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Mark 5:21-43
Proper 8  - Year B
3rd Sunday after Pentecost 2000

Other texts:

Our text includes a miracle within a miracle. They are the final two miracles of the "miracle section" of Mark (4:35-5:43), which includes four miracles and reactions:

In these miracles, Jesus exercises his power over nature (or the god/demon of chaos?), over the demonic army, over sickness, and over death.

In Mark, the lake represents literally and figuratively the boundary between Gentiles and Jews. Our text begins with Jesus and the disciples returning to Jewish land. This is noted not only by the trip back across the lake, but the presence of a leader of the synagogue. In addition, the number 12 in both stories -- the length of the woman's illness (v. 25) and the age of the girl (v. 42) might indicate a connection with the 12 tribes -- symbolic of the Jews.

There are a number of similarities and contrasts in these two stories. Any of them could serve as a theme.

Some contrasts:

Some similarities


I think that a key to understanding these miracles within their Jewish context is the fact that both the woman and the girl were unclean. I quote from the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible: "clean and unclean"

Since in priestly thought uncleanness was infectious, a human being might incur it by contact with any unclean person or thing (Lev. 5:3); but the law regarded three forms of uncleanness as serious enough to exclude the infected person from society. These were leprosy, uncleanness caused by bodily discharges, and impurity resulting from contact with the dead (Num. 5:2-4).

This also connects this miracle with preceding one: the exorcism of the unclean spirits from the man living in the (unclean) tombs into the (unclean) pigs.

James R. Edwards (The Gospel According to Mark) writes about these three: "All three characters in Mark 5 transfer their uncleanness to Jesus, and to each Jesus bestows the cleansing wholeness of God. Mark 5 might be called the 'St. Jude chapter' (the saint of hopeless causes), for the Gerasene demoniac, the menstruating woman, and Jairus each find hope in Jesus when all human hopes are exhausted." (p. 161)

I've struggle with ways of presenting "uncleanness" to people today. The following was part of a sermon where I used the idea that "unclean" things are like things that cause us to say "ugh". (If you don't like puns, don't read the second sentence in the last paragraph.)

Sometimes when we see something disgusting we say, "Ugh!" Parents may add, "Don't touch it!" You're walking in the woods or hiking on a mountain and see some droppings on the ground, you go, "Ugh!" and try not to step in it. Unless you're a biologist who have to study such animal by-products, you aren't about to touch such things. There are some icky things in the world that we try to avoid.

For reasons we don't fully understand, the ancient Hebrews felt the same about a few things. Certain animals, foods, diseases, body fluids, and dead things made the people say, "Ugh! Don't touch them!" Such things were "unclean" or "impure". If you touched them you became unclean. If you had one of the diseases, you became unclean. Anything or anyone that you touched became unclean. Being unclean was the opposite of being holy. Being unclean meant that you couldn't come to the holy temple to worship the holy God. Anything unclean was unfit or unworthy to be in the presence of the holy God. If you were unclean, you had to go through a rite of purification or cleansing in order to be welcome back into society and into the presence of God.

The use of the word "unclean" can be misleading. It doesn't mean "dirty" like a two-year-old playing in the mud, but more like the phrase "dirty, old man." He's someone others try to avoid.

Being unclean refers to the relationship between people or things and God. In some ways it may be like someone telling another, "Don't touch me!" There is something about the relationship that is estranged. Unclean things and people were estranged from God and each other. They weren't supposed to touch each other.

In some ways their view of unclean things is like our saying, "One bad apple spoils the whole bunch." Contact with one of these unclean things made you an unclean person. There is some truth to this. If you hang around someone with a contagious disease, you are likely to end up with the same sickness. If you hang around with the wrong group of people, their bad influence may "spoil" you. There are some good reasons to stay away from certain people and things.

Jesus mixes everything up. Jesus doesn't become unclean by contact with the unclean people. They don't bring him down to their level. Jesus' holiness transforms their uncleanness. The flow of blood is stopped. The woman is healed. The corpse comes back to life. The young girl gets out of bed. God participates a feast with tax collectors and sinners. With people in situations that others said, "Ugh" to, Jesus has no ughs!! He has a hug -- or at least a healing touch. Jesus' holiness transforms the people's uncleanness. Jesus raises them up to his level. Jesus makes them worthy to be in the presence of God. Jesus, as the one good, holy apple, can make all the bad apples become good.

Sometimes our lives may seem full of ughs. We may think that we are terrible, rotten, ugh-ly people. Jesus doesn't think so. To him, there are no ughs. Whomever he touches becomes clean and holy and beautiful.


Every time hapto is used in Mark, it is related to healing. (I take its use in 10:13 when people are bringing little children to Jesus for him to touch them as a request for healing.)

When Jairus comes to Jesus, he equates the "laying on of hands" with "salvation" (or "healing") and "life".

While more illustrative than exegetical, I received the following poem called "Touch in Church" in another church's newsletter -- now long forgotten. With help from others, I discovered its source: written by Ann Weems in Reaching for Rainbows, 1980, Westminster Press

What is all this touching in church?
It used to be a person could come to church and sit in the pew
and not be bothered by all this friendliness
and certainly not by touching.
I used to come to church and leave untouched.
Now I have to be nervous about what's expected of me.
I have to worry about responding to the person sitting next to me.
Oh, I wish it could be the way it used to be;
I could just ask the person next to me: How are you?
And the person could answer: Oh, just fine,
And we'd both go home . . . strangers who have known each other
for twenty years.
But now the minister asks us to look at each other.
I'm worried about that hurt look I saw in that woman's eyes.
Now I'm concerned,
because when the minister asks us to pass the peace,
The man next to me held my hand so tightly
I wondered if he had been touched in years.
Now I'm upset because the lady next to me cried and then apologized
And said it was because I was so kind and that she needed
A friend right now.
Now I have to get involved.
Now I have to suffer when this community suffers.
Now I have to be more than a person coming to observe a service.
That man last week told me I'd never know how much I'd touched his life.
All I did was smile and tell him I understood what it was to be lonely.
Lord, I'm not big enough to touch and be touched!
The stretching scares me.
What if I disappoint somebody?
What if I'm too pushy?
What if I cling too much?
What if somebody ignores me?
"Pass the peace."
"The peace of God be with you." "And with you."
And mean it.
Lord, I can't resist meaning it!
I'm touched by it, I'm enveloped by it!
I find I do care about that person next to me!
I find I am involved!
And I'm scared.
O Lord, be here beside me.
You touch me, Lord, so that I can touch and be touched!
So that I can care and be cared for!
So that I can share my life with all those others that belong to you!
All this touching in church -- Lord, it's changing me!


Uncleanness, especially the three big ones -- leprosy, bodily discharge, or corpse touching -- were about relationships. They put one outside of the community.

When Jesus calls the woman who touched him "daughter," he established a relationship with one with whom he should not have a relationship. Her illness made her unclean. Her (possible) foolishness with doctors made her impoverished. Her brazen invasion of Jesus' space -- touching Jesus' garment -- making Jesus' unclean -- could have put him off.

By calling her "daughter," he established the same kind of relationship with her as Jairus has with his "daughter." He would do anything possible to save his daughter.

Jesus addressing the woman as "daughter," suggests that she now has a personal relationship to Jesus as one of his family (3:35). She is one who does the will of God.

Edwards (The Gospel according to Mark) builds on this idea:

The persistence of Jesus in discovering who touched him rivals the woman's persistence in reaching Jesus. She wants a cure, however, a something, whereas Jesus desires a personal encounter with someone. He is not content to dispatch a miracle; he wants to encounter a person. In the kingdom of God, miracle leads to meeting. Discipleship is not simply getting our needs met; it is being in the presence of Jesus, being known by him, and following him. ... In a way the woman cannot yet know, the desire for healing and wholeness is the desire for Jesus." (p. 165)

There are times when I've met unchurched people who do nothing but complain about their lives -- express nothing but misery about their health, their job, their children, etc., and I think, "How much more whole would their lives be if they had a relationship with Jesus?" Then I wonder, "How can I help bring them into that relationship?" And, "How can I represent Jesus to them?"


These two themes were part of last week's lesson with Jesus criticizing the disciples for being afraid/cowardly rather than having faith (4:40-41).

After the woman has touched Jesus and Jesus is looking over the large crowd for who had done it, she is afraid and trembling. We might ask, "What tone of voice did Jesus use when asking, 'Who touched me?'" Was it an angry tone? a compassionate tone?

Why was she afraid? She certainly could have been afraid of being found out -- of having the "truth" revealed -- she was an unclean woman who had touched Jesus and probably came into contact with many others in the crowd. She was not following the rules. "What if everybody would break the rules as she had done?" There would be lots of "unclean" people, but perhaps there would be more saving miracles for everyone. Perhaps more people could "go in peace" -- walk with shalom -- wholeness in their lives.

Related to her fear of being found out, is the fact that she then became a witness of both her "illegal" act of touching many others in the crowd and Jesus and of her healing/wholeness miracle given to her by Jesus.

Why is it that so many of our people are afraid to witness to others about the faith? Could they be embarrassed to admit that they need God's help in their lives -- that they are not self-sufficient people -- that they are sinners? Could it be that they haven't experienced much of a transformation -- or, more likely, that they don't know how to adequately express what Jesus has done for them in their lives?

Why do church members say that they are "uncomfortable" praying aloud with other church members, e.g., in a women's circle? Is it fear? Can their fear of saying something wrong keep them from the blessings that come from praying aloud with others?

Faith is often contrasted with fear; what did this woman's faith consist of? Jesus tells her, "Your faith has saved/healed you." She certainly believed that if she touched his clothes she would be saved/healed. However, I think that her faith is more than just telling herself this truth, it is acting on it. She believed it so strongly that she risked breaking all the ritual and societal rules about cleanness to follow what she believed to be true.

Related to her fear, what did her faith consist of? Jesus tells her, "Your faith has saved/healed you." She certainly believed that if she touched his clothes she would be saved/healed. However, I think that her faith is more than just telling herself this truth, it is acting on it. She believed it so strongly that she risked breaking all the ritual and societal rules about cleanness to follow what she believed to be true.

I think that besides the "touching his clothes" belief and actions, she also had a belief that Jesus would accept her. Even though she was afraid and trembling, she came to him. She told him the whole truth -- thus incriminating herself. She was accepted as a daughter. She was praised for her faith -- something that will not happen with Jesus' disciples!

Verna Dozier in The Dream of God, writes: "The important question to ask is not, 'What do you believe?' but 'What difference does it make that you believe?' Does the world come nearer to the dream of God because of what you believe?" (p. 105)

Fear and faith are also in the other miracle. Jesus tells Jairus after he has heard that his daughter has died, "Don't be afraid, only believe." I find that odd. What did he have to fear? Fear doesn't strike me as an emotion that a child's death would elicit. Leaving a sick child in a hospital would be fearful. The possibility that a child might die would certainly make parents fearful.

Perhaps Jesus was indicating that Jairus did not have to be fearful about further "troubling" or "bothering" or "annoying" or "harassing" (all meanings of skyllo) the teacher (v. 35). If so, then the faith needed to overcome the fear would be similar to that of the woman. Jesus can be approached. One should never think, "I don't want to bother Jesus with this." Faith can also mean not letting obstacles, such as death or "uncleanness" or feelings of ughliness, defeat our hope in Jesus.


"Amazement" (existemi & ekstasis) are reactions to Jesus in Mark. Literally, v. 42 says, "They were amazed with a great amazement."

They are not words of faith. The other uses of these words in Mark are:

In the last two occurrences, "amazement" seems to get in the way of faith. It clouded their understanding and their speech and actions.

It is also unclear to me just who was amazed -- only the five in the room or the whole crowd of mourners who had gathered. They had seen the body. They will see the girl walking around.


This phrase is commonly used when Jesus orders people to be silent about what he has done (v. 43). I don't believe that Jesus wants to keep his messiahship a secret, but that he wants to make sure that the "witnesses" will be presenting the correct Messiah -- the one who will suffer and die rather than the one who just does amazing miracles. He is the one who becomes "unclean" so that the "unclean" might become whole.

Some questions that I have about this command are:

Who is the command addressed to? just the five in the room? or everyone who had come to mourn the death? or to all believers -- including us?

As I said above, it would be hard for those outside the room not to know what had happened.

We have been told the details of what happened. So somebody disobeyed so that we are able to know what happened.

What is the "this" that others should not know?

If the command is address just to the five in the room, what are they privy to that the rest of the world shouldn't know?

If the command is addressed to all those present, what are they privy to that the rest of the world shouldn't know?

If the command is addressed to us, what things should we not reveal to others about Jesus? or are these "keeping it secret" commands null and void following the crucifixion?

I believe that we continue to have the struggle that Mark faced: How do we affirm the fact that Jesus performed amazing miracles, yet call people to come and follow the suffering Messiah who bids us come and die, rather than following simply a wonder worker whom we expect to miraculously make everything in life wonderful?

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901