July 1, 2018
THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24
God made us imperishable
Ps 30:2, 4-6, 11-13
You changed my mourning into dancing
2 Cor 8:9, 13-15
By his poverty you became rich
Mk 5:21-43 (or 5:21-24, 35-43)
Two “daughters,” after 12 years
In Mark’s Gospel there are three nature miracles and 13 healings or exorcisms. The nature miracles are the stilling of the storm (4:35-41), walking on water (6:45-52) and the withered fig tree (11:20-25). Of the 13 miracles that involve restoring people to health, seven involve men while four are on the behalf of women.
Those involving men are the Capernaum demoniac (1:21-28), the leper (1:40-45), the withered hand (3:1-6), the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20), the deafmute (7:31-37), the blind man of Bethsaida (8:22-26), the epileptic boy (9:14-29), and Bartimaeus, the blind man of Jericho (10:46-52).
The women in healing stories include Simons’ mother-in-law (1:29-31), the Syrophoenician woman (7:24-30), and the two stories today — Jairus’s daughter (5:21-24, 35-43) and the woman with a hemorrhage (5:25-34). One story is set inside the other. This is not an unusual pattern for Mark’s Gospel. Furthermore, the two stories have linking motifs. Both women are called “daughter” (5:23, 34), and both have a 12-year history. One is that old (5:42); the other has been afflicted the same number of years (5:25).
The little girl, at the threshold of adulthood in that culture, provides the frame story. Her distraught father pleads with Jesus to come and do whatever he can, which in his view is considerable. “Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”
Along the way they encounter the woman with a flow of blood. We see that attention now turns toward specifically female concerns. Mark shows Jesus as sensitive to the part that women play in their world. Jesus’ attitude toward women reflects his sense of their full humanity, despite cultural attitudes of the time.
Something worth noting is the role of the dialogue in the story. A standard part of the healing stories of Jesus is a moment in which the sufferer and Jesus engage in a conversation. In this case, that moment almost passes by unwittingly, except that Jesus stops everything and asks, “Who has touched my clothes?” At that point she comes forward and nervously explains what she has done. In the course of the conversation, she is fully recognized, without embarrassing her, and her story gets told. Also, she is healed — on many levels.
Once the party arrives at the house of Jairus, the little girl’s story comes to a happy conclusion. First, however, obstacles must be overcome. The girl was near death when Jairus went to fetch Jesus. But now the mourners are gathered, and it appears that the end has come for a life cut short. Jesus disagrees with the weeping and wailing however, affirming, “The child is not dead but asleep.” The mockery directed toward this verdict underscores the apparent hopelessness of the situation, and the deep impression that Jesus’ action imparts. In the Christian idiom of Mark, calling death “sleep,” was not to deny its reality, but rather to deny its permanence.
Putting everyone outside except the parents and the three disciples with him, Jesus takes the child by the hand and utters words that Mark gives first in Aramaic and then in Greek translation for his readers. The words simply tell the girl to stand up. They are not some kind of magic formula. However, they seem to have made a deep impression. Notice the similar words uttered by Peter over Dorcas, in Acts 9:40.
The stories of these women follow upon that of the Gerasene demoniac, who terrorized the west bank of the lake (5:1-20). Some have noted that he exhibited an excess of masculine strength. Now we have stories of women, young and not so young, comforted in their own set of needs. All are addressed.
For reflection: How do you see Jesus’ relationship with women, as indicated by Mark?
Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.