Mark 5:21-43 — Jesus Saves the Unclean

Almost comically, Jesus is ferried back to the western side of the lack (presumably near Capernaum) apparently just after he arrived on the eastern shore. He was asked to leave and he left, but he finds himself again in the middle of a “large crowd” on the western shore. It seems as if Jesus can find no respite.

A desperate leader named Jairus emerges from the crowd to beg Jesus for the life of his daughter. He is a prominent person—one of the officials in the local synagogue. He is described in this way four times as if to emphasize his role in the community. Despite his public persona, the ruler prostrated himself before Jesus and begged him “greatly” (excessively or intensely). Jairus fears for his daughter’s life but believes Jesus can reverse her fortunes. Jairus begs Jesus to, literally, “save” her so that she might live. To snatch another from the jars of death is to “save” them—Mark does not use the word for healing, but for salvation. More on this in a moment.

As Jesus walks with him to his home, the huge crowd pressed him on every side. We might imagine the picture of a rock star attempting to move through paparazzi from the car to the hotel. Jesus is surrounded, perhaps jostled, by the crowd. They may want to see what will happen at the house of Jairus. But some, at least one, had another motive. She just wanted to touch Jesus.

Mark slows down the narrative to give us a thorough description of this woman’s situation. She is diseased, impoverished and unclean. Her condition grows worse as her resources and hope diminish. She, too, is desperate. She had exhausted her resources on “many doctors” who could do nothing for her. Her frustration was no doubt great as well as her fear. Her condition involved some kind of constant bleeding which made her continually impure or unclean. Having heard about Jesus, and no doubt having heard that others had been healed by touching him (cf. Mark 3:10), she just wanted to touch Jesus.

And she did, and she was saved (5:28) which is immediate freedom from her suffering (literally, plague or misfortune). She was healed and relieved. She knew it immediately and so did Jesus. He stopped, turned around and asked who touched him–a question the disciples found incredulous.

Why is Jesus so curious about who connected with his “power”? Perhaps he wanted her to witness to the healing for the sake of the crowd. But is it not likely that there were more than just this woman who had been healed by touch? Perhaps there was something particular about this woman that significantly reveals the kingdom of God at work. Perhaps Mark calls attention to this healing because it further illuminates a theme in this section of his Gospel.

She is unclean, just as the demonic spirits were in the previous story. Though healed, she is afraid, just as the disciples were afraid after the calming of the storm and the public was afraid of Jesus after the demons destroyed the pig herd. But in contrast to those two stories, she has faith. She believed that Jesus could heal her and her faith, literally, “saves” her—in both body and soul. Just as Jesus restored peace to the demoniac, so he restored peace to this daughter of Israel.

What is salvation? In this story it is the renewal of peace, the healing of the body—freedom from suffering, and the restoration of human dignity as this woman will no longer live in isolation and fear due to her uncleanness. Salvation is holistic; it is the reversal of all that is broken and the renewal of all that God intends for human beings.

Inviting our hearts to celebrate this healing, the narrative immediately turns desperate again. Messengers announce that Jairus’ daughter has died.

Jesus’ reassurance to Jairus further illuminates the narrative. “Don’t be afraid; only believe.” Faith alone—trust me, Jesus says. Death is no obstacle any more than diseases or demons are. Fear disrupts the peace of the kingdom of God but faith is the means by which the kingdom breaks into the world. While the disciples are learning to trust, learning to believe, the diseased woman and the grieving father exhibit authentic faith. The ruler leads Jesus to his house.

Interestingly, Jesus separates himself from not only the crowd but from the Twelve. He only takes Peter, James and John with him to Jairus’ home. This is the first indication of an inner circle among the disciples; we might call these Jesus’ intimates. These three share experiences with Jesus that the others do not. They not only go to the house but they are also present in the room when Jesus speaks to Jairus’ daughter. Everyone, even Jesus, needs human intimacy in the form of close friendships.

Mourners (perhaps professional mourners?) are already present when they arrive at the house. Mark describes the scene as a “commotion” or uproar (what officials feared in Mark 14:2) filled with wailing and weeping. And yet when Jesus assures them that there is no need for such a scene because the girl is only sleeping, they ridicule him. The contrast between mourning and scornful laughing is stark. But their emotions will soon move to astonishment–a Greek word from which we derive our English word “ecstasy.”

Jesus, alone with the parents and the three disciples, speaks to the girl in Aramaic which Mark translates for his readers—“Little girl, get up.” Immediately the twelve year old girl obeyed, just as the demons obeyed and just as the winds and the waves obeyed. Jesus reigns over death, demons, diseases and natural chaos. The kingdom of God—the reign of God—is present in Jesus.

Jesus “saves” two daughters of Israel. One is healed of a disease; the other is raised from the dead. Both were unclean and Jesus purified them. Who is this that heals diseases and raises the dead? He is a savior; he is the redemptive presence of Yahweh in the midst of Israel.

Who is this? The disciples asked the question in 4:41. Mark’s narrative answers the question. The God of Israel saves through Jesus. The kingdom of God has come near and it reigns over evil and chaos. The reign of God saves.

2 Responses to “Mark 5:21-43 — Jesus Saves the Unclean”

  1.   Rich constant Says:

    Oh well john mark I just gotta ask 🙂 ?
    authentic faith?
    As a compared to…
    Northern ten tribes
    sotheren. Tribes
    rom. 15:8
    and the announcing of the long awaited kingdom by the faithful rimnent?
    ie. Woman. .. Jairsus
    it seems to be that the news was spreading.
    I mean they were waitn on him to get to the other side shore.

    What I mean here is.
    How about a little more of the historical construct.?
    You know the hermeneutic..
    How much was a typical of the day anticipating
    The coming kingdom of god?

  2.   riverwindfire Says:

    “Salvation is holistic; it is the reversal of all that is broken and the renewal of all that God intends for human beings.” I really like this post, John Mark, thanks.

    Another thing that occurs to me … Jairus, as a “synagogue ruler,” would have had to take a considerable social risk to ask Jesus to do anything – given how the Pharisees (who were prominent in synagogue “brotherhood politics”) felt about Jesus. Jairus’ willingness to take seriously escalating risks for the sake of his daughter (allowing Jesus into his home despite the presence of mourners who have confirmed his daughter’s death), because he believes Jesus, must surely count for his great faith.

    Jesus not only has the power to bring “salvation,” but He has the heart to do it, too – especially for a man who, at one time, might have been willing to be considered part of the opposition.

    Does this fit what you read in the story?

    This is a great series, thanks for sharing it.

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