Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jesus meets two women

One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.  Seeing Jesus he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death.”

… There was a woman afflicted with haemorrhages for twelve years.  She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had.  Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
Mark 5:21-43

This was the Gospel reading two Sundays ago (in the Ordinary form).  I’ve been meaning to blog about it but have been ruminating on it instead. 

I recommend ruminating on the Sunday gospel.  Ideally, the gospel reading should set the spiritual tone for the ensuing week. 

And if a passage of Scripture resonates with us, we should stay with it for as long as useful, rather rushing on to something else. 

(Of course, this doesn’t apply if we’re reading Scripture systematically to get an overall picture.  In this case, it’s probably best to keep reading.  We can make a note of interesting passages and return to them later.) 


Returning to the Gospel passage, there’s a symbolic identity between the two women.  Both of them relate to the number 12, the first woman having been haemorrhaging for 12 years and Jairus’ daughter being 12 years of age. 

We can take it further.  As Jairus’ daughter is now 12 years old, she is about to start menstruating and will undergo– in a healthy manner – what the other woman has been experiencing. 

(I don’t think it’s inappropriate to point this out– the Gospel shows that our Saviour doesn’t see such things as unclean or inappropriate.) 

Looking further, there are two twelves.  Different interpretations are offered, but I suggest they represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the Church.  It’s not accidental that Jairus is a ruler of the synagogue.  (I also suggest that they parallel the 24 elders in Rev 4:4.) 

The numerological significance continues when the Lord enters the house.  When He raises the girl from the dead, there are 7 people present. (They are Jesus, Jairus and his wife and daughter, and the three apostles, Peter, James, and John.)

Another point of symbolic identity is that both are called "daughter". But, while the little girl is a daughter of the synagogue, Jesus acknowledges the haemorrhaging woman as His spiritual daughter.  Later He addressed the women on the Via Dolorosa as “Daughters of Jerusalem" (Luke 23:28),  but it is only the haemorrhaging woman whom He calls His own daughter.  


Of course, nowadays, we’re not used to reading for numerical significance.  We may feel uncomfortable with such “mediaeval” ways of thinking.  But it’s clearly in the text. 

In particular, it’s in St Mark’s account of the feeding of the four thousand (chapter 8).  After the miracle, the Lord asks the apostles how many basketfuls of pieces were there (twelve) and how many basketfuls were left (seven).  Then He asked them, “Do you still not understand?”

So what is the answer to the Lord’s question? 

The symbolism has levels of meaning, but I think the immediate answer is that twelve stands for Israel and for the Church, the new Israel.  And that seven stands for the Sabbath, because “...the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). 

To digress, this point achieves a greater significance when we realize that the Lord rose on the eighth day, the first day of the New Creation.

(See for example, St Peter’s reference to eight in 1 Peter 3:22.  The point is spelled out in the early Church document, The Epistle of Barnabas, 15:8, 9.) 


Turning to another issue, the Saviour tells the healed woman “Daughter, your faith has healed you.”  And in last Sunday’s gospel, St Mark tells how He could do little for the people of Nazareth and was “was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:1-8).  

This makes for a contrast between the two women in the Mark 4. The haemorrhaging woman has a courageous faith but the little girl, being dead, cannot be said to have faith.

Perhaps we could say that her father had faith in Christ.  Or it might remind us of St Paul:  “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  And note how, of the two women, Jairus’ daughter received the greater miracle.