The healing of Jairus’ daughter – a few thoughts (Mark 5:21-43)

The Raising of Jairus's Daughter, 1885 (oil on canvas)I’ve long been intrigued by the episode in the gospels where Jesus is called by a synagogue leader called Jairus to heal his sick daughter. On the way he meets another woman – a woman who doesn’t even speak to him, but simply touches his cloak and is healed. The whole episode is fascinating – you can read it here.

What I find fascinating about it is, why are these two episodes put together? Does it have any particular meaning, or is it just there because it simply happened like that? I think there are good reasons to believe they are linked.

There are at least two reasons to believe they are linked. One clue is that they both involve the same element of time – twelve years. The woman who had been suffering with bleeding had, we are told, been suffering for twelve years. And the little girl who was brought back to life was twelve years old. Why does Mark feel the need to include these details – it’s not as if they are really necessary to the story?

The second clue is that both of the women healed are called daughters. Jairus of course talks about his daughter. However, in v34 Jesus describes the woman who had been suffering ‘daughter’. This is a highly unusual thing for Jesus to call anyone – in fact this is the only incident in the four gospels where he calls anyone ‘daughter’ (the incident is also recorded in Luke and Matthew, where Jesus also uses the word).
What does all this mean? I think the reason these things have been recorded in this way is to help us to understand what is going on under the surface.

The problem for the woman suffering from the bleeding was not simply a physical issue: anything to do with blood would have made you ceremonially unclean. She would have lived separately from the people, and – more importantly – separately from God. She would have been unable to come into the temple to worship and offer sacrifices. In a sense, her life was a kind of ‘living death’ – she was separated from God and from her neighbours.

Jairus’ daughter, on the other hand, had no such physical issue – but perhaps we are meant to draw a connection between them. Other passages in the Bible describe us as being “dead in transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) – that is, although we may have biological life, we are spiritually dead before God.

When Jesus commends the woman, he says: “your faith has healed you.” And he tells Jairus: “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” In other words, it wasn’t the act of touching which brought healing – it was faith in Jesus.

At the end of the episode, it’s notable that the word ‘daughter’ is not used: ‘the child’ is used instead – whereas she is called Jairus’ daughter twice beforehand. It’s a subtle way of emphasizing a change in status – the primary thing about the child used to be that she was a daughter of Jairus: now she is a daughter of someone else.

Putting all of this together, I think we have two women in very different circumstances – yet Jesus does the same for both of them. Jesus heals them, gives them new life, and makes them daughters. As John says, “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Both of them were spiritually dead, and were given spiritual life through faith. One of them comes to Jesus, and for the other Jesus comes to them – illustrating the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. This story illustrates for me the depth and richness of the gospels: a simple story which can be read entirely at face value – and yet, when you start to probe into it, yields a much more complex story. I’m sure there’s much more you could say about it, but those are a few of my thoughts for now!