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The Woman Who Touched Jesus’ Garment (Mark 5:21-34)

Analysis and Commentary

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The Heeling of a bleeding women, Rom, Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter.
Scan from Grabar, Die Kunst des frühen Christentums/Wikimedia Commons
    21 And when Jesus was passed over again by ship unto the other side, much people gathered unto him: and he was nigh unto the sea. 22 And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet, 23 And besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.
    24 And Jesus went with him; and much people followed him, and thronged him. 25 And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, 26 And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, 27 When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. 28 For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. 29 And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.
    30 And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? 31 And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? 32 And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. 33 But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. 34 And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.
    Compare: Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 8:40-56

Jesus’ Amazing Healing Powers

The first verses introduce the story of Jarius’ daughter (discussed elsewhere), but before it can finish it is interrupted by another story about a sick woman who heals herself by grabbing Jesus’ garment. Both stories are about Jesus’ power to heal the sick, one of the most common themes in the gospels generally and Mark’s gospel specifically. This is also one of many examples of Mark’s “sandwiching” two stories together.

Once again, Jesus’ fame has preceded him because he is surrounded by people who want to talk to or at least see him — one can imagine the difficulty Jesus and his disciplines have getting through the crowds. At the same time, one might also say that Jesus is being stalked: there is a woman who has suffered for twelve years with a problem and intends to use Jesus’ powers to become well.

What is her problem? That isn’t clear but the phrase “an issue of blood” suggests a menstrual issue. This would have been very serious because among the Jews a menstrating woman was “unclean,” and being perpetually unclean for twelve years couldn’t have been pleasant, even if the condition itself wasn’t physically troublesome. Thus, we have is a person who is not only experiencing a physical malady but a religious one as well.

She doesn’t actually approach to ask for Jesus’ help, which makes sense if she considers herself unclean. Instead, she joins those pressing close to him and touches his garment. This, for some reason, works. Just touching Jesus’ clothing heals her immediately, as if Jesus has imbued his clothing with his power or is leaking healthy energy.

This is strange to our eyes because we look for a “natural” explanation. In first century Judea, however, everyone believed in spirits whose power and abilities were beyond comprehension. The idea of being able to touch a holy person or just their clothing to be healed would not have been odd and no one would have wondered about “leaks.”

Why does Jesus ask who touched him? It’s a bizarre question — even his disciples think he’s being goofy in asking it. They are surrounded by a crowd of people pressing him to see him. Who touched Jesus? Everyone did — two or three times, probably. Of course, that leads us to wonder why this woman in particular was healed. Surely she wasn’t the only one in the crowd who was suffering from something. At least one other person must have had something that could be healed — even just an ingrown toenail.

The answer comes from Jesus: she was healed not because Jesus wanted to heal her or because she was the only one who needed healing, but rather because she had faith. As with previous instances of Jesus healing someone, it ultimately comes back to the quality of their faith which determines whether it is possible.

This suggests that while there was a crowd of people to see Jesus, maybe they didn’t all have faith in him. Perhaps they were just out to see the latest faith healer do a few tricks — not really believing in what was going on, but happy to be entertained nonetheless. The sick woman, however, did have faith and thus was she relieved of her ailments.

There was no need to perform sacrifices or rituals or obey complicated laws. In the end, being relieved of her presumed uncleanliness was just a matter of having the right sort of faith. This would be a point of contrast between Judaism and Christianity.

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