Mark sets a nearly breathless stage for this Gospel incident. Jesus and the disciples had weathered a great storm, then Jesus cured a demoniac, caused a pig-herd tragedy, and finally returned to Jewish territory from across the sea (Mark 4:35-5:21).
in Ordinary Time
|Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24
2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15
Then Jairus, a synagogue official, frantic because his daughter was at death's door, implores Jesus to save her. There is also a woman whose life has been defined for the past 12 years by hemorrhages that made her ritually impure, unwelcome in religious company and either unmarriageable or easily divorceable.
As the story moves forward, imagine how frustrated Jairus must have been. It's quite possible that he had been waiting, watching the beach for Jesus to return from foreign territory. Then he addressed Jesus and placed all his hope in him. Jesus accepted his frantic plea and headed right for his house trailed by a curious crowd. Then suddenly, for God knows what reason, Jesus stopped in the middle of the bustle and asked who touched him!
The disciples got it. They understood Jairus' feelings of panic and couldn't begin to comprehend what Jesus was thinking in asking such a nonsensical question.
But there was that nameless woman in the crowd. She didn't just bump into Jesus. She carefully planned how to pickpocket the miracle she needed. She had sneaked through the crowd -- perhaps for the first time in 12 years she didn't care who she ran into, who might be unwittingly contaminated by contact with her. Desperation and hope, odd companions in her heart and head, led her to disregard the law, propriety and the miniscule amount of dignity she had left.
The minute she touched Jesus, she knew she was cured. After having wasted her fortune on quacks and enduring 12 years of enforced isolation, she was no longer impure, and maybe not even barren.
Then, just as she received everything she longed for, the unexpected happened. Jesus knew that someone had reached out for him, and he summoned her out of anonymity. Right there in public, she told him everything, and he named her "daughter."
The bankrupt, outcast woman became a public example of the faith that heals and saves. That must have been what Jesus wanted Jairus and the rest to see. Protocol didn't matter, timing wasn't everything, but turning to him with faith would bring results. The woman was a mirror image of the psalmists who badgered God; she had the type of unrelenting faith Luke would extol in the story of the importunate friend and the widow perturbing the unjust judge (Luke 11:5-8, 18:1-8). Her faith brokered no fear, and that was what Jesus wanted her to teach Jairus.
What constituted the healed woman's faith? First of all, she was a true daughter of her people's wisdom tradition. What she had heard about Jesus reminded her that God is not the author of death, that God takes no joy in destruction, that the sort of suffering she endured was not God's will. She may not have known a formal creed, but she believed that God wills fullness of life for all creatures. She might have pondered the story of Job, who believed in God's justice even when he could not comprehend it.
Whereas Jesus had to encourage Jairus to choose faith over fear, the woman's faith was audacious enough to break religious taboos. She believed in God's goodness more than she believed in the limitations put on her by the law. Even as a beginner, one who had so far only "heard about" Jesus, she imitated him in valuing life over legality. Somehow, she understood his heart in ways that few others did.
Jairus, too, received his miracle. Jesus led him through fear into faith, and he saw his daughter return to life. In the end, we don't know more about any of these characters. Did Jairus remain by Jesus as time went on? Was he one of those who lobbied for moderation when the leaders plotted against Jesus?
Was the faithful woman one of those who stayed with Jesus until the end? We don't even know her name, much less the rest of her story, except that apocryphal writings place her at Jesus' trial before Pilate, recounting her healing, but ignored because she was only a woman.
All we have is the example of her faith and the depth of communication she and Jesus shared in the moment of her healing. Perhaps that's all that's necessary to help us contemplate the heart of Christ.
[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]