Then He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).
Mark 5:41 is the conclusion of two stories connected to each other, both having to do with women. A father came to Jesus in hopes of keeping his 12 year old daughter alive through some miracle. She was almost dead when her father came to Jesus.
Jesus went with the father to his house to see his daughter, but on the way to his house, while a group of people thronged around him, Jesus felt “virtue” leave him, so he turned around and asked, “Who touched me?” This question confused everyone bumping into him and into each other, but one woman knew exactly what Jesus was asking, because she had touched the hem of Jesus’ clothes (literally: tzitzit, which were tassels on Jesus clothes designed to remind him to follow God’s laws as prescribed by Numbers 15:37-41). She thought that if she could quietly touch the tzitzit of Jesus’ garments, she would be healed. When she did touch them she was healed, but she did not plan on being noticed; so when Jesus asked who touched him, she admitted what she did.
The woman had a menstrual flow that had gone on constantly for 12 years and was getting worse. She had gone to doctors, but they were unable to help her. When she heard that Jesus was coming, she made plans to touch his clothes to be healed. It is possible that she came from another village, because if she were from the place Jesus was visiting, people would have known she was unclean and they would have done everything to avoid her or keep her away, because people who knew her would know that every one she touched would be unclean. But she was able to move in the crowd without being noticed and without being set apart from the rest, therefore, I am guessing that she was a stranger to that city.
Her attempts to quietly move in and out failed because Jesus noticed something happened to him. He noticed that virtue left him. And when Jesus pointed out that someone touched him, the woman admitted before the crowd what had happened, and as each person in the crowd wondered whether or not they had touched her before she was cleansed, she told Jesus and the crowd that she was cleansed by Jesus.
After this intermission, the story returns to the 12 year old daughter. The news came to Jesus and the father that the daughter died. Upon hearing the bad news, the father told Jesus it was over and that he no longer needed Jesus to come to his house, but Jesus went to the house anyway and raised the child from the dead.
THE LITERARY CONTEXT
In the early parts of each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) – during the first part of Jesus ministry – Jesus ministry is loaded with miracles that demonstrate his power and authority over certain realms. In previous posts, I talked about his authority over demons, over the power of language, over sin, over the world of clean and the unclean, over the Sabbath, and over the storm and the seas. In this post, I will address his power over the womb, childbirth, and over death.
Mark, Matthew, and Luke all tie these two stories together in what is commonly called the sandwich effect. First the father comes to Jesus and on the way to his house, the unclean woman takes center stage. After her issue is resolved, the father’s story again becomes the focus of our attention. When I first noticed this phenomenon in the book of Mark with the fig tree, the temple, and the fig tree again, I termed it the sandwich effect, but found out later that it was a common term and that there were plenty of examples of this, especially in the book of Mark. A form of the sandwich effect is also used commonly in Hebrew poetry throughout the Bible and is called “Chiastic Structure.”
Every sandwich effect is designed to connect two seemingly different stories together, so when you find a sandwich effect, it is important to look for similarities and connections. It is also important to ask why are these two different stories connected together.
After Jesus cursed a fig tree for having no fruit in the book of Mark, he cleansed the temple. The next day and in the next literary section, the disciples remarked how quickly the fig tree rotted away. This sandwich connects the fig tree curse with the temple cleansing. In the same way, when Jesus is on his way to heal a sick girl about to die, and he is set off course by a woman touching his hem, then going back to the girl, we have an obvious sandwich needing to be studied.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THE TWO STORIES
There are quite a few similarities between these two women:
- The woman had her issue for 12 years, the girl was 12 years old.
- The woman could not give birth, the girl was on the verge of being able to give birth, but would be denied the ability due to death.
- The woman was called “daughter” by Jesus, the girl was called “daughter” by her father.
- Both women were unclean according to the Law of Moses.
- The woman was unclean and touched Jesus, the girl was unclean and was touched by Jesus.
- We presume that the woman was able to bear children after she was healed and that the girl was also able to bear children when she was healed.
- The disciples played important roles as learners in each healing. In the woman’s case, the disciples were confused and asked Jesus about why he said, “Who touched me?” Dozens were touching him at the time. As for the girl, Jesus invited only three of his disciples in to see the rising of the dead.
- Faith is mentioned in both healing events. When news reached the father that his daughter was dead, Jesus told him not to be afraid but only believe. When the woman was healed, Jesus told her that her faith made her whole.
- The daughter died at or near the moment the woman was healed.
SIMILARITIES TO OTHER HEALING EVENTS
There are similarities between these two stories and other healing events within the Synoptic Gospels:
- Jesus often touched people when he healed them. Around 1/3 of recorded healing involved some sort of touch. In most of these cases the person touched was unclean. The fact that Jesus had authority over the realm of clean and unclean and the fact that Jesus was able to rise above the rules of clean and unclean was established in a previous post.
- Virtue (δύναμις) leaving Jesus’ body is mentioned only in this episode by all three Synoptic Gospels. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus or God controlled the meaning and the direction of δύναμις, but in this one case, someone else grabbed δύναμις for herself.
- Jesus often talked about faith. Faith was mentioned in some way or another for just over 1/3 of the miracles that Jesus performed. Of course, faith is mentioned in both of the above miracles.
QUESTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
The word “daughter” is applied to both women. Besides connecting the two stories together, I am not sure why or if the word “daughter” has any more significance. One could guess that these two stories are symbolic of God’s people were often called “the daughter of Zion, the daughter of my people, the daughter of Jerusalem, daughter of Judah, or just ‘daughter.'”
The number 12 can also refer to the 12 tribes of Israel who at the time of Jesus was considered unclean, dying, and needing to be raised by Jesus; but this is reading into the text and the context because the rest of the book (Mark) or books (Matthew and Luke) do not follow this line of thought or this metaphorical direction.
I don’t believe that 12 has anything to do with the tribes of Israel; rather I believe that it has to do with the age of being able to bear children (remember in that day 12 year old girls were often marriage material – it is believed that Jesus’ mother Mary was 12 or 13 when she married Joseph and pregnant with Jesus). So I am led to believe that these stories are connected in that they both had to do with childbirth and with the womb.
As I mentioned before, the early sections of the Synoptic Gospels, the first phase of Jesus’ ministry was filled with miracles demonstrating Jesus’ authority over different realms of the world known to the First Century. These miracles demonstrating Jesus’ authority are the majority of miracles Jesus performed throughout his entire ministry.
Because these two interconnected miracles about 2 women are so important to the Gospels, I conclude that they are the next in a series of recorded miracles that are written to demonstrate Jesus’ authority over some realm of human existence which has not been already established in past miracles. This means that the core of understanding these miracles is not found in Jesus’ touching the unclean, because this was already introduced to us when Jesus cleansed a leper. It also means that the stories are not primarily lessons in faith. Many miracles involved faith, and in these 2 miracles, like many other examples of Jesus’ healing, faith (like touching) were secondary subjects serving the primary subjects.
By the time they wrote about the woman and the girl, the Gospel writers had already established Jesus’ authority over the world of the unclean, but had not yet demonstrated Jesus’ authority over death. Had these two sandwiched stories been only one story of the little girl who died, I would only be writing this post about Jesus’ authority over the world of the dead. But because these two stories are connected so intimately and because the one story mentions nothing about death, I need to find what really connects the two stories together. And I need to find an authority not yet established in the Synoptic Gospels.
So here is my conclusion:
These two stories are connected with the themes of life and death. The woman and the girl are both given child birthing possibilities from Jesus. The woman lost 12 child bearing years which were given back to her by Jesus. The girl who was 12 years old and on the verge of getting married and having children was given a second chance having her life given back to her. Both of these established that Jesus had authority over the life giving womb.
But his authority did not stop with the womb and therefore with life itself, his authority was also established over death in that he raised the young girl from the dead.
In these two stories, Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that Jesus realm of authority reached into the world and realm of life and death.