Mark 5:21-43 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 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." 24 So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.
25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." 29 Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" 31 And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?" 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."
35 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?" 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." 40 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. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
I love these stories. Their rich symbols, and the elegant linking of the two make them a literary delight. Even now, the subject is still breathtaking. Mark provides a prodigious challenge for the church today (largely ignored, if not disobeyed) as Jesus mandates gender relationships to a central position in the faith.
These stories are all about women. Jesus comes back from where people did not want him- the ten cities, and we see him, by contrast, sought out by a leader of a synagogue no less! He falls at Jesus feet which is a worshipful attitude; this man has some understanding of who Jesus is.
My little daughter is sick to the point of death. Religious leaders, who are often called "father" sometimes call their female followers "daughter." Indeed, we have an excellent book shop in Adelaide run by The Daughters of St. Paul. Symbolically in this story, a leader of the church is coming to Jesus, confessing that the women of the community are sick to the point of death. It is not a women who comes, not a wild feminist, but a male leader of the church... begging him repeatedly! And Jesus goes with him. (This happens in the presence of a great crowd by the sea. The sea is that deep place of the spirit and growth, and sometimes of fearful forces. Perhaps something is being said about a new direction of growth we need to see.)
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. A story is inserted into the middle of the story of Jairus' daughter. Normally this is meant to indicate two stories are related. We see they are, for we meet the number twelve again. Twelve is the age of Jairus' daughter. These two are the same woman!
Mark focuses on a defining issue for women. Menstruation is not about blue liquid and technologically superior pads. Despite the pretty flowers on the little boxes, the only people I ever met who were really excited about tampons, were several four year old boys who were fascinated at how well they expand in a hand basin of water, and delighted at the way they then stick to the ceiling! If a woman is lucky, menstruation is a relatively minor, more or less regular irritation. For many it is painful and debilitating. Unpredictable timing, wild mood swings, severe pain, and post period migraines, can make life a misery, in a way we men can never really comprehend, and rarely take seriously. Perhaps this is the least of it, for menstruation is also a focus for misogyny. In this woman's own era she was unclean- unclean before God in the time of her period. All who touched her, and everything she touched, became unclean.
Leviticus 20:18 If a man lies with a woman having her sickness and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her flow and she has laid bare her flow of blood; both of them shall be cut off from their people.
This was connected into childbirth itself.
Leviticus 12:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2"Speak to the people of Israel, saying:' If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. 3 On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4 Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three days; she shall not touch any holy thing, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed. 5 If she bears a female child, she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation; her time of blood purification shall be sixty-six days.'"
A female child made her twice as unclean as a male.
This is not just a Jewish thing. Christianity has taken it on wholesale. Still today men argue women should not be ordained because of the uncleaness they would bring into the sanctuary. What a scandal that a menstruating woman might handle the sacraments! Some of us still remember the churching of women, which relates directly to the purification of a woman after childbirth, as in Leviticus. Amongst men there can be at best, a sympathetic incomprehension of the psychological burden this places on a woman. Too often there is pretty much total ignorance and a lack of care, which too often accompanies, or sporadically bursts out into, deep fearful hatred. All of gender's misunderstanding and miscommunication then get focussed onto this one thing. We call the surgical removal of the womb a hysterectomy- the womb was thought to be the seat of female hysteria. This is the "polite" end of the spectrum. Take any man full of hatred or anger at women, and the invective will eventually arrive back at the reproductive system.
Mark is not telling us of a woman closeted off from the worshipping community and the market place for a mere twenty five percent of her life. He is telling the story of a Woman cut off for twelve whole years... for her whole life of twelve years, and the whole of life, for these two women are the same Woman.
She was unclean. She should not have been in a public place, let alone a close pressed crowd, contaminating others with her uncleaness. She was spreading a disease. And she deliberately touched a rabbi! Imagine the scene. Someone touched me. The disciples are puzzled. The woman is exposed. Probably some people know of her problem. In any case, they all hear it now. And instead of berating her he says, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." In its own cultural setting, the story is amazing. But symbolically it is equally so, for Jesus, Son of the Father, has let go of power, feeling it flow out of him. He has given that power to Woman. Do you remember he calls her ''Daughter." Just as there is only one woman in this story, there is only one man. Jesus is the forerunner of Jairus, the leader who sees he must give life to his daughter.
"Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" say the people from the leader's house. They call Jesus, ''teacher'' which is a sign they do not see who He is. In the surface story this is a moment of great poignancy. Because he has stopped for this importunate woman, the little girl has died before he arrives. The irony is that his healing of the woman's sickness will give life to the girl who follows her.
At the house he asked, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him, which is more irony. Of course she was dead! Do we think they didn't know dead when they saw it? ''Sleeping'' is symbolic of the position of women. What he did was raise her to new life! It was a resurrection!
How dare we men hold the women of the church, or any woman, in a position of subordinance when Jesus himself leads us to the very opposite? He says to us, as he said to Jairus, "Do not fear, only believe." Belief in the New Testament is as much action as anything else. Let us act!
To a woman, I can say that in these two stories Jesus says you are clean of all the muck men have loaded onto you. It is wrong. It is not true. I have to be aware that really I do not much know what I am saying by this, for I am a privileged male who has not, and will not, ever suffer the misogyny I have been writing about. But I have seen and heard enough from women friends to know the hatred of women is real and potent in its effect.
To men, however, I can speak with some authority for I am male. It is not very deep in me that the millennia of fear and hatred lurks still, even after thirty years of growing awareness and trying to excise it. We men know this lurks within us. The Scripture stands firmly against it. Each time we descend to it again we fail the Christ and walk directly against him. He calls us to give up the power of hatred and work for the healing of our relationships with mother, daughter, and wife. The symbol of "daughter" for the women in our lives can seem deeply patronising- especially to a woman. But it is true. It is actually the best face misogyny can put on, and the truth of how we so often live! We treat them like daughters, not people. It is time to give up the power and allow the equality of truly Christian living to begin its healing.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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