Sunday, May 6, 2012

This is the thirteenth installment, comprising Act 2. Scene 6, in the online commentary on the Gospel of Mark, which I am blogging on throughout the liturgical year. Please see the twelfth  installment here. Links to the entire series are available in one spot at The Complete Gospel of Mark Online Commentary.

This is my division of the Gospel:


Prologue,  1:1-13;
Act  1, 1:14-3:6;
Act 2, 3:7-6:6;
Act 3, 6:7-8:26;
Act 4, 8:27-10:52;
Act 5, 11:1-13:37;
Act 6, 14:1-16:8(20).


Scene 6:

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. (NRSV)
Mark uses interesting “visual” techniques in this scene, which help set the scene and explain the scene. The first is that Jesus has not even left the intense and nervous setting of the Gerasene demoniac, and the entirely “Gentile” setting, when we are pulled back abruptly to Jesus’ own people with the entrance of a bereft father, a leader of the synagogue, Jairus. The second, which we see quickly after, is the “cinematic” cutting away from the scene with Jairus and the introduction of the woman with a hemorrhage before cutting back to complete the scene with Jairus’ daughter. This technique, called by biblical scholars a “sandwich technique,” has an A-B-A structure, in which one story begins, another is inserted, and then the first story is brought to conclusion. The two stories or scenes utilized in the A-B-A structure give clues as to how to these stories are to help interpret each other.

Unlike so many characters in the Gospels who approach Jesus, have interactions with him, and who are healed and taught by him, this man has a name. But the girls/women Jesus will heal as a result of Jairus’ intervention remain nameless, perhaps so that the focus rests on Jesus’ healing power or because they represent all of the Jewish people. Jairus, a leader, acknowledges Jesus’ power and authority by falling at his feet and begging him “repeatedly.” His daughter is near death and in the ancient world medical care was at best erratic and the results sporadic. Child mortality could reach well over 50% - claims that ancient peoples did not care for their children are simply not true, but they had to manage the reality that most of the children who were born to them would die in infancy or childhood.  About their lives, however, parents cared deeply.

Jesus responds to the plea, but as he is going a woman with a hemorrhage who had heard about Jesus touched him and was made well by the power that emanated from him (5:27-34). That she had a hemorrhage for 12 years is an important detail to examine, but this hemorrhage could only be some sort of slight menstrual flow for her to survive so long with it. Such a flow would render a woman unclean, as menstruation placed one in a position of “impurity” and so unable to participate in the full life of the people of Israel (see the essay on purity/impurity at the end of Act 1. Scene 5). Apart from physical suffering this woman lives on the boundaries of the full life of the people of God, she is in a liminal world that she cannot escape. She has reached such a position of torment , and poverty (5:26), that she must place her faith in a man she has never seen and never met and she says, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well" (5:28). The moment she touches him she is made well and Jesus, though a crowd is pushing against him from all directions, sensed if not her touch exactly, the power of her faith which elicited the healing.  When Jesus asked, “Who touched me?”(5:31), she acknowledged that it was her and, like Jairus “fell down before him” (5:33).  Jesus said "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease" (5:34).

Before we can take in the significance of what has happened, some members of Jairus’ house come to Jairus to tell him to send Jesus away for another daughter, his daughter, has died: “Why trouble the teacher any further?" (5:35). Jesus overhears the conversation, though, and tells them “Do not fear, only believe" (5:36). This translation, though sufficient, is misleading, for the verb translated as “believe,” pisteuo, has the same root as the noun for “faith,” pistis, used earlier in the scene with the woman with a hemorrhage. The verb should be translated “only have faith.”  He is asking Jairus to maintain the faith he had when he fell before Jesus and begged him to help, the same faith the woman had just shown when she was healed. But this girl is not bleeding, she is dead. What faith is sufficient here?

Jesus takes only three apostles with him, an inner circle we will find out throughout the Gospel, comprised of Peter, James, and John, when he goes to the home. When they arrive at the home, the scene is what you would expect when a child has died: crying and wailing loudly (5:38). Jesus seems to be on the verge of mockery when he asks the people why they are crying and says, “the child is not dead but sleeping” (5:39). The people gathered laugh at him, but Jesus simply goes about his task, putting out of the house all but the girl’s parents and the three apostles. 

Mark gives us an action scene, though it might be hard to think of it in this way, where he grabs the dead girl’s hand and speaks to her in Aramaic, a sign for Mark of authenticity, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" (5:41). The girl does get up and begins to walk. We are then given a number of details at the end of this account which seem mundane: the girl should have some food; the girl is 12 years old; and one detail which seems impossible: “He strictly ordered them that no one should know this” (5:43). How can no one know of this? The house was crowded with weeping friends and relatives, who laughed when Jesus said she was “sleeping,” and they will not be amazed and full of wonder, as were the parents and apostles, when they see the little girl sitting and eating olives and bread? They will tell no one? This again, is the Messianic Secret, when Jesus tells people not to make known his great deeds, but it is not constant. As we saw previously with the Gerasene Demoniac, with a Gentile he said to go and make all things known, but now, in a position in which silence cannot be expected because knowledge is already spread throughout the community, they are to make sure no one knows of this? Why does Jesus even say it in this Jewish context? And does the Jewish context itself matter? Does Jesus mean not to make the fact of her rising from the dead known? Or not to make known who did it and how it was done? These questions we will wait on answering, but there is one more issue.

Both the woman healed and the girl raised have a few things in common: they are females; they were both in a state of impurity; they are both called daughter; and they are linked by the number 12. Sometimes Israel is known as the daughter of God, even the bride of God (Hosea 2:19-21). Both needed to be healed and raised to full life as people of Israel. And the number 12, as we saw earlier in Act 2. Scene 1, is a sign of the fullness of Israel at the end of time, which points to the choosing of the 12 apostles as the sign of that fulfillment. In these healings, Jesus has noted again that he has come to bring all Israel to health and full life. So, why, once again, would he say not to make it known?

 John W. Martens

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