by Kristin Fontaine
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.
I have read the story of the woman suffering from hemorrhages many times and heard many sermons on the topic. However, it wasn’t until I read the Daily Office appointed for Friday that I realized that this portion of Jesus’s ministry is two, intertwined stories.
First we have Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue, who comes to Jesus and pleads on behalf of his own daughter. Jesus agrees to go with him.
On the way the woman with hemorrhages, whose name is not given decides to risk touching Jesus’s cloak in the belief that Jesus has the power to make her well again.
We don’t learn her name but we learn more details of her suffering than we do about Jairus and his family. She has spent more than a decade with her illness. No doctor had been able to help her. She had money to spend on her illness and had spent it all in hope of a cure. She was left with no money and no cure, she was worse off than when she had first become ill.
After having to face this disease, it medical and social consequences, and the steady diminution of both her health and her wealth for twelve years she puts faith above fear and reaches out to Jesus.
It is only after she has been healed that she fears Jesus’s response. However, when he calls out in search of the person who has touched his power she does not give into her fear; she in fear and trembling, confesses her action and the faith that motivated that action.
She believed first and feared second.
Jesus affirms her faith and confirms that she has been healed. More than that, he tells her to go in peace. He makes it clear once more that she has done rightly and should have no fear going forward. He heals both her body and her spirit.
Jesus is then interrupted by some of Jairus’s friends who say that his daughter has died and he should stop bothering Jesus.
Jesus tels Jairus not to fear and they continue on to Jairus’s house.
Jesus gets all of the mourners and extended family to leave the house. He states publicly that the girl is not dead, just sleeping. Then he, Peter, James, John, Jarius, and Jarius’s wife (another unnamed woman) go to the bedside of the little girl. Jesus calls her back into life to the amazement of the parents and the disciples.
However, where the healing and affirmation of the faith of the hemorrhaging woman was public, Jesus insists that this event be kept secret. He orders all present not to share what has happened and in his next breath orders them to round up some food for the risen girl.
Two things strike me at this point. The girl’s age is given as ’12’ the same length of time time the hemorrhaging woman suffered. Also, she is a girl and not a grown up.
I wonder if part of the reason Jesus insists on secrecy is because this girl is still a child. Unlike the hemorrhaging woman, she did not choose to come to Jesus for healing. It was not her own faith that made her well, but that of her father.
I also wonder if the nature of the two illnesses made a difference in Jesus’s behavior. With the hemorrhaging woman there were social as well as health implications to her illness, she was continually ritually unclean due to her bleeding and she had been that way for as long as Jarius’s own daughter had been alive. There were probably people in her community who only knew of her as the bleeding woman. The fact that Jesus, before witnesses, proclaims that she has been healed may be an incidence of him seeing that she would need more than just physical healing to go on with life. She would need to be publicly declared clean of the taint of blood to give weight to her own declarations.
The girl, on other hand, does not need to be seen to have been publicly healed. The fact that she is alive is enough. If anything, she and her family might benefit from privacy.
Having been healed by Jesus might cause unwanted attention. I wonder if Jesus had groupies like modern media stars do today and if ordinary people who had brushes with him and his disciples wound up with early-day Jesus-groupies camped on their lawn hoping to get a glimpse of people whose lives had been touched by Jesus.
I’ve always wondered why, in some stories, Jesus is insistent that the people touched by his power and those of his followers that witness the resultant miracles are told to keep silent and not proclaim to all and sundry how they have been healed, while in other stories, word is spread far and wide of the miracles of Jesus.
It is in this story that I see for the first time that the condition that each person brings to Jesus is a combination of physical, social, and spiritual suffering. Like a careful doctor or therapist, Jesus seems to tailor his approach to each person’s needs.
At no point does Jesus say that the people he heals must worship him. He does not have a cookie-cutter response to each person, or to their family and friends who are frequently witnesses.
The one thing he does seem to say in most cases is ‘your faith has made you well’.
It is the choice of those who have come to him that brings their healing. It is their action that saves them. If they had stayed home, or given into their fear and turned away as Jarius almost did, then they would not have been healed or seen their loved ones healed.
Time and time again Jesus heals those to come to him. He frequently gives more than they ask for: forgiveness of sin, public confirmation of healing for example. But the one thing he does not do is go in search of people to heal.
They come to him in both fear and faith and by that faith are healed and told to fear no more.
It is the message to ‘go in peace’ that comes through in this reading. The hemorrhaging woman took on her own healing and Jesus gave her that and peace.
The girl was lifted out of death into life and Jesus insisted that her family give her peace through their silence about his part in her healing.
It is embedded in our worship via the Song of Simeon in Morning and Evening Prayer, in the service of Compline, and in the Daily Devotionals:
Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised;
We can say it at the end of every Eucharist:
Deacon: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.
Jesus strove over and over to show us that our own faith is was brings us closer to God. Like the hemorrhaging woman or like Jarius upon hearing of his daughter’s death, we still experience fear mixed in with our faith as we try to figure out what our faith is impelling us to do.
Jesus sees our fear and reminds us all to ‘go in peace’.
All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
By Unknown – Scan from Grabar, Die Kunst des frühen Christentums, Public Domain, Link