One Interruption

Presented July 1, 2018 by Rev. Will Norman

Based on Mark 5: 21-43

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” 35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.


It is not uncommon for commentators to title this section of Mark’s gospel “Two Healing Stories” as if the story of Jairus and his daughter is one stand-alone story, and the story of the hemorrhaging woman is another stand-alone story, which just happens to interrupt the first story. Some biblical scholars of a persuasion that I find to be a bit snooty might insist that these are two separate pieces of the oral tradition that was floating around about Jesus, which Mark chose to blend together into one scene. That hypothesis is, of course, beyond our ability to verify, and really, for the purposes of faith, it does not matter all that much. What we have is the text ... and the text, while it does, in fact, contain two healings, might be better titled One Interruption.

If the Jairus story was intended to stand on its own—if it can be understand rightly while ignoring the hemorrhaging woman—then Mark, it would seem, is not a very good writer, interrupting himself for no good reason. But Mark is a fabulous writer. Even if he uses simple language, he is an incredibly careful and precise writer, and all indications in the passage suggest that these two healing stories are purposefully intertwined--that what Mark wants us to notice more than the content of the healings themselves, is how the hemorrhaging woman is allowed to interrupt the mission of Jesus to heal a leader of the synagogue’s daughter. 

Marks use of language common to both stories tips us off to this intention.

Jairus, who is described as a leader of the synagogue, comes to Jesus and falls at his feet. When the hemorrhaging woman approaches Jesus, she too falls at his feet. She has been suffering for 12 years. Jairus’ daughter is 12 years old.

There are also points of vivid contrast in the passage which suggest that an intentional comparison is being made. As a leader in the Synagogue, Jairus is something of a guardian of purity. He has social power, and material wealth. The unnamed woman is according to Torah, not permitted in the synagogue because of her ailment, which renders her ritually impure. She is socially and materially destitute, having spent all her money on medical care, yet did not get any better, but rather, grew worse. 

The leader of the synagogue approaches Jesus directly and boldly; even if he is distraught about his daughter, Jairus is confident in his worthiness to be heard. The woman doesn’t even speak, and tries her best to remain invisible; to not bother the miracle working teacher, even as she endeavors to be healed by his power. 

And finally comes the point: the interruption.

Jesus is on the path to Jairus’ house when the hemorrhaging woman touches him. He is not aware of her presence or her needs until he feels power go out from him. 

And it is the power of Christ that heals ... but it is the faith of the woman that is able to access such power. “Woman, your faith has made you well.” 

Jesus did not need to meet her—and in fact, the wise thing for him to do in that situation would have been to carry on like nothing had happened, for to be touched by a woman such as her was to become, technically speaking, unclean, just as she was unclean. 

Jesus knows that she has been healed--that she is unclean no more--but the guardians of purity have their rules to keep. Not to mention there is the unfinished matter of one of those guardians’ request to heal his daughter who is presently on her deathbed. 

Jairus, being a leader of the synagogue, is not one that a Jew would want to disappoint. But Jesus stops. He allows his service to Jairus to be interrupted and asks that absurd, and self-condemning question--who touched me? 

WHO TOUCHED ME? The disciples shoot back? You’re in the middle of a mob … EVERYONE touched you!

But the woman hears Jesus’ words, maybe as a demand; maybe as an invitation—either way she comes, not in confidence, but in fear and trembling … and she falls down at Jesus’ feet, and tells him the whole truth—she tells him—I imagine through tears—her story; how after 12 years of suffering under a broken healthcare system, and an alienating cultural purity code, she became desperate enough—but also faithful enough—to willingly break the law by crossing a boundary unclean people are not to cross--touching Jesus with her uncleanness, in the faint hope that this man is who people say that he is. 

And moved by her story, Jesus calls this woman ‘daughter’—the same title which belongs to that 12 year old from a culturally powerful family. He praises the woman’s faith, and though by rights he could have pressed charges, that thought doesn’t even cross his his mind, and instead he sends her on her way to rest and enjoy the newfound peace that comes by a faith which transcends law.

Well, as if the scandal of that interruption of impurity and lawlessness wasn’t enough, as his interaction with the woman concludes, Jairus’ servants approach with terrible news. The man’s daughter has died, and so, they say, there is no need bothering Jesus any longer.

I can’t help but wonder—the text doesn’t say, but I have to wonder—what was Jairus doing while Jesus seemingly unnecessarily conversed with this socially, religiously off-limits woman? What was he thinking? And what did he do, and what did he think when his servants arrived to say that they had delayed too long, and his daughter had died? Was he offended that Jesus called that unclean woman “daughter” while seeming to ignore the needs of his own? Was he angry? Yelling? “Hey! What are you doing? My actual daughter is dying, and you stop to tell someone they’ve got nice faith?!? ... Jesus! Get your priorities straight!” 

It’s not entirely clear—if Jairus speaks at all, his words are not recorded—but he doesn’t run Jesus off. Even if he has concerns about the healer’s purity after having been touched by the hemorrhaging woman, Jairus sticks with Jesus and heeds his familiar words: Do not fear, but only believe—because when its your child whose life is in danger, suddenly the rules don’t seem all that important anymore, and faith starts to look like the only thing that makes sense. 

Just maybe Jairus gained a little perspective that day...

Even so, the rest of the crowd at his house still doesn’t believe—they laugh or jeer at Jesus when he insists that the girl is not dead ... and so Jesus throws them all out of the house, and in front of the believers--a few disciples and Jairus and his wife—takes the young girl by the hand, and invites her to live. And here is one more similarity between these healings—by touching a dead body, Jesus again contaminates himself. But in both cases, it is by his touch that one who was unclean is made clean—the hemorrhaging immediately stops; death becomes life.

What did Mark want his readers to learn from this story?

  1. First, That every son and daughter is a son or daughter of God, deserving of healing, and attention, and empathy in exactly the same manner as everyone else.

  2. Second, That the compassion and healing power of Christ is not a limited commodity—it is not a pie, which only has so much to go around so that if that person gets more, then I get less … but it is a deep well, which never runs dry. We who are in Christ do not have to choose--must not choose between compassion for the poor outcast, and preserving the life of the privileged. We may at times be called upon to share some of our excess, but in this story, even that demand is not made of Jairus’ family. In Christ rich and poor, clean and unclean, young and old, outsider and insider are all one; it helps no one to care for those who we think deserve it, and neglect the needs of those whose lives make us uncomfortable. It helps everyone to create a society in which no one is allowed to fall through the cracks. For when we create that society, even the guardians of purity are transformed; Jairus’ attention is turned away from purity control and toward the universal restoration of life.

  3. And Third, in order make this transformation, we must ignore much of the dominate messaging of culture. Our translation of Jesus words says that Jesus overheard the servants, but a more accurate translation is that Jesus ignored the servants’ message that the girl had died. In order to promote the truth, we must refuse to lend legitimacy to lies. That woman is not unclean. The little girl is not dead. Both are alive—both belong to God, and to one another.

So if every daughter and son is a daughter or son of God, then to turn a child away at the border, or to separate him or her from their parent, is to become an offense to God. No appeal to the rule of law can undo this fact of faith in the Christ who refuses to let his concern for the in-group prevent him from showing equal concern for the outsider. Whether our insiders and outsiders are citizens and immigrants, or english speakers and non-english speakers, or Christians and Muslims, or Democrats and Republicans, Christ has come to heal every last one of us, and so we must be concerned to facilitate that healing within society, above and beyond any and every group loyalty, and confident that the compassionate healing ministry of Jesus is a well, not a lie. 

And lastly, we need to develop an eye for a lie. 

Just as Jesus exposed the lie that the woman was unclean, the little girl was dead, so too must we expose the lies that would keep us from caring for one another:

It is a lie that immigration correlates to increased crime rates. 

It is a lie when we refer to a person “illegal”—actions can be illegal; people cannot.

It is a lie to say that the law ties our hands on separating families at the border. 

And most importantly, it is a lie to suggest that somehow we have a greater responsibility to certain categories of people and a lesser responsibility—or no responsibility—to others. When we hear this kind of talk from people, Jesus has given us permission to follow his lead and ignore it. Do not be distracted by the claim that its either us or them. 

For the table Christ sets--the table at which we have a place—knows neither in-group nor out-group; neither party nor nation; neither clean nor unclean. It knows only that the world builds walls and fences and cages to keep people apart, but that kingdom of God is not a wall or a fence or a cage … it is bread and wine—body and blood—broken and poured out that all may live together in the abundant peace and justice, and wholeness of God. May it be so in each of us and in the church of Jesus Christ forevermore. Amen.