synagogue community, the faithful of Israel, who is she? She is part of the crowd, so she too is a Jew. But she is unclean, though she keeps this fact hidden from the crowd. Mark however does not make mention of this fact, even though at other times when he needs to explains some cultural peculiarity of the Jews he does so (he seems to assume a gentile audience, though one familiar with the Scriptures that are read each Sabbath in the synagogues; so presumably the members of his audience are Christians—Jews and gentiles—of the Diaspora). So we will not dwell on it. She is, however, bleeding, losing her life-blood, her soul (Leviticus 17:11); in other words, she has been dying (in a way) for twelve years. If she represents an Israelite, she is one who is particularly aware of her condition before God, a condition all in Israel share whether they know it or not.

In saying this, however, I am not at all saying that Israel is more sinful or more under God’s condemnation than the gentiles. It is just that the Bible looks at everything from the point of view of Israel. The fact that Israel is under God’s judgment is considered proof that the gentile is even more so. This is Paul’s argument in Romans 3. Israel’s sin only shows that Jews and gentiles are “all alike under the dominion of sin.” “Now we are all aware that whatever the Torah says is said for those who are subject to the Torah, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world brought under the judgment of God.” Paul could never have imagined that the idolatrous gentiles were less guilty than Israel, unless he thought they would be given leniency because of their ignorance—well, there might be leniency, but there would still be no absolution. The guilt of gentiles was assumed, but the condemnation of Israel brought it to light.

What makes the difference in the case of this hemorrhaging woman is that she “touches” Jesus while the crowd only presses against him. Jesus was going to Jairus’ house to lay his hands on (“touch”) his daughter that she may be saved. This woman lays her hands on—“touches”—Jesus (on his clothes) and is saved. Jesus tells us what this “touch” represents: “My daughter, your faith has saved you” (verse 34). This is the same “faith” that the disciples lacked in the boat journey (4:40). This woman, a Jew who is aware of her situation under the judgment of God, puts her faith in Jesus and so is saved.

“Go in peace,” Jesus tells her. “And be free of your complaint.” The peace that Jesus brings her is the inner peace that he gives to the believer, his peace: peace with God and with others, and wholeness within.

So who is she? She is the Jew who believes on Jesus and so comes to know her Redeemer before the time of Israel’s redemption. She is inwardly healed—for that is where the bleeding is taking place, inside of her. She is not outwardly healed. She must still accompany her people on their outward journey, but inwardly she has the peace of knowing the Savior, knowing her sins forgiven, being reconciled to God. She now has peace (see verse 34). In Romans 9—11 she is the “remnant” of Israel who presently believes.

In the story she represents the Israelite who adheres to Jesus as the coming Redeemer. She is no different than the gentile who believes. The gentile too is only inwardly healed, and the gentile too is called to be in solidarity with Israel, under God’s judgment, awaiting the Redemption that Jesus brings.

Then what follows? This is the story told by Moses in Deuteronomy and by the prophets. Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house (symbolically, this represents the coming of the Messiah to Israel at the “end of days”). But the daughter is dead. Like the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision, Israel is there but seems to itself to be dead; hope hung by a thread, but the thread wore out, and all that Israel has left is despair. Like the sisters of Lazarus wondered, why did you (the Messiah) wait so long?! Jesus tells Jairus to continue to have faith and not be afraid (the same two components as in 4:40). Jesus takes with him only select disciples (he comes with his saints, but only the ones who pass muster can accompany him here). He accuses them of being overly dramatic (for when they see him, Zechariah tells us, they shall wail). “Why all this commotion and crying? The child is not dead, but asleep.” But they ridiculed him. Perhaps on that day Israel will be wailing over their sins, sure that there is nothing left for God to have mercy on, and Jesus—whom they will not be expecting to actually be the Messiah—will tell them to simmer down, he is not going to hurt them. So, they made a mistake; they didn’t think he was the one. But they prayed for the Messiah and here he was (though he had accompanied them all along, through all their sufferings). He had not forgotten them; he was not even angry with them. (After all, he would reason, it was not entirely their fault that they could not accept that Jesus was the one.)

Of course, I don’t expect my Jewish readers to follow me on this point, and I appreciate that—just so you know. But humor me, please. I have no doubt that there will be amazing irony for us all on the day that the Messiah comes.

“He went into the place where the child lay. And taking the child by the hand he said to her, “Talitha kum!” which means, “Little girl, I tell you to get up.” The Son of Man speaks the word and the wind of the Spirit blows and Israel rises from the dead. “The little girl got up at once and began to walk about, for she was twelve years old.” “Now (for heaven’s sake) feed her!” Jesus says. “She must be starving.” (After all, she was probably sick for days and had nothing to eat all that time but chicken soup.) And so the banquet begins. Israel finally enters her blessing and the land at last becomes the Promised Land.

This is how this story-series ends. It takes us from the Acts of the Apostles to the Second Advent of the Messiah, presuming only what Mark could have already seen in his own time and what he would have been taught growing up—concerning Jewish beliefs with respect to the coming redemption of Israel, beliefs which Jesus and his apostles shared and which they also taught.

What does this particular passage—Mark 5:21-43—have to do with us? After all, we are (for the most part) not even Jews and this interpretation pertains entirely to them. We might begin by having a little humility and recognize that, while the hope of Israel might not be interesting to us, perhaps it ought to be, because it is so very important to God, and was so very important to Jesus when he walked among us.

That is not a minor point, but acknowledging that, let us see what else we can do with this. For as I said, the Jew who owns Jesus as her Lord in the present time is no different than the gentile, except that the Jew can use the practices of Judaism to signify her hope in Israel’s coming redemption. So we both—Jew and gentile believers—are like the hemorrhaging woman who was healed by touching Jesus. We all have to press through the crowd of his followers to find the real Jesus.

In this way, the hemorrhaging woman depicts our inner life. Our struggle is to really touch Jesus and not just press against him. To touch him means that our faith must be real, that our stakes are high and we are depending on Jesus for a lot. It also means that we humble ourselves for we touch the hem of his garment, meaning that we risk being trampled by keeping ourselves low. To be thus low before him also suggests that our authenticity before him; we have no pretensions, no airs. We simply are who we are, unclean and sinful. When others are pressing against him but our touch alone is healing, it is because the Holy Spirit, the anointing that was upon Jesus in his ministry, has worked in us giving us our faith, distinguishing our touch from that of the many others.

Jesus’ says to us, “My daughter, your faith has saved you; go [forward] in peace and be free of your complaint.”

Jairus and his daughter represent us in our outward life. Outwardly we call upon Jesus for salvation, and we accompany Jesus to our end but it is in the midst of a large crowd, a crowd of people who follow him but who are not invested in him. Jesus is in solidarity with us in our plight, but outwardly our little life is dying. Before Jesus arrives, we, Jairus’ daughter, have died. In our case, unlike the case with Israel, we do not only seem dead, we are dead. God’s judgment on the human race rolls over us too. Jesus, however, quite beyond our control, comes to our grave and tells us to rise up. This refers to our literal resurrection from the dead. Upon waking, we are invited to the feast of the kingdom of God.

His word to Jairus is his word to us when, under the heavy judgment of God, all seems beyond hope: “Do not be afraid; only have faith.” When we have died, his word to others will be, “The child is not dead, but asleep.” And when we arise and see his likeness he will invite us to the feast of his kingdom.

These three or four stories—the sea crossing, the healing of the demoniac and the healing of the hemorrhaging woman and the raising of the twelve year old in the end—depict the life in the field of the world produced by the seed of the word sown by Jesus. It depicts the community of Jesus, how it has grown and how in the end it will experience redemption. This community is the real family of Jesus, those who do the will of God (3:31-35).

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