Two Women Restored to Wholeness

OVERVIEW - Jesus healed two women, restoring both to states of ritual purityMark 5:21-43

Unclean hands Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash
Gospel of Mark presents two separate stories about women in need of healing and “sandwiches” them together for emphasis. The theme that links the two account is that of a woman in need of physical healing and restoration to a state of ritual purity. Both “unclean” due to their physical condition. The first because of a flow of blood, the second due to her death - [Unclean hands Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash].

One of the two women initiated her deliverance by touching Jesus. The other received her restoration when Jesus touched her. In both incidents, he appeared unconcerned about matters of ritual purity, as stipulated by the Levitical codes and the later “traditions of the elders.”
  • (Mark 5:21-34) – “And when Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a great multitude was gathered to him; and he was by the sea. And there comes one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and seeing him, he falls at his feet, and beseeches him much, saying, My little daughter is at the point of death: I pray thee, that thou come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be made whole, and live. And he went with him; and a great multitude followed him, and they thronged him. And a woman, who had an issue of blood twelve years, and had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, having heard the things concerning Jesus, came in the crowd behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I touch but his garments, I shall be made whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her plague. And straightway Jesus, perceiving in himself that the power proceeding from him had gone forth, turned him about in the crowd, and said, Who touched my garments? And his disciples said unto him, You see the multitude thronging you, and you say, Who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had been done to her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, your faith has made you whole; go in peace, and be whole of your plague.
Most certainly, Jesus did respect the Law of Moses, including the regulations for ritual purity. However, the immediate needs of God’s people took precedence over lesser matters that might upset lesser minds consumed with the smallest details of the legal code.

Jairus was a man of high standing who commanded respect in the Jewish community. As such, he could approach Jesus directly and summon him to his house, though, here, he did so with humility.

On the way to his home, the woman with a “flow of blood” made her way to ask Jesus for help. In contrast to Jairus, she was not fit for “polite company” due to her affliction, someone with little standing in the community. So much so, she felt the need to approach Jesus discreetly from behind - Quietly and meekly.

In the end, the only hope for either woman was whether Jesus would act on her behalf. Both the daughter of Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood were beyond human help. The latter had exhausted her resources pursuing help from doctors, and all to no avail. The daughter of Jairus had died before Jesus arrived. Only divine intervention could save either woman.

The superior social position of Jairus, the synagogue leader, did not give him any advantage when receiving help from Jesus, just as the ceremonially unclean state of the woman with the flow of blood was no disadvantage. In either situation, what was needed was faith.

Under the Levitical code, a woman with a flow of blood was ceremonially unclean, until her condition had disappeared. Consequently, this woman remained a social outcast for years, since her “flow of blood” had continued unabated for twelve years.

Such a condition rendered her unfit for marriage, if she were single, and would have been grounds for divorce, if she were married. Anything and anyone she touched was rendered “unclean” due to the flow of blood. Additionally, she was ritually unfit to enter the Temple. That is, she could not participate in the worship life of the covenant community. As stipulated in the Torah:
  • When a woman has a discharge of blood which is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean” - (Leviticus 15:19).
In Matthew, the woman touched “the fringe” of Christ’s robe. In Luke, the dying girl was described as the “only-begotten” or “only-born” daughter of Jairus. This latter detail emphasizes her preciousness to her father.

The condition of the woman is described with four Greek participles: “she, having suffered much under many physicians, and having spent all her means, and having benefited nothing, but rather, having become worse…” Their verb tenses signify past actions. From a human perspective, she was out of options. But she responded to Jesus in faith: “Having heard about Jesus, having come in the crowd from behind, she touched his cloak.”

The woman approached him with fear and meekness. Her presence would offend the crowd if they knew her condition. To be in public and touch Jesus were violations of the Law. However, Jesus did not reprimand her or recoil from her approach.

Mark does not explain why the woman assumed that touching Jesus would heal her. What it does note are her actions. She “heard,” she “came,” and she “touched.” It was not the touching that healed her, but her faith (“Woman, your faith has saved you”).

Daughter of Jairus. Jesus ignored the news brought by others about the daughter of Jairus. He had a choice: To believe the circumstances, or to believe in the God who was active in his ministry.
  • (Mark 5:35-43) – “While he yet was speaking, they came from the ruler of the synagogue's house saying, your daughter is dead: why trouble the Teacher any further? But Jesus, not heeding the word spoken, says to the ruler of the synagogue, Fear not, only believe. And he suffered no man to follow with him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James. And they come to the house of the ruler of the synagogue; and he beholds a tumult, and many weeping and wailing greatly. And when he was entered in, he says to them, Why make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeps. And they laughed him to scorn. But he, having put them all forth, takes the father of the child and her mother and them that were with him, and goes in where the child was. And taking the child by the hand, he says to her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say to you, arise. And straightway the damsel rose up, and walked; for she was twelve years old. And they were amazed straightway with a great amazement. And he charged them much that no man should know this: and he commanded that something should be given her to eat.
Jesus allowed only his “inner circle” to enter the house with him. He claimed the girl was only “sleeping.”  That she died meant she was “unclean.” To touch a dead body rendered one ritually impure. However, Jesus did not simply touch the girl, he “grasped” her hand.

The command, Talitha coum, is an Aramaic clause meaning, “lamb, get up” (or perhaps, ‘little lamb’). “Talitha” was a term of endearment, not her name. That Mark transliterated the term into Greek letters and translated it indicates his gospel was written to a Greek-speaking audience.

With both healings, Jesus was untroubled by the ritual impurity of either woman; moreover, he did not recoil from physical contact with either one. Instead of rendering him “unclean,” contact with him “cleansed” both women from uncleanness. A devout Pharisee or scribe with scruples about purity regulations would have been offended by his actions.

With the arrival of the Messiah, the Levitical purity codes were beginning to lose their importance. The “Son of Man” had come to restore and unite God’s people. Intentionally or not, the purity codes often had the opposite effect.



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