Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
The OT reading and the gospel reading for this Sunday are a study in contrasts. Second Samuel begins with David’s song lamenting the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, who died in battle against the Philistines on Mt. Gilboa at the end of 1Samuel. Those familiar with 1 & 2 Samuel know that a host of conflicting motives flow through David over the course of his life. The political, the religious, and the personal combine in complex ways in this future king of Israel. In this case, I suggest that his grief for both men seems completely sincere.
This is unsurprising when one thinks of the abiding friendship between David and Jonathan. Theirs was a “wonderful love,” “surpassing the love of women.” It is David’s equally sincere grief over Saul which is striking. For some time, Saul had been trying to kill David. As a fugitive from Saul, David had even gone so far as to work for the Philistines as a sort of mercenary. Despite Saul’s animus towards him, David refused to treat Saul as his enemy, sparing his life on multiple occasions. Whatever relief David may have felt at the demise of his tormentor, it is overshadowed by the loss of Saul and Johnathan. Perhaps David’s mourning is so intense because he was unreconciled to Saul and exiled from Jonathan when they died.
This calls to mind so many scenes that we have witnessed over the past 18 months as COVID claimed the lives of people who were isolated from the very friends and relatives they would have most wanted to engage in their final days and hours.
This sadness in the face of death is in sharp contrast to our gospel reading. Jesus forestalls the death of Jairus’ daughter and he seems to radiate such healing power that an unnamed woman with hemorrhages only needs to touch Jesus’ clothing to be healed. Both Jairus and the woman share a level of desperation, Jairus for his daughter and the woman for herself. They also share an almost ferocious confidence in Jesus’ capacity to heal. Their concern is whether Jesus is willing to heal them. This is similar to the leper who comes to Jesus in 1:40 saying, “if you are willing you can make me clean.”
As one of the leaders of the synagogue, Jairus would have been a man of some stature in the community. In order to discern Jesus’ willingness to heal he takes the direct approach, falling at Jesus’ feet and begging repeatedly. He must have been relieved when Jesus agrees to go with him.
The woman, who is known to us only by her ailments, shares Jairus’ confidence in Jesus’ capacity to heal. She, however, lacks Jairus’ social standing. Moreover, her hemorrhage would have made her ritually unclean and would have made anyone she touched unclean as well. As she is socially isolated from her fellow Jews, she assumes that Jesus will not willingly touch her, but if she can touch him…
This episode of two healings concludes with Jesus admonishing Jairus and his family to tell nobody about this incident. In our world, where no incident or thought goes unrecorded and unremarked upon, this is extremely strange. It is strange even within Jesus’ world. Especially in the first half of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus often orders someone he has just restored to health to “tell no one.” It is clear that this is as ineffective as it is odd.
I don’t know if there is a single way to make sense of this Marcan phenomenon. Nevertheless, if we contrast this reading with the reading from 2 Samuel, some things may come into better focus. Although both Jairus and the woman seem most interested in Jesus’ willingness to direct his power on their behalf, Jesus seems most interested in their faith or confidence in him. He tells the woman, “Your faith has made you well.” He tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” When Jesus cannot do any work of great power, it is because of unbelievable unbelief of the people of Nazareth (Mk: 6:6).
It would be fairly easy for a reader of Mark to assume that if one simply believes that Jesus can heal, one will be healed by Jesus. From that it might well follow that failure to be healed is a sign that one has not believed or not believed enough. In this way of looking at things, faith, confidence, or belief in Jesus can become a product of our own will power through which we can access healing from Jesus. Any failures to be healed are on us.
Those orders from Jesus to “tell no one about this,” may be small indicators that Mark inserts into his gospel to remind us to be very careful about what we say about Jesus the healer; to not say more than we actually know; to be hesitant to infer too much. This becomes especially important for those of us, like Mark’s first readers, who live in that time between Jesus’ resurrection and the final reconciliation of all things under Christ’s lordship.
Although we live in the light of Easter and Pentecost, our time shares much with David’s. We will shed tears in the face of death; we will know the pain of being separated and alienated from others; we will live as pilgrims on the way to our true home. At the same time, we also rejoice in healings, reconciliations and foretastes of the kingdom as we long for that day when God will wipe all tears from our eyes.
Image Credit: Ilya Repin, The Resurrection of Jairus’ Daughter