Crossing over: encounters

Mark-5-two-miraclesThe Plea of Jairus.When Jesus had crossed again (in the boat) to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him…”

Jesus is returning from his experience in Gentile territory and the casting out of a demon from a man in the Gerasene district. The transition to our text is simple and stated in one verse. Jesus returned to the western shore of the lake, perhaps to Capernaum and a multitude gathered around him, immediately upon his arrival, so it seems. No indication is given whether the crowd came together as soon as he arrived or after an extended period of time; it is simply the first fact that Mark records, offering a contrast to Jesus’ experience on the eastern shore where the inhabitants urged him to depart.

Without a demarcation of time, the story quickly moves to focus on Jairus, identified as one of the synagogue officials. The word used here could indicate someone of the class of office holder or simply an elder member of the community. In either case, it is clear that Jairus is someone who is well-known and respected. It most likely that he was a lay official responsible for supervision of the building and arranging the religious service.

Jairus stands at the opposite end of the socioeconomic scale from the unnamed woman we will meet in the next section. His status as a synagogue official marks him out as a wealthy and influential member of the community. He would have been accustomed to having others request favors from him. One might expect such a person to send an emissary to ask Jesus to come and heal the little girl. The fact that the father comes and throws himself at Jesus’ feet begging for help shows that he is as desperate as the hemorrhaging woman.

Most commentators do not over-read Jairus’ fall at Jesus’ feet as a sign of worship. In Semitic languages one of the most respectful greetings translates as “I hold your feet.” This is the sense of the word piptō used in the text.

It is not the greeting that is unusual, it is a part of the request. His request that Jesus should come and lay hands in healing upon his daughter reflects a common practice of the day. While this is the first mention of the laying on of hands in Mark, other references occur in 6:5; 7:32; 8:23, 25. What was unusual was his confidence that if Jesus would come, and as a result, his daughter’s life would be saved. Is it an act of faith? An act of desperation by someone whose options are running out? Mark’s narration at this point is too sparse to know more than Jesus went with him, followed by the crowd.

One can easily image a large crowd following Jesus, pressing in upon him (v.24). We are now prepared for the account of the woman who touched Jesus in order to be healed.

The Woman with the Hemorrhage. There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.

It is most often assumed that the women suffered from some continued menstrual blood flow, however, that is just that, an assumption. The text is general and cites no source or cause for the hemorrhaging. That being said, whatever the source, such a woman was called a zabah, and came under the restrictions of Lev. 15:25–33. So important was considered the regulation of life for such a person that the Mishna tractate Zabim is devoted to this topic. The flow of blood would have left her ritually unclean and resulted in exclusion from society at large.

The One in Need of Healing. We are told that she had consulted a number of physicians, had endured a wide variety of treatments, and had spent all of her money in a desperate attempt to better her condition. Lane [190] reports One remedy consisted of drinking a goblet of wine containing a powder compounded from rubber, alum and garden crocuses. Another treatment consisted of a dose of Persian onions cooked in wine administered with the summons, “Arise out of your flow of blood!” Other physicians prescribed sudden shock, or the carrying of the ash of an ostrich’s egg in a certain cloth.

All this was in vain; in fact, her condition grew worse. Her existence was wretched because she was in a constant state of uncleanness and would be generally shunned by people since contact with her rendered others unclean. None of these remedies had benefited the woman. Having heard reports of the healing power of Jesus, she determined her course of action. Despite her ritual uncleanness she entered the crowd behind him and reached out to his garment. The desire to touch Jesus’ clothing likely reflects the popular belief that the dignity and power of a person are transferred to what he wears. This gesture depicts Jesus as a thaumaturge (a performer of miracles). Magical power flows from the charismatic healer to his clothing and anything that touches it. It is not possible to know the woman’s state of mind with respect to such quasi-magical thinking about popular beliefs of touch and her state of faith when it came to the person of Jesus.

We do know that after her healing She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. (v.33) Undoubtedly part of that “whole truth” was her conviction of the popular belief in the power of touch, yet also may have included her knowledge that others had touched him and been made well (3:10; 6:56). We also know that, whatever her intentions, when she touched Jesus’ cloak she experienced the cessation of her hemorrhage, and knew that she had been healed. “ Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction”

NOTES

Mark 5:21 a large crowd gatheredclose to the sea. This echoes Mk 4:1 and links these events to its predecessor events, also on Jewish soil, also on the shoreline. This is a location where key Markan events occur (e.g. 1:16-20, the call of the disciples; 2:13-15, the call of Levi; 4:1-34, the parable discourses.)

Mark 5:22 one of the synagogue officials. Jairus was a key figure at the synagogue who helped to direct the worship services and operate the building. A local synagogue could have more than one leader (Acts 13:15). This is one of the few scenes in Mark in which a Jewish leader was responsive to Jesus. synagogue officials: the word used here could indicate someone of the class of office holder or simply an elder member of the community. In either case, it is clear that Jairus is someone who is well known and respected. Jairus: This is perhaps a Hellenized name Jair, one of the judges of Israel (Judges 10:3-5). fell at his feet. This prostration (piptō) indicated respect for Jesus; the Syro-Phoenician woman will later do the same (7:25).

Mark 5:23 pleaded earnestly. The Greek parakalein is characteristic of a prayer for healing. lay your hands on her. This language is typical for blessing (Acts 8:19), consecration (Lev 8:10), and healing (2 Kgs 4:34; Mk 16:18; and Acts 9:12, 28:8)

Mark 5:25 hemorrhages. This is lit. “a flow of blood,” a euphemistic reference to vaginal bleeding. It made the woman ceremonially unclean (the language matches Lev 15:19, 25–30) thus prohibiting her from marital relations and to some degree restricting a normal social life. Key Jewish texts for this condition include 11QTemple 45:7–17, 46:16–18, 48:14–17; Josephus Antiquities 3.261; and m. Niddah. The unclean woman’s social position and status were exactly opposite to those of Jairus. Jesus ministered to the whole gamut of society.

It is interesting to note that Jairus’ daughter is dying at age 12, the standard betrothal age, just before she is to marry and bring life in to the world. The unnamed woman is suffering a condition that prevents her from bringing life into the world – for 12 years. Thus, Jesus healing, also opens the avenue for each of the women to bring new life into the world.

Mark 5:27 touched his cloak. There was an ancient belief that a person’s power could be conducted by his or her clothes (see 3:10; 6:56; Acts 19:12).

Mark 5:28 If I can just touch his clothes. This is expressed as a pure hope with no presumption as to its likelihood. However, her willingness to violate the rules governing uncleanness showed her determination.

Mark 5:29 the flow of blood dried up. Lit., “the well of her blood was dried up.” The language reflects Lev 12:7, LXX, where the rite of cleanliness is described. The woman was restored.

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