When I began working through the gospel of Mark, my main goal was to know Jesus better. Today’s passage has become precious to me because it’s one of those places in scripture where I’ve encountered Jesus in a unique way. Meeting Jesus here led me to the point of tears as I see the love that he has for his people. I wish I could communicate it in the space of about four minutes, but it’s simply not possible. It takes deep contemplation and imagination and questioning of the text to mine this rich vein of gold.
If you grew up attending Sunday School, the details of this story are familiar. The ruler of a local Jewish synagogue, a man by the name of Jairus, asks Jesus to heal his sick daughter. On the way, a woman sneaks up on Jesus from behind, touches his clothes, and is healed of a menstrual discharge that has plagued her for twelve years. Jairus finds out that his daughter has died, but Jesus goes to his house and raises her from the dead.
Here’s something that should give us pause, though: this is another one of Mark’s “sandwich stories.” Mark begins the story of Jairus’ daughter, interrupts it to tell about the woman, then finishes the story of Jairus’ daughter. The sandwiched, inner story of the woman should help us understand something important about the outer story that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. So how does the story of this suffering woman unlock the story of Jairus and his daughter?
There’s something odd about this inner story: it’s so mundane at first. Jesus has healed many diseased people before, and many of them have “pressed around to touch him” (Mark 3:10). What’s so special about this woman? Well, first of all, she is unusually desperate. She has been suffering menstrual bleeding for twelve years straight and has spent all her money on doctors who have only made the problem worse. Her bleeding makes her unclean according to the law of Moses, so for the last twelve years she has been somewhat isolated from her friends and family. Jesus is her last hope, her only hope. She dares to believe that he can save her from her suffering with a single touch: “If I touch even his garments I will be saved.” And sure enough, she feels his power course through her body and heal her at once.
At the same time, Jesus feels power flow out from him, and at once he demands to know who touched him. The disciples are incredulous—“You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” As though no one had ever done this before! Yet Jesus persists, and the woman comes forward, falls down before him, and tells him everything. She has felt his immense power surging through the depths of her being; she knows what he is capable of doing; and she is terrified. Will Jesus be furious at her for interrupting his urgent mission to Jairus’ house? Will he be horrified that an unclean woman has contaminated him?
“Daughter,” he says to her, “your faith has saved you.” He isn’t upset at her. He loves her—loves her as though she were his own daughter. He is thrilled to see how bold her faith is, bold enough to inconvenience him. She believed he could save her, and he is glad to give her what she spent twelve years longing for. “Go in peace, and be healed of your disease,” he says.
Now, here’s where we get back to Jairus’ story, because at that very moment, messengers come from his house with terrible news: “Your daughter is dead.” Jairus must have been devastated. He was so close to finding help for her; the famous rabbi was on his way to heal her, and now—all is lost. He will never get her back. It’s too late. The messengers ask him, “Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But Jesus is listening in, and he says to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” And all at once, we understand why he insisted on speaking to the woman. It was for Jairus’ sake. Jesus wanted Jairus to see that he could believe in him. Jesus has power over disease and death; his authority is beyond that of any man. And he is eager to use that authority to help Jairus. There is no need to be afraid.
Jairus must have held on to a kernel of faith, because Jesus insists on showing up at his house, kicking out the hired mourners, and walking upstairs to where the girl lies dead. I love this scene! Jesus basically reaches out to her, takes her hand, and says to her, “Wake up, it’s time for lunch!” (If you don’t believe me, read verse 43!) As far as he’s concerned, “the child is not dead but sleeping”—no need to panic or anything. The people in the room are “overcome with amazement,” but Jesus is nonchalant about the whole thing. How can you not love him for that?
This story has a familiar ending: Jesus insists that the small circle of people in that room keep quiet about this. (I have no idea how they could!) This astounding experience is something special that he has given to those people who have faith. To the woman who got close to him and touched him, he gave her his power to save her from disease. To the parents of this girl, who believed in him even when all hope was lost, he gave them their daughter back. Those who mocked Jesus are left on the outside, wondering what just took place. They don’t get to see that Jesus has power over disease and death.
I urge you—come close to Jesus. He wants you to be with him. You feel unclean, unloved, but Jesus wants you to come to him to be washed in his blood, healed from your sin, clothed in his righteousness, raised to life again. Don’t be afraid. Only believe.