Today’s reading is Mark 5:21-43:
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders,named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her,“Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
The accounts of Jesus healing both a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhage and the young daughter of a synagogue official always appear as a single story in the three books of the Gospels, including in the book of Mark. I think that this is an indication that the two people have something in common, even though they may never have had any interactions with one another in life. Indeed, it seems more than a mere coincidence that the woman has suffered from an inexplicable disease for the same amount of years that this little girl was alive, and that Jesus heals them both on the same day. It is their interaction with Jesus that unites them.
What first struck me about this story is that it is a story about suffering and healing, and not about just the physical kind. It is one of the passages that very poignantly displays the tenderness and compassion of Jesus. It is a personal comfort for me when I think about the question of “Why suffering?”
Jesus talks about the purpose of suffering in John 9:1-7. In this passage, Jesus and His disciples were passing through a town when they saw a blind man begging in the streets. The disciples asked Jesus for the reason for the blind man’s suffering:
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (ESV)
The blind man must have caught the disciples’ eyes because they were moved to compassion by his suffering. The disciples asked Jesus who sinned so that this man was being punished with blindness. This reveals an important prejudice of that time: the disciples think that suffering is a punishment of sin. Judging from the disciples’ question, one can deduce that this was the prevalent view of sin and illness held by the Jews in those days.
Such is the context in which to understand the situation of the woman with hemorrhage. She was not only suffering physically, but also socially. Additionally, she had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse—“ (v. 26). She had tried everything in her means for a cure, but had to endure the unending pain and shame of her ailment. She is described as sneaking through the crowd to simply touch Jesus’s garments. The woman was most likely conscious about her social standing and had tried to be healed incognito, hidden even from Jesus. When she touched Jesus’s cloak, she was immediately physically healed; she felt that “the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease”( v. 29). However, the miracle did not stop there.
Jesus then did something unexpected. Pretending not to know whom He had just healed, Jesus stopped and asked for the person who had just been healed. After some hesitation, the woman, possibly filled with dread, came forth confessing. She was forced to acknowledge before the great crowd gathered around Jesus that she was now healed and clean. Through this act, Jesus healed not only the woman of the physical illness, but sanctified her before the crowd of people and relieved her of her social predicament. Jesus made her suffering a way for her to glorify God by publicly by acknowledging her healing.
Afterwards, Jesus told her tenderly: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (v. 34). The woman had been a victim to her misconceptions about sins and physical illness However, the most beautiful part of this story – and the reason why it is for me one of the most tender stories in the Scriptures- is found in this verse when Jesus calls the woman, “Daughter.” Jesus’s intentional usage of the term “Daughter” in front of the crowd is an indication that Jesus did not only want to heal the woman, but wanted to adopt her as His own, into His spiritual family where there are no outcasts, no prejudices, and no more inexplicable suffering. Jesus is now her friend, her intercessor, and her father.
Before the woman suffering from hemorrhage was healed, a man by the name of Jairus had come to Jesus pleading with Him to come and heal his dying twelve-year-old daughter. Jairus had fallen on his knees and implored Jesus to save his daughter (vs. 22-23). It was on the way to heal Jairus’s daughter that the woman with hemorrhage had reached out and touched Jesus’s garments.
The difference between their situations is stark. While the little girl had her father to appeal on her behalf, the woman with hemorrhage had no one. In fact, it is not improbable that for her disease she was even shunned by her family and friends. When later Jesus approaches the house where the little girl had just died, the Scriptures describe a commotion of people openly and loudly grieving for Jairus’s daughter (vs. 38). We can interpret from this scene that Jairus was a beloved and a respected official, as many people gathered to grieve for his loss.
At the house of Jairus, Jesus performed another miracle, but privately, only having invited the girl’s parents and His disciples into the room in which the little girl’s body lay. Jesus held the child by hand and commanded in Aramaic, “Talitha koum!” meaning “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” The girl rises from the dead. This miracle is – if it could be compared thus – a much greater one than the healing of a disease. However, Jesus performs it only in the company of a few.
But there is also an important spiritual revelation for the few that witnessed the miracle. Throughout the day, Jairus witnessed Jesus perform great miracles. He saw Jesus publicly heal the woman with hemorrhage and call the woman his “Daughter,” who has been given a new life as a sanctified and healed person. Now, he saw that his daughter was raised from the dead. At this moment of seeing his daughter talking and walking again, I think Jairus realized that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and Christ, who has the power to raise people from the dead as well and loves the lovable and the unlovable alike.
While the disciples had compassion on the blind man and the crowd had pity for Jairus and his daughter, Jesus’s compassion and sympathy comes through in a much more penetrating way. Jesus loved, took pity on, and offered equal healing and salvation to the blind man, Jairus, his daughter, and to the woman whom they encountered along the way. Just as the focus of Jesus’s healing was not on merely the physical, so I think our understanding of our pain and suffering should go beyond what we can merely see. Jesus wants to speak to us in a deeper place, and if we are willing, to teach us about the love that prevails over all circumstances.
Eva Seo Kim ’14 graduated from Harvard College last year. She concentrated in Government, lived in Mather House, and was Managing Editor for the Ichthus.