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?

Mark 5:29

At once her bleeding stopped, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her affliction.

absorbent cloth and sphagnum moss
are known clotting agents
damming blood from outside in

soon a scab can be trusted
to crust over an open spigot
protecting connecting inward out

as long as these usual ways
work we will wait
sometimes pick mostly wait

sometimes life comes backward
without any idea at all
our bones know a new deal

down in those fountains of blood
to touch or be touched
is neither here nor there

our inside another’s outside
spark a connection
beyond intention

To paraphrase a song originally written in Spanish by María Grever, “What a difference a touch makes.” The song’s history and some notable recordings of it are available —

Parenthetically, a case can be made for every good love song (not-codependent or abusive) being a theological statement about the romance involved in the partnership of G*D and Humans. Remember the Song of Songs.

Years, twelve of them, had dragged on and on, each experienced as longer than the previous one(s), individually and cumulative.

Now, in an “euthys”, a difference, a BANG!.

What could have been a Raider’s of the Lost Ark face-melting scene turns out entirely different. “Instead of death, she found life. In the new Israel, where salvation [healing] reigns, no one is personally unclean.” [LaVerdiere, 1:138].

This shift in power is like a tidal bore forcing rivers to run backward. It is a picture of a reversal needed in today’s church that leads to engaging the poor honorably, enlarging their self-perception, and challenging the hard-heartedness of complacency by those doing a little better or much better. How would you name a church that intentionally chose this unnamed woman as their totem, their icon, their saint to ground their reason for being, their identity?

Mark 5:28

“If I can only touch his clothes,” she said, “I will get well!”

rules are forever rising
they are part of our strange captivity
here’s the way life should work
for fairness is always tilted forward
toward my satisfaction

if I just scrape together enough
the purchase of a lottery ticket
is bound to pay off this time
I’ll be able to step outside time
jump from not enough to too much

even though neither I nor my family
can afford an heroic intervention
a drive to survive drives my life
to the ground quicker than gravity
a painful hour years of anemia crave release

As long as I have breath
I’ll tell stories to myself
and any who are nearby
life is meant to be fair
make break rules as needed

In English a slight adjustment to the Greek is necessary to indicate that the woman was speaking to herself and not to someone else.

A part of Mark’s work are little surprises like this that come along to explain an action. This is a buffer to highlight the next conversation between the woman and Jesus. This thinking that drove her action is effectively a place where “palin” could have been used to have us remember all the previous ways in which Jesus has healed. Touch is indeed an important modality for Jesus’ healing and, if it can be true for those previously healed, there is no reason this woman can’t get a piece of the action.

Reflect on Myers’ reflection:

By healing first the poor woman, he beckons the entire people toward healing the deadly disease of social inequity….

If we are to put the last first today, we must deepen our understanding of the social diseases that marginalize the “least” today. The fact that the center of this story is a woman pushed into insignificance and suffering in part by the patriarchy of her context calls us to acknowledge male privilege as one of the social diseases from which healing is needed.

Mark 5:27

heard about Jesus, came behind in the crowd, and touched his cloak.

outcasts develop sneaky ways
being straight-forward
time and again leads to worse

light footed and light fingered
we quarter in from the rear
nonchalantly gazing downward

hoping not to be quickly noticed
we might get enough of a taste
to hold us until tomorrow

it has been a long time since a last feast
Thanksgiving was it or a funeral
we hunger for health like a comfort food
and are resigned to what we can get

things get so tough we reverse think
of course waving trees cause wind
even simple tag gets turned around
not tag you’re it but tag I snagged mine

Myers reminds us:

The woman’s approach to Jesus is in stark contrast to that of Jairus. His approach was frontal and proprietary: He acknowledged Jesus’ honor (lowering himself before him) in order to make a request. She, on the other hand, reaches out anonymously from behind in the crowd, seeking to touch Jesus covertly and somehow effect a magical cure. Jairus addresses Jesus directly, as would befit male equals, while the woman talks only to herself (5:28). Jairus is the “head” of both his family (speaking on behalf of his daughter) and his social group (the synagogue); the woman is nameless and alone. In other words, Mark is portraying two characters who represent the opposite ends of the social spectrum.

This interleaved or sandwiched telling of two stories asks us to compare them that we might have a larger picture of the revolution in relationships/partnerships being asked by Jesus in his teachings, healings, and other ways of modeling partnership with G*D.

Those who used the Serendipity Group Bible Studies in the 1980s and 90s might use questions like their, “What is the most miraculous healing you have ever experienced?” Include a reflection on your place in Bible stories, and vice versa, in your response.

Another of their questions: “What can you do this week to spend time alone with God and tell him (sic) the truth about an area in your life you have kept hidden?” Can you make this touching story your own as well as a winsome confession of what you don’t yet know?