Jesus heals the crowd: Mark 5:21-43
Jesus often has a crowd around him, and in this Gospel account, the crowd is walking with Jesus on his way to heal the daughter of Jarius. Suddenly Jesus says he is aware of power leaving him.
Unlike the earlier terse healing stories in Mark, there is more in the way of context and set-up here. First, the two stories are intertwined (as they are in Matthew and Luke as well). Second, Jairus, identified by Mark as a “leader of the synagogue,” comes to Jesus asking him to heal his daughter; here the request is not made by a suffering person for himself, but is made on behalf of another. Just after this request a woman who has (merely) heard of Jesus comes and does not so much as ask to be healed, but simply touches his cloak and is healed. Only in the exchange which follows does Jesus name her actions as faith, faith which has made her well. Finally, after the interruption to his accompanying Jairus, the report comes that Jairus’ daughter has died. It is too late.
And here in the midst of the intertwining of these two stories there is, at the seams of vv.34-36, a two-part piece of faith which centers these stories. First, the woman is declared faithful by Jesus, “your faith has made you well.” Second, Jairus is encouraged to retain his faith, even in the face of death, “Do not fear, only believe.” The first is descriptive, the second prescriptive.
This is the tension around the person of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel: the proclamation of God’s Son that the kingdom of God has come near will be welcomed by faith, and it will produce faith; or perhaps this should be a question, “will the kingdom of God come near be welcomed by faith, or will it be doubted and denied?” The story of Jairus’ daughter contains the first instance of flat-out disbelief in what Jesus promises. When Jesus tells the crowd gathered at Jairus’ house that his daughter is not dead, but sleeping, they laughed at him. But this laughter — contrasting with the remarkable faith of the woman we have just heard about, and the desperate faith of Jairus who is hoping against hope — serves only to heighten the tension of the story. After Jesus takes the girls’ hand and bids her rise up, which of course she does, the disbelieving laughter of the gathered crowds turns into megale ekstaseis, “great ecstasy.” Jesus presence is the transformative agent in these two stories of astonishing faith.
The Jesus of Mark both proclaims (through his deeds and his teaching) and is proclaimed (by the Gospel itself and by its many and various characters) that the promise of God has come to pass, come to fullness and presence and immediacy in Jesus. This proclamation, and this promise, demand a response or, if it is easier to swallow, a reaction. How will we receive the proclamation of the kingdom? How will we share it? How do we need to repent of our disbeliefs, and change our minds about what Christ has done, and what Christ means for us?