A Tale of Two Touches - A Reflection on 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. 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.
This is a story of two touches. In one story, Jesus touches a twelve-year-old girl who is dead and restores her to life. In the other story, a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years touches Jesus and is restored to health. There is a reason why Mark interweaves both these stories and it might be illuminating to discover why.
Let’s look at the little girl first. She doesn’t come from an ordinary family. She is the daughter of Jairus, who is the leader of the synagogue. She twelve years old but that’s like being seventeen in today’s culture. She is about to come of age. Everybody knows her and loves her and when she falls sick everybody despairs about her, especially her father who makes his way to Jesus in the middle of a huge crowd and falls at his feet begging him to come and heal his child. And Jesus immediately goes.
Now another person makes an entrance onto the stage. She’s a mature woman who has been hemorrhaging for twelve years, as long as this little girl has been alive. Twelve years is a long time, and when you realize that according to Jewish law a woman who was in a menstrual cycle was considered unclean and, therefore, untouchable, twelve years is a very, very, very long time. She reaches out and touches the hem of Jesus’ cloak. And is instantly healed.
Now after a little drama, a messenger comes with the news that Jesus is too late; the little girl has died. He selects a small group of people and goes to the girl's room. And touches her. Now I want to talk a little about these two touches. Both were forbidden. Mosaic law decreed that if one touched a woman who was bleeding or a person who was dead that person became unclean. But when Jesus touches what it unclean, it becomes clean. That’s good news for all of us who believe we are unclean.
And there is one more lesson to be learned here. The woman, who was marginalized all her life, had to come inside the community and touch Jesus in order to be healed. And the girl, who was in the center of the community, had to leave it through death, and be touched by Jesus to be brought back to life. I’d like you to reflect upon this because it is especially relevant to the church as it exists today: those who are in, might need to experience what’s outside; and those who are outside, need to come in.
And touch and be touched.