He heals the sick and raises the dead. 5:21-43

In this story we witness Jesus' victory over sickness and death, and watch again the interplay of faith. The story appears in all three synoptic gospels. Again, it is one of those memorable occasions where the disciples would easily recall the details. The story concerns a woman who evidences the touch of death and a girl who is actually dead. In the healing of both Jesus displays his power over death.

The passage

v21-24. Jesus returns to the northwestern shore of lake Galilee, possibly to Capernaum, and a crowd gathers about him. A synagogue-ruler (an official of the local synagogue) makes an urgent plea that Jesus come and lay hands on his daughter. Jairus obviously believes that if Jesus comes he can heal his daughter. The crowd presses in to watch Jesus' response, and goes with him to witness the healing.

v25-27. A woman with a hemorrhage, part of the crowd pressing in on Jesus, touches him. Her condition is not clearly identified, but is obviously vaginal and so makes her "unclean" and therefore cuts her off from her Jewish community. She has spent all her money on cures, but nothing has worked and now her condition is getting worse. She, like the synagogue-ruler, believes that Jesus can heal her. She obviously believes that by touching Jesus she can channel his healing power.

v28-29. The woman's touch completely heals her.

v30-32. Jesus is aware of the touch and asks the healed person to identify themselves. No reason is given, but as Jesus' miracles visibly proclaim the gospel, it obviously needs to be exposed (if only to the true seeker) and then a word given to explain its true meaning. Only Mark makes the rather strange comment, "Jesus realized that power had gone out from him." Jesus sensed that his messianic power reached out to someone.

v33-34. The woman comes forward, overcome by fear. Her fear is well founded for she is unclean and has knowingly touched a rabbi. After she explains what happened (obviously in the hearing of the crowd), Jesus explains her healing; her faith in him has resulted in her healing. The miracle reminds us that faith saves; the kingdom of God is entered through faith; salvation is appropriated through faith. So, Jesus makes the point that faith frees us from the bondage of sin and death.

v35-37. A message now comes to the synagogue-ruler that his daughter has died. Jesus overhears the report and seeks to draw out the revelatory nature of the sign he is about to perform (a point he has already made in the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage). Faith, rather than fear, is the means of appropriating the blessings of the kingdom. In typical style, Jesus sets out to keep the sign within a select circle - those with eyes to see.

v38-39. By the time Jesus gets to the girl the household is in full mourning. Jesus sends them packing with the claim that "the girl is not dead, but asleep." They laugh because they know she is dead. Mark implies that she is dead while Luke makes it patently clear. Jesus' claim that she is "asleep" may imply a number of things: he knows she is in a deep coma; her present state is only temporary; he is making a theological statement about resurrection; or he is throwing the mourners (the unbelieving crowd) off the scent.

v40-42. The tradition records the actual words of Jesus in Aramaic. The girl responds and walks about, but sadly, the general response is amazement and not faith. Jesus could well have asked "Do you still have no faith?"

v43. Jesus again focuses the revelation of the kingdom of God (the gospel) on the true seeker rather than the unbelieving crowd. Only the disciples, along with Jairus and his wife, get to see the sign. The rest are left in confusion; the evidence of a child they thought was dead, but who must have been asleep.

Power over life and death

In Western societies, over the last twenty years or so, the funeral industry has changed its style. Once, most funerals were conducted by ministers of religion who tended to focus on mourning the loss of a loved one, while proclaiming the hope of life eternal. Some brave members of the cloth would even mention hell and judgment - unwisely I fear, but to each his own. There was a time when the Crematorium I regularly conducted services at was struggling to get the sequence of the committal right. They had installed curtains, which, when closed triggered the coffin's move to the ovens. Yet, there was a problem. The blast of the furnace fans could be heard as the coffin entered the oven room, and if the back door was open the wind blew the curtains out. This carefully planned sequence prompted gasps of horror, even fainting. One person assured me that had seen their loved one swallowed up into the gates of hell. The Crematorium did get it right in the end, but imagine the intensity of the problem if the minister had adopted the hell and judgment line. Today we have the opposite problem in that a funeral is a celebration of life, or should I say, a denial of death!

The story of Jesus' healing of a dead girl and a sick woman, presents a simple gospel message. Through divine power Jesus is victorious over the eternal slavery of death. This fact, of course, lies at the center of the gospel - because Jesus lives we may live also; his life can be our life.

A woman good as dead, a girl dead, both given life, both rescued from their bondage. In these two miracles Jesus announces the good news of the coming kingdom. The day has come for God to gather a people to himself, to bless them with his presence for eternity. Life, in all its fullness, is ours as a gift of grace.

Yet, the crucial question is how to access this grace of life eternal, life in all its fullness. The answer is a simple one. Freedom from the bondage of death is ours wholly through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus has the power to free us from the bondage of our imperfect mortality and carry us into eternity. In our present shadowy existence all we need to do is hold his hand, to trust him, to rely on Jesus to take us into the presence of God. It's as simple as that.


Comment on the statement "the life that God gives through Jesus is stronger than death itself."