Mark 5:21-43: Another Sandwich (20)
We’ve already met Mark’s sandwich technique of storytelling in which he inserts one story between two parts of another allowing both stories to interpret the other. Here we have another. 5:21-24 and 35-43 are the bread while vv.25-34 is the meat between the bread.
Jesus is back on the Jewish side of the sea. Still engulfed by crowds clamoring to be near him. In the midst of all this a leader of the synagogue bursts in on him falling at his feet and imploring him to come and heal his daughter who is at the point of death. Jesus agrees and they set off to the leader’s home.
Before they get there, however, a woman in the crowd following Jesus who had been hemorrhaging blood for 12 years, snuck up behind him just to touch him. She hoped that might suffice to heal her. In her state this woman was unclean and should have been not have been there in the first place.
Two very different approaches to Jesus. One forward and direct, the other stealthily and from behind. These are two people represent different ends of the social spectrum in Judaism coming to him.
A man comes on behalf of his daughter (12 years-old!)
-with a sense of self (he is named, Jairus),
-knows how to deal with his life, and
-speaks to Jesus.
A woman creeps up unbeknownst to Jesus in her own need,
-no sense of self (she is unnamed)
-no deference, she merely wants to touch the holy man in hopes that stories she has heard about their power to heal with just a touch may just be true,
-has no resources to deal with her life (indeed, the medical establishment has bankrupted her!), and
-she talks to herself.
Death is the issue here. A near-dead child and an as-good-as dead older woman. The only connection Mark makes between these two women is the number 12. The age of the girl and the number of years hemorrhaging blood for the women. What does this tell us? 12 is the number for Israel (the twelve tribes). These two women are Israel in her near-dead state as a dysfunctional and unjust community.
When the woman gets near enough and touches Jesus’ garment, things begin to happened! She feels cured immediately (v.29), there’s Mark’s favorite word again) and Jesus feels that “power had gone forth from him” and “immediately” (v.30) wants to know who touched him. His disciples shrug their shoulders (and perhaps roll their eyes) for there were people everywhere. Who could tell who touched him?
The woman who was healed could. She comes forward and offers her testimony as to what has happened to her, falling at his feet in gratitude and worship. Jesus accepts her testimony as “faith” (v.34). And then he calls her “Daughter.”
What a word! “Daughter.” To a dying and ostracized woman to a “Daughter.” From reaching out to him in trust, or at least hope, that Jesus would and could heal her. Jesus’ word to this woman encapsulates his message to his people – if they would respond to his call and become through him the people of Abraham God meant them to be, they would escape the coming calamity at Rome’s hands. They would be “made . . . well,” able to “go in peace” (v.34).
At this point Jesus is interrupted by messengers from Jairus’ house telling him his daughter has died and there’s no point to continuing on. But Jesus ignores these heralds and tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe” (v.36). He takes only Peter, James, and John and heads off with Jairus to his house.
They arrive to the sounds of professional mourners lamenting the child’s death. Jesus shoes them off with the comment, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” The mourners taunt him, obviously not holding him in the regard Jairus did. N. T. helps us understand what Jesus is getting at here:
“Often in the ancient world, and particularly in Judaism and Christianity, sleep was used as a metaphor for death, and indeed sometimes (as in John 11.11) Jesus says ‘asleep’ when he means ‘dead’. Mark is perhaps hoping that his readers will hear, from the previous chapter, the story of the seed and the plant. It goes to sleep and rises up ... and now that’s what will happen to this girl, as a further sign that the kingdom of God is breaking in upon Israel in the unlikely form of a young prophet doing extraordinary things in one little town by the lake. A further sign, too, of how the story will end, with astonished people coming to see the place where a dead body once lay but now lies no longer.” (N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 84)
Mark recounts the little girl’s raising like this: “Taking her by the hand he said to her, ‘Tal′itha cu′mi’; which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement” (vv.41-42).
This scene clearly anticipates Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus raises her as a sign that even amid the death at work in Jewish religious leadership and institutions (indeed in a Jewish religious leader’s home!), a turn to him can bring life out of death.
Now we can see the effect of Mark’s “sandwich.” The bread of Israel’s dying religious leadership offered life through Jesus and symbolized by Jairus is the outer edge of Jesus’ call. But even if that goes unheeded the meat remains – his call to people to follow him regardless of what their leader do. These stories written up in this way form a potent pair of challenges that embody just what Jesus is up to and what is at stake in his ministry!