And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5.25-34.
This story appears not only here in the gospel of Mark but also in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and in all three gospels it is contained within the story of Jairus who comes to Jesus seeking healing for his critically ill daughter and then, after the daughter has died, has the joy of seeing Jesus restore her to life. The intertwining of the two stories can lead the reader’s thoughts in many directions, but they lead mine in one particular direction this morning.
For me, today, both stories show how Jesus turns everything the Jews understood about uncleanness on its head. What do I mean?
Well, take the woman. Her problem, which was presumably gynaecological, brings her squarely with the terms of Leviticus 15.25 which begins with the words, “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity…”. So being within Leviticus 15.25, what is the consequence? “All the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity. And everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her menstrual impurity. And whoever touches these things shall be unclean …” (Leviticus 15.26-27). She is polluted and she pollutes everyone who has contact with her. She is separated from God and she separates others from God. Oh dear!
And now take Jairus’s daughter. As she goes from being a very sick girl to a corpse, the same applies to her. Once dead, she too is unclean and renders anyone who touches her unclean: “Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean …” (Numbers 19.11 etc).
But look what happens when Jesus makes contact with all this uncleanness. Rather than being polluted by the unclean woman who touches him or by the unclean corpse of Jairus’s daughter whom he “takes by the hand” (Mark 5.41), he imparts cleansing to both of them by removing the very source of their uncleanness. He stops the woman’s discharge of blood and he restores life to the corpse.
There is actually a pretty clear hint in the Greek text of what is going on here. Where our translation has “the flow of blood” the Greek is he pege tou haimatos autes which is literally “the well of her blood” and is exactly the same expression used in the Septuagint version (the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures used by Mark) of Leviticus 12.7 which is all about how the offering of a lamb brings atonement for the woman and “makes her clean from the well of her blood”.
In these intermingled stories that I am thinking about this morning, I see Jesus — the atoning Lamb of God — making clean all that is unclean, bringing the shalom of wholeness and healing (“Daughter … go in peace”, Mark 5.34) in place of sickness, and life in place of death. John says: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3.8) and that is just what I see him doing here … reversing the flow sin and pollution and turning it into a flow of righteousness and holiness. I see in Jesus one who is not defiled by me and my sin but rather one who comes to cleanse me of my sin and impart to me his own spotless purity.