Mark 5:39

“Why this confusion and weeping?” he said on entering. “The little child is not dead; she is asleep.”

viewing circumstances differently
from those on the scene
seems strange to those on either side
how is it such contrary analyses
take root in lives
ignorance can be blamed
stupidity accounts for some
habits and practice enter in
hopes fears assumptions ever present

raising questions about other’s responses
raises hackles and defenses
already heightened emotional states
are inflamed by appeals to alternatives
sleep as death or death as sleep
works well in Metaphorland
when their Venn diagram comes apart
all the king’s men fail again
ever present relational fractures raise fists

Angels would fear to tread on the open wounds of the mourners. Yet, here is a bald statement of an alternative perspective: “Not dead; sleeping.”

From a reader’s position we can’t know whether Mark was asserting some special knowl­edge Jesus would have that she was not dead or theological claim that death does not have final dominion over her/our life. καθεύδει translates as “sleep”, no matter what sense Jesus meant.

Matthew (9:18) and Luke (8:53, 55) both indicate clearly that death has occurred. Mark is much more ambiguous.

Whether we are talking literal death or coma-like sleep, at issue is the good news measuring rod of being awake. This has overtone of Jewish prophets confronting rulers and societies. It also sounds a lot like further East traditions such as Buddhism where meditation and mindfulness are rigorous lest our monkey-minds blur our awareness and we sink into dozing and snoring.

To claim we are dealing with sleep masquerading as death is a minority report as “dead is dead” is familiar to us, no matter how we attempt to put it off through one technological trick or another. Even if we die while appearing healthy by all standard markers, we still are dead.

It may be that a part of becoming familiar with wilderness space is simply being able to ask, “What is all my internal commotion about? Will awakening to commotion’s presence assist in seeing through it? Does a reframing bring freedom or delusion?”

Mark 5:38

Presently they reached the leader’s house, where Jesus saw a scene of confusion – people weeping and wailing incessantly.

commotional chorus deafens eyes
too many pitches timbres times
block wisdom from every other sense
every accumulated wilderness scream
echoes in an empty shell of self
internal and external cacophonies burst forth

the worst seems truest
finding a new normal is missing in action
dread touches and then clamps on
dampening down any glimmer of otherwise
choices evaporate leaving toxic minerals
cries are louder than everything else

when every wrong only gets worse
our sense of conspiracy expands
weakening everything under the sun
turning mere vanity to hard rain
we wail and flail closed-eyed
our agreed upon reality blinds ears

In some cultures the appropriate response to death does not involve the more common response of wailing. The same is true for some people.

One reason given for a deep quiet at a time of death is to allow the passage of a spirit to move from this world to whatever is perceived as next, even if that next is a silence of its own.

In Jesus’ day, wailing would be expected. For the poorest funeral there would have been a minimum of two flutes and a wailer. This grieving would not have been among the poorest—a commotion is to be expected.

It is difficult to hold one’s trust level when the behaviors of those around are giving testimony to a contrary reality. Death must be true if there is this much expressed dismay. Do you see Jesus and Jairus continuing the “all will be well” mantra as they come to and enter a mourning space? Is Jesus still holding to this on behalf of those who can’t?

There would be no way to have a teaching at this point for the strongest parable would crumble in the face of such loss. If a story won’t have an impact, a rational discourse or even holding open the possibility of an alternative outcome would only inflame the situation.

The wilderness has invaded the city and, in particular, this house. Here there is temptation and yet unrecognized resources. Just because Jesus is here doesn’t mean that all the uncertainty generated by a wilderness isn’t powerfully present. And so we wail and wail.

Mark 5:37

And he allowed no one to accompany him, except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.

round up your Peter James John
your Mary another Mary Salome
it’s trust practicing time
wonder and witness is at hand

there are yet stadia to travel
before we are readied for sleep
along the way we’ll practice trust
undercutting surprise in the end

stories wrapped in stories
will prepare our eyes
for seeing more than light shows
to see what a word can reveal

Except for Peter, James, and John, the crowd is dismissed. The show is over; the girl is dead.

Well, Jairus and those from his household who brought the message about his daughter, are also in the remaining contingent.

Each reader will need to fill in this small lacuna in Mark’s fast-paced tale. What might they have talked about on the way? Or was there silence? Did they stride along or stumble their way?

As readers we are able to reflect beyond a literal jumping from scene to scene. We are not bound by author’s telling. In a sense there is no author’s tale until it is read and in every reading there is an alternative tale received. This partnership of author and reader is a part of the good news Mark is telling from the immediacy of his beginning to his abrupt ending.

As you have experienced the disappointments of life, what combination of silence and reflection assists you?

Here we might catch a glimpse of being eased into the mystery of trust. Jesus might be relating some of the woman’s story of her twelve years and asking the age of the daughter. “Twelve, you say.”

He might even go on to reflect, “Hmm, twelve years of bleeding and menopause was her healing. No more children from her. Then, as she was being healed, your twelve-year-old daughter died just as she was about to enter into her grand-child-bearing years.

“It must have taken quite a bit for you to have initially come to me to assist in her healing or it was another set-up to show me up as a charlatan. I’ve had to trust your heart was true to your daughter. I’m wondering if you still have your heart set on her more than on yourself. This is part of the mystery of your asking, the woman’s touching, a word from afar about death, and our walking in trust that all will be well again, all manner of things will be well. That’s a good line, let’s repeat it as we go. [Later] Can you feel your heart-trust changing?”

Mark 5:36

But Jesus, overhearing what they were saying, said to the synagogue leader,  “Do not be afraid; only have faith.”

keep trusting
echoes through life
at oasis or in desert

temptation abounds
known in all circumstances
as glory or despair

good news
pulls us toward wonder
where we would ever dwell

disastrous occasions
push us 6-feet under
an avalanche of suffering

keep trusting
hauntingly beautiful
dumb beyond belief

loss tests trust
trauma tempts trust
pain tries trust

flowers bloom
regardless of victory or defeat
trust flowers

A journey interrupted once by a woman claiming a healing has been more seriously interrupted by a message that its entire purpose no longer exists. There won’t be a need for a third interruption because the girl is dead.

In the midst of these delays and confusions we run into a translational choice. What is here translated as “overheard” (παρακούσας, parakousas), can also be translated as “hearing without paying attention”, “disregarding”, or “ignoring”. In all the cases of this word in the Septuagint and in Matthew 18:17, “ignoring” seems to be preferred choice.

The Amplified Bible, Classic Edition tries to get it all in: “Overhearing but ignoring what they said, Jesus said….”

The Darby Translation also brings in our old friend “euthys” from some early manuscripts: “But Jesus [immediately], having heard the word spoken, says….”

As Jesus often responds to what he has heard or senses is being said sotto voce, the “overhearing” motif can be acceptable.

The “ignoring” choice brings a clearer connection with the woman’s story. We heard her thinking about her situation but Jesus only enters because she did something and he immediately stopped and attended. Here we have the news arrive about the daughter’s death and Jesus immediately stops the conversation without an overhearing prelude. He essentially moves from a blessing of the woman to a blessing of Jairus—“Let us go in peace, trusting each step.”

Mark 5:35

Before he had finished speaking, some people from the house of the synagogue leader came and said, “Your daughter is dead! Why should you trouble the teacher further?”

Charlie Brown’s football
has been yanked away
one more trusting time

he had his eye on it
all through an approach
it was there and then wasn’t

who can explain it
this brief distraction
away from someday soon

give it up pack it in
comes too easily to mind
we are caught all or nothing

binaries give up too easily
our servants dare command
tempted we listen and stop

As abruptly as Jairus showed up on the scene to claim Jesus’ “power” to heal, Jesus’ blessing of a woman with twelve tribes worth of blood loss is preempted. Leadership has its privileges and interrupting is one of its perks.

In whatever amount of time it took for the woman to tell her truth, the unnamed daughter died (people do know what death is and are seldom fooled) and men of Jairus’ household were sent and arrived to tell him their tale of woe and a healing quest that failed.

In a shame and blame culture that lingers to this day in every part of the world, the connection to Jesus’ stopping to attend to an unclean woman when he could be saving the life of a not-yet unclean girl cannot have gone unnoticed.

As the message is relayed to Jairus, we can imagine a small word or two escaping: “If only you had been able to be a few minutes quicker in arriving…”, “What took you so long?” Just enough hints to have folks begin to turn toward Jesus. How could he make such a choice? Isn’t a child automatically worth more than anyone else?

Here we bump into the limits of our vision. We are willing to ask for healing/saving (remember they are the same word in Greek) for temporal illness—for cutting the illness short—healing as an over-the-counter drug to deal with the symptom of illness while it runs its course. We don’t quite know how to ask for saving/healing in the presence of death.

While Jarius is hearing this news, what of Jesus and the woman and their interrupted blessing? Did it continue? Is it still continuing and including everyone in an ever-widening grace?

Mark 5:34

“Daughter,” he said, “your faith has delivered you. Go, and peace be with you; be free from your affliction.”

it is not your truth
that makes you whole
trusting what you hope
to reveal your peace

faith in projected hope
takes us past discouragement
where persistence persists
erect in failure’s face

bleed on ’til your dyin’ day
it does and doesn’t matter
stay in peace rest in ease
comfortably full of meaning anyway

The Jewish Annotated New Testament comments, “The elect community at the end of time is liberated from impurity, not impurity codes (Zech 13:1–2; 14:20–21).”

The CEB Study Bible reflects on Zechariah 14:21, “on this day of the Lord, even the most ordinary things will be considered holy to the Lord. Everyone and everything will be transformed by and in God.”

N.T. Wright, in Mark for Everyone, raises the question, “Was it Jesus’ power that rescued the woman, or her own faith?” His response to his question seems a bit forced into an orthodoxy based on a hierarchy of sovereignty, “Clearly it was Jesus’ power; but he says, ‘Your faith has rescued you.’ The answer must be that faith, though itself powerless, is a channel through which Jesus’ power can work (compare 6.5).”

Waetjen raises this closing of one story with extensions based on Jesus being a hinge of ecclesial history:

The older woman, who has been moving toward menopause for twelve years, represents tradition-bound mother Judaism. Unclean, isolated from the world and oppressed by the law, she is saved and her life is redeemed by her risk of reaching out to make contact with the New Human Being. The young girl embodies the new Israel, offspring of the synagogue and its Pharisaic heritage, who is on the verge of bearing children and bringing new life to the world.

This also attempts to fit this story into later orthodoxies justifying division and even risks a Jewish/Christian feud to the death.

Remember Jesus’ awareness of his “power”, connection with people who have been touched by this force of life by stopping and asking, and confirming the value of a person’s action to storm the gates of “heaven”. It is probably best to join Luke’s Mary in simply cherishing this woman and her story in your heart.

Mark 5:33

Then the woman, in fear and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and threw herself down before him, and told him the whole truth.

truth does not cast out fear
though often is its first victim

Sometimes we hear a word or a phrase that echoes. We are pulled back to 5:22 when Jairus “fell before Jesus”. Yes, that is the prior reference. Well, maybe 3:11 comes closer because that uses exactly the same Greek word (προσπίπτω, to fall toward) rather than the Jairus variant (πίπτω, from a higher place to lower). In 3:11 the “evil spirits saw him, they fell down (προσπίπτω) at his feet and shouted, ‘You are God’s Son’.” Or, still earlier, in 1:40 a person with a skin disease “fell” to his knees (different Greek word but similar action).

The different stories give us plenty of opportunity to reflect on different kinds of falling. There is controlled falling like Jairus. There is also an overtone of falling because of being blown by a strong wind from Genesis 1 (unnamed woman, spirit; variety of evil, chaos storm).

This raises questions about any calculation that goes into our own acts of humility and awe.

While comparing parallels of falling, it is helpful to also reflect on the connections between “knowing” and “fear and trembling”. The biblical use of “fear” has to do with our apprehension of the power of G*D. “Trembling” is related to seeing our weakness clearly.

This woman knows her intention to be healed and the trembling of her hand as she reaches to touch. She also knows the result of that touch—healing. Knowing the power she was approaching and knowing her audacity would likely bring lightening death or enlightening health, you can imagine her bated breath leading to being blown over and, beginning from the beginning, telling her twelve-year tale.

From what we know of ourselves we can see Jairus becoming more and more fretful at this delay. As a disciple ourself, we can see them tiring of listening and anxious to get on to the bigger event they were on their way to. If Mark had a Good Samaritan story to tell, this would be the place to add another ingredient to his sandwich of a story within a story.

We can also see Jesus and notice how, several times during the woman’s whole story, he likely raised a hand to refocus Jairus and the disciples.

Mark 5:32

But Jesus looked about to see who had done it.

who hadn’t I seen
who am I seeing
who is still to see
who will I never see

breaking a to-do list
sets us on edge
something will be left undone
kept at bay worry sneaks back in

without an agenda or habit
how can I see what’s going on
too many crying too many dying
love never seems large enough

who doesn’t know my limits
who doesn’t know their place
who doesn’t know about boundaries
who doesn’t see us face-to-face

The disciples have not convinced Jesus to dismiss his experience of lost power or someone’s equivalent healing gain. He stops. He looks around.

What to the disciples was an interruption on the way to the synagogue leader’s house (bringing honor on Jesus and, particularly, of course, them) was an opportunity to engage, face-to-face, with a present healing, not just a potential healing.

Myers puts it, “Jesus…seeks to know the human face of the poor.”

The interrelationship between poverty and illness has been known for a long time. The closeness of connection makes every denial of service to the poor a choice that some should suffer more illness. It is not much of a jump to note that a basic choice in every health care debate is a decision about the financial health of some (the richest individuals and corporations) in contrast to the physical health of others (the poorest and sickest). If those in the health industries, including insurance and pharmaceutical companies, are to make the most for their investors, costs must be kept the lowest. In manufacturing this means reducing labor costs and here it means reducing patient services.

It is a significant act that Jesus pauses on a journey to a privileged man’s house to see someone who is probably considered in the culture to be a liability, a no-body. This willingness to pause can be attributed to the amount of time Jesus spends in the wilderness. He knows the temptation of privilege and power. He knows the importance of small wrinkles in time and energy.

In stopping and looking, Jesus has a moment of non-verbal teaching for those who have eyes to look, with Jesus, for the “poor”.

Mark 5:31

“You see the people pressing around you,” exclaimed his disciples, “and yet you say  ‘Who touched me?’”

a starry night bridge scream
paint flung screaming warhorse
Mr. Natural detailed lily
touched my eye drawing me in

warm oatmeal with cinnamon
melted aged brick on toast
any newly opened bag of dark chocolate
touched my nose tempting me in

fresh sweet corn steamed green beans
chunky garlic mashed potatoes
Italian sausage in marinara sauce
touched my tongue slowing me down

mysterious mountain hobo’s lullaby
Coreaed Mozart Smithered Dylan
abiyoyo waly waly olly olly oxen free
touched my ear soothing me center

beloved’s hug pat on the back
quilt of remembrance funeral home fan
wide-enough shoes broken-in hat
touched my skin calling me out

who touched me who didn’t
where did my power go what power
how can I continue why stop
what can this mean what what

Disciples get snarkier as they begin to catch on to the predictable foibles of their teacher.

Touch is one of the ways Jesus’ healing takes place. Here is a “palin” place for a look back to 3:10: “Jesus had healed so many people that everyone who was sick pushed forward so that they could touch him.”

This dismissal of another’s report about their experience continues down to this day. In one way or another we say to one another, “Come on, get real, you didn’t just experience what you claim you did.”

This nearly instant dismissal of another’s experience keeps us from having to keep up with identity changes. Think back on all the different ways the Woman’s Movement, the Black Experience, and various expressions of Human Sexuality have shifted over the years.

If we are going to honor the identity of people we need to listen to how they describe themselves and follow where they lead. If we demand a right to name them, we are as snarky as the disciples—today we call this “gaslighting” which dismisses any independent thinking, leading people to question their sanity.

Mark 5:30

Jesus at once became aware of the power that had gone out from him, and, turning around in the crowd, he said,  “Who touched my clothes?”

power relinquished or taken
flows where otherwise constrained
by accreted acculturation
differing bases for judgment calls

this must be investigated
for all else derives from its mystery
in this in between state
uncertainty creates an active present

how did I come to be touched
while so firmly heading elsewhere
how did I miss a chance to touch
a firm foundation got in the way

a blessing is here revealed
belovedness is not mine alone
bidden or not we swim
and spawn in water together

in freedom from power
we engage the powerless
until the illusion of power
is revealed a subtle tempter of both

A very “euthys” power comes into view. It is helpful to read A Reordering of Power: A Socio-Political Reading of Mark’s Gospel, by Herman C. Waetjen.

In addition to social realities is simple story-telling. Even though the crowd-slowed procession has been slow going, it has been going. Now we come to a complete halt.

The intention and preparation of Jesus that has been oriented upon a nearing young girl has been hijacked. Jesus immediately stops. Turns. Demands accountability.

Seldom do we notice in the moment how we are changing the world. We get so focused on where we are headed that we lose track of where we are and those whose life is being changed simply because of our presence. Jesus has retreated enough and faced temptations enough to have reformulated this time-splitting we typically do.

Are we about to lose a young girl’s life because of this delay? Will it be because power to heal has been lost or just lost time? Is the life of a privileged man’s daughter worth more than a nameless, expendable, loser?

Power (δύναμιν, “dunamis”) in Mark can be viewed in three ways: (1) strength, ability to act, available resources 5:30, 9:1, 12:24, 13:26; (2) miracle, singular 6:5, 9:39, plural 6:2, 14; and (3) personalized moral, spiritual, presence, 13:25, 14:62. Which do you see here?