Like a rock star, Jesus is on a whirlwind tour. Just before this, he has been teaching and healing people in the Decapolis, the ten cities east and south of the Sea of Galilee. Mark tells us about the healing there of the man with demons, who lived among the tombs.  Now, back on the Jewish side of the lake, we hear two parallel healing stories (find the text at Oremus). The stories twine around each other in interesting ways, picking up the shared themes of fear, kinship, restoration and publicity. 

Two people approach Jesus with faith, asking for healing – Jairus, a powerful man, who intercedes for his young daughter, and a nameless woman who is advocating for herself. Jairus interrupts Jesus’ day, and the woman then interrupts his trip to Jairus’ home. Both interruptions turn out to reveal God’s power and compassion. The woman doesn’t speak at first, except to herself. “If I can only get through the crowd and touch his clothes, my life will be transformed.” She manages to get through the crowd, and touches his cloak, and both of them immediately feel the change.   

Emerson Powery, writing for Working Preacher, notices an interesting connection between the bodily experiences of the unnamed woman and Jesus. “Just as the woman understood the changes in her body, so Jesus recognized a change in his body. [Jesus initially played no active role in her healing.] The drying up of her blood flow (i.e., her “discharge”) was due to the “discharge” of Jesus’ “power” (dunamis in 5:30). But no one else — including the disciples — recognized what had leaked out/transpired.” Their experiences parallel each other. Powery notes a connection between the two times the woman approaches Jesus – she comes with boldness the first time, and fear the second.    

"Jesus Raises Girl to Life," from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved January 18, 2016]. Original source at Flickr.
Jesus Raises Girl to Life from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved January 18, 2016]. Original source at Flickr.

The conversation with this woman delays the trip to Jairus’ house, and the word comes that the young daughter has died. The first woman approaches Jesus in fear, and leaves with a word of peace, and then Jesus tells Jairus, too, “do not fear, only believe.” The first woman has become a model for the people in need of the next healing. Jairus’ daughter has her father to advocate for her, and the first woman seems to be alone when she comes. When she leaves, Jesus calls her, too, “daughter,” and she is restored to the bonds of community.    

The two healings hold another contrast – the first happens in the crowd, but after the second, Jesus asks the people who know to keep silent. It’s hard to imagine that this lasted long – word has come through the crowd that the daughter has died, and people will soon see that she is alive, after all. There’s another crowd in the house when Jesus arrives – this isn’t the kind of secret you can keep for long. 

Both healings prompt the question of how much of God’s grace we deserve. The first woman, for whatever reason, doesn’t approach Jesus, and is content to touch his outermost clothing. The story doesn’t say whether she doesn’t think she can get his attention in the crowd, or doesn’t think she deserves more from him, but she receives more of a blessing than she imagines. Her gift from him comes as her physical healing, plus a word of blessing and kinship. For Jairus, he hears that his daughter has died, plus the dismissive question “Why trouble the teacher any further?” Jesus doesn’t seem bothered by either of them, and meets them both with more abundant grace than either one first expects. We’ve heard a hundred times the word from the Psalmist that “the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting,” but it’s hard to take that into our deepest spirits. This story reminds us of the wealth of grace that awaits us all, in the presence of Jesus – always much more than we first imagine.   

The sermon might explore:

  • the woman advocates for herself, and finds her life changed. Where does God invite us to move forward with courage, even when the people around us aren’t going to be happy? We can imagine that the crowd was not pleased to learn that they had been touched by a woman with a flow of blood, if they discover what, exactly, Jesus has healed for her. Her need is greater than any sense of social convention. Where does God invites us to do that in our lives?     
  • the woman begins by “stealing” her healing (as Emerson Powery interestingly puts it) from Jesus, and then he stops to acknowledge her and note the exchange of power between them. Have you ever “stolen” a blessing before someone was ready to give it? Forced someone to acknowledge you when they might not have otherwise? 
  • Both Jesus and the nameless woman are exquisitely aware of the changes in their bodies. How have you experienced an embodied faith? How does your body speak its truth? Hold, or reveal, emotions? How does trauma or joy live on in our bodies?   
  • What do you think you “deserve” from God? Is it a problem when we think God owes us something? Or do we imagine too little for ourselves? Where do you find yourself? Your faith community?

Where are your thoughts taking you this week?  We would love to continue the conversation in the comments section below.  And be sure to read the Working Preacher commentary from Karl Jacobson.

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12 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Interrupting Jesus (Mark 5:21-43)

  1. interesting thinking about the woman “stealing” the blessing- we think that Jacob is a scoundrel for stealing a blessing from his brother and father, but we applaud this woman’s boldness- it certainly does speak to our claims to be bold in faith. What I still struggle with as a pastor is how to preach these healing stories in congregations in which I KNOW there are people who are boldly praying for a blessing of healing….and they remain only worse, not better than before.


    1. It strikes me that “stealing” implies there is a limited amount to go around, or that it belongs to someone else. While that is portrayed as true in the Jacob story would we say that either is true with Jesus?


      1. I think we sometimes think there’s a limited amount of God to go around…and someone else gets it, we won’t. Good question — why is Jacob a scoundrel, and this woman is bold…? Jacob’s blessing is finite, it strikes me — once he has it, his brother can’t. Jesus has more blessings to go around.


    2. That’s hard — pondering why some people receive the physical healing and others don’t. And it’s challenging not to make it sound like it’s their fault, or they’re not praying well enough, or boldly enough. I love the difference between “curing” and “healing,” which we all need.


  2. for some reason I chose to use the first part of chapter 5 instead of these stories. Now I get to talk about healing a demoniac……

    Why did I do that? Did I think it was easier than Jairus’ daughter?


    1. I love that story, too — and may favorite part is that the whole town seems to conspire to keep the man in his illness. They like him ill, and safely out of town in the tombs — and Jesus leaves him behind as a reminder of their smallness of heart!


      1. I am pondering what the demons in our lives are. ANd in line with your comment about the conspiracy, are there demons that help keep us “normal” where we should in fact be a bit “abnormal”

        Which may be where we get into the woman with the hemorrhage–who chose not to play by the rules in favour of wholeness.


  3. One of my ponderings (as I procrastinate on getting the bulletin done–though it has to be to the Office Admin by tomorrow morning) is on how we who are heirs of liberalism, modernism and the ENlightenment deal with theses healing/exorcism/resurrection stories that defy the scientific/rational worldview that comes with that inheritance…


  4. For one of my favorite passages of all of Scripture, this intertwining of stories, I am come up __blank__ for preaching it. I’ve done it maybe only once before. I just like playing in this story and all its themes and possibilities, all that it teaches and holds and demonstrates. I’m having a horribly difficult time not acting like Mark – Look! Here’s a cool thing! And over here another! And now a third! Look at all the things!!

    The uncontrollable abundance and power of God’s grace that explodes in this story stands out to me today – – that it can flow even from the hem of Jesus’ clothes and it can defy expectations after the girl is already dead – – And looking at vv. 35-36: How often we say “no” for God before we even give God a chance to say “yes”? The people who come from the house and say “don’t bother.” Jairus becomes fearful.

    Is this fear Jesus perceives in him a fear of death? Could it be a fear that hope is pointless? Could it be a nagging fear that Jesus might actually be able to do something and that will upset his understanding of everything?

    I think I’m going to place myself and the congregation with the folks who are hesitant to let Jesus do the big miracle, who think he can’t or won’t or that it’s too much to ask. The good news being that God’s power to heal, to bring new life, to make us clean is far more abundant than we can imagine and than we often are ready to receive. There is no need to fear – – only a call to live a graced life.

    Not sure if it fits in, but I love the part in the podcast where Kathryn says instead of Jesus being tainted by the uncleanliness of the woman who bleeds or the daughter who has died, the power of his healing and his life over takes them. The God’s grace is more powerful than than these forces or labels or _____ I’m missing a word in my brain as I think out loud. Maybe this ties in with why there is no need to fear.

    So, some babbling around where I am going, but I think I’m finding my way.


  5. I’m drawn to the interruptions – I’ve often heard it said that ministry happens in the interruptions. And I’m also drawn to the opposites and Jesus’ utter disregard for anything that labels one as less than worthy.

    But I have to keep it short and sweet – It’s our annual congregational meeting. I won’t have time to get into both the interruptions and the opposites. Maybe I can structure the sermon in a way that I unpack the story during the sermon time and then apply it during the pastor’s report in the meeting?


  6. This is my first year in the NL, which means I just preached on this text last June. Too bad too, because I had a really good connection in that sermon and I can’t really use it again now less than a year later. I used the images of “insider” and “outsider” – the daughter of privilege and the daughter of desperation (I know I found these terms somewhere, but can’t recall where,) and pointed out that Jesus healed both. Our society wants to keep putting people in those categories, but as the church, we need to be about healing for the whole world.

    Not sure where I’m going this time around now. I think maybe some kind of look at how healing is now always about the physical. Or maybe about being the hands of God, touching others with his healing. Shoot. It’s still Saturday morning – plenty of time!


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