In Touch with Jesus: Reflections on Mark 5:21-43
The little girl couldn't get out of bed, as she lay ill on the cusp of death. She couldn't do what the woman did (physically approach Jesus and touch his garments). She had no choice but to stay put and wait for Jesus to come and take her hand. Her father had to be proactive for her. In his desperation, he went to Jesus and begged him to come and heal his daughter. He and the woman share the same desperation and the same proactivity. In a Gospel where the disciples never seem to get Jesus, never seem to figure out his divine identity, Jairus and the woman with the 12-year flow of blood are better models of faith than the disciples.
We don't know anything about the little girl other than that she immediately got up when Jesus commanded her and began to walk around. We don't know the kind of life she went on to live. We do know that she had this life because of the proactive faith of her father and the resurrecting power of Jesus.
We don't know anything about the woman with the flow of blood. We don't know the kind of life she went on to live. We do know that she was healed and made well because of her proactive faith and the healing power of Jesus.
There are people in our lives who dream of healing and resurrection and a new life but are not currently capable of actively seeking it. Depression, illness, poverty, loss of faith . . . there are many conditions that can immobilize us. We are called to be, like Jairus and the woman, proactive seekers of Jesus' saving touch. According to the passage, we have lots of incentive to seek to be "in touch" with Jesus—new life for ourselves that we can share with others.
For Old Testament scholar Frederick Gaiser, this passage witnesses to the fact that we are healed and resurrected by being in touch with Jesus. This is a hands-on story. Jairus asks Jesus to come and lay hands on his daughter (5:23). The hemorrhaging woman touches the fringe of Jesus' robe (5:28). Jesus takes Jairus' daughter by the hand (5:41). Gaiser believes that touching Jesus' clothes in this text and in Mark 6:56 is reminiscent of Malachi 4:2 with its description of a future "Day of the Lord." The verse says, "The sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings." The fringe of Jesus' cloak (the "wings") offer healing and make this story a sign of the breaking in of Malachi's Day of the Lord.
Gaiser also points out that the power of Jesus' touch invokes the memory of Elisha, the miracle worker whose very bones had power to resurrect another corpse thrown into his grave (2 Kgs. 13:20-21). Malachi points to the Day of the Lord. Elisha anticipates resurrection. Both are keys to understanding our story. Healing and resurrection, by being in touch with Jesus, are signs of the new age that has dawned in his ministry. (Gaiser, 167)
Some can only dream and wish for this new life. We, with God's help, can seek, receive, and impart the blessings of Jesus' touch to others. Jairus asks for his daughter to be "made well" (v. 23) (sozo, meaning to be delivered or preserved/healed). Salvation is used in the New Testament more broadly to refer to God's act in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk. 15:30-31; Jn. 3:17; Rom. 5:19-20).
Partly due to Jesus' tarrying with the hemorrhaging woman, Jairus' worst fears come true (5:35). His daughter dies. Jesus, when he takes her by the hand, uses the word egeiro, and "she got up" (anistemi). These are both words used to refer to Jesus' resurrection in the New Testament. Jesus, who reaches out a hand and commands the girl to get up, is not just an itinerant miracle worker. He is a channel for the resurrecting power of God. (167)
The hemorrhaging woman, like Jairus, asks to be "made well" (sozo). When she touches Jesus' garment, she is healed (iaomai), but not made well (sozo). Sozo signifies a more holistic, spiritual wholeness, not just physical cure. Her symptoms disappear, but it is not until she returns and has an in-depth conversation with Jesus that he pronounces that she is made well (v. 34). Gaiser says, "wellness" or "being saved" comes only in the personal encounter with Jesus that involves words, communication, and promise." (168)
Though we are not called to go around curing people's symptoms and raising them from physical death, we are called to seek Jesus' touch. We are called to stay in touch with Jesus so that we can be agents of salvation (understood as liberation and wellness, not as physical cure or escape from the fires of hell) in his name. When we stay in touch with Jesus, our words, our touch, and our presence have more life-giving power than we realize. We have the power to wake someone from sleep and begin to make his or her dreams of healing and new life a reality.
Frederick J. Gaiser, Healing in the Bible: Theological Insight for Christian Ministry (Baker Academic Press, 2010)
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.