Gospel for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (1 July 2018)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 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.” So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
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?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 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. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:21-43 – NRSV)
The large crowd that greets Jesus when he returns to the west bank of the lake – perhaps Capernaum? – is in stark contrast with the lonely figure of the Gerasene demoniac who met him when he arrived on the other (Gentile) side of the lake. The people gather “by the sea” just as the first disciples, Simon and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John, are called “by the sea” (1:16-20); Levi the tax collector is called as Jesus walks “by the sea” (2:13-15); Jesus delivers a major teaching in parables “by the sea” (4:1-34). And there is a similar scene when Jesus “departed with his disciples for the seaside” and the crowds caught up with him (3:7). Are we dealing with a simple matter of fact – that Jesus’ ministry was centred on the area near the Lake of Galilee – or is there some deeper symbolism in the repeated references to the “sea” and the “seaside”? One commentary suggests the latter. Virgil Howard and David B Peabody note the theological significance of the “mountain” – see the calling of the Twelve in 3:16-19 and the transfiguration in 9:2 – the “wilderness” – see the witness of John the Baptist and the temptations of Jesus in 1:1-13, Jesus seeking a place to be alone and pray in 1:35 and his seeking a place for a bit of privacy in 1:45, his withdrawal with the disciples after hearing the news of John’s execution in 6:31, his feeding the people in the wilderness in 6:34-44 and similarly in 8:1-10 – and the “sea” – see references already cited. (Cf Virgil Howard and David B Peabody, “Mark” in The International Bible Commentary, editor William R Farmer, Collegeville Minnesota, The Liturgical Press, 1998, 1343.)
The mountain, the wilderness and the sea are all redolent with echoes of the Exodus Event. There is a New Exodus unfolding here.
The two miracles deal with two women and – implicitly their capacity to bring life into the world. Both are referred to as “daughter”. The twelve-year old girl is on the verge of those years when she would normally become a mother. But she dies instead. The woman has had the issue of blood for twelve years. One commentary notes: “In these two narratives Jesus not only rescues the two women from death but also restores to them their life-giving capacity. Both can bring forth life from their bodies, one once racked with disease, the other deprived of life itself.” (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002, 181.)
fell at his feet: The Gerasene demoniac also fell at Jesus’ feet – see 5:6. Though the demoniac is worshipping, Jairus is petitioning. In both instances Mark makes clear the special dignity of Jesus. Mark is also reminding us that not all of the Jewish authorities were hostile to Jesus. Jairus, for one, is deeply appreciative and affirming of Jesus. Yet we also recall that the last time Jesus appeared in a synagogue they threatened to kill him – see 3:6.
lay your hands on her: The expression can be positive or negative. One commentary notes: “Laying on of hands, which is sometimes used in the negative sense of harm (Gen 37:27; Lev 24:14; Neh 13:21; Luke 20:19), appears in different positive contexts: blessings (Acts 8:19), consecration (Lev 8:10), sacrificial ritual (Exod 29:10; Lev 4:15; 16:21), and healing (2 Kgs 4:34; Mark 16:18; Acts 9:12; 28:8). In Genesis Apocryphon 20:28–29 Abraham exorcises the plague visited upon the Egyptian king for abducting Sarai by placing his hands on him.” (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, op cit, 173.)
a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years: We must see the cure of the woman with the bleeding, as part of a broader picture that begins with the calming of the storm (4:35-41), includes the healing of the Gerasene demoniac and the subsequent rejection by the Gerasene people (5:1-28), the cure of Jairus’ daughter (5:35-43) and concludes with Jesus’ visit to Nazareth where he is rejected (6:1-6). One commentary notes: “Yet in the four miracles of 4:35–5:43 the power of Jesus over chaotic nature, destructive demons, debilitating illness, and death itself is portrayed in a more sustained and graphic manner than anywhere else in the gospel. This grand tableau, which visually spreads across these chapters of Mark like a medieval tapestry, ends with a visit of Jesus to his home city where his teaching is rejected (6:1–4) and his power to perform mighty works proves ineffectual (6:5). (J R Donahue & D J Harrington, op cit, 179.)
It is worth calling to mind the Syrophoenician woman – see 7:24-30. Like her, this woman with a bleeding condition, is introduced to the reader as a distinctive individual. This woman is beset by a twofold tragedy. In the first place, her continuous bleeding would have made her always “unclean”. In the second place she would not have been able to conceive and bear children. Her actions, therefore, suggest a person of some strength of character and courage. Perhaps also a person who recognized in Jesus an opening to a world beyond the restraints of societal custom and cultural limits. No wonder Jesus praises her – see 5:34.
In today’s Gospel – Mark 5:21-43 – we have two miracle stories. They are best understood in the context of a much wider picture painted for us by Mark. That picture begins with Jesus calming the storm when he and the disciples are crossing to the eastern side of the Lake of Galilee, to the Gentiles in “the country of the Gerasenes” (4:35-41). There, he initially encounters one person – the “demoniac” – who lives with the dead – see 5:2. He heals this man and is immediately asked to leave that place by the local people. He returns to the west bank – the Jewish side – and is greeted by a large crowd. He heals the woman who has had a hemorrhage for twelve years and raises from the dead the twelve-year old daughter of the synagogue official. The picture is completed with Jesus’ return to Nazareth where he receives roughly the same treatment as the Gentiles had given him in the land of the Gerasenes.
Throughout the narrative, the key theme is Jesus’ capacity to bring life out of death. The “demoniac” does not have to live amongst the dead now that he has encountered Jesus; the woman with the hemorrhage does not have to live with the social death of being “unclean” and being unable to conceive and bear children; the little girl – who has died at the age when she is eligible to be married and bear children – is raised to life. There is a sad and terrible irony in the fact that this narrative begins and ends with rejection: The rejection of the Gerasene Gentiles and the rejection of his own family in Nazareth. In both places the people are unable to transcend the limits of their all too humanly defined situation. The Gentiles and the people of Nazareth thus manage to snatch death from the jaws of life. No doubt they spoke of their lucky escape in the days that followed.
All the evidence points to Jesus being a faithful Jew. What is at issue here, therefore, is not the laws and teachings of Torah but the way they are received and applied. What is unfolding in Jesus cannot be held by the human mind or imagination, it cannot be encompassed by social or cultural structures or religious practice. Jesus is bearing witness to God – the great “I AM”. Jesus is utterly in the flesh and utterly in the cultural, social and religious world of first century Judaism. He is also utterly of God, transcendent in his immanence. The human situation cannot contain him.
The English word “transcendence” comes from two Latin words – scandere meaning “to climb” and trans meaning “across”. Transcendence implies freedom, openness to the Eternal. It means being political, cultural, social, religious without being in bondage to any of those facts of life. Transcendence implies being grounded in God. It means finding one’s identity and security in God, living in intimacy with God, experiencing God as both origin and end of one’s life.
Where do I find my identity? Where am I grounded?