The woman with the flow of blood
Pp Mark 5:22-43, Luke 8:41-56
1. The physician, the illness and the tassel
2. Union with Christ
3. Knowing the healing
The ruler’s daughter
1. One of the rulers of the synagogue
2. The aspect of mourning
3. At the house
The knowledge that restricts faith
Both Mark and Luke’s introductory sentences (Mark 5:22, Luke 8:41) which link the preceding event with this one concerning Jairus’ daughter and the woman who was suffering from a haemorrhage, are rather unspecific in securely founding the miracle in the chronological order in which they appear in both books and which differ from the position that Matthew places it in.
Mark and Luke, locate the incident immediately after the deliverance of Legion on the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee and the return to the west side where the crowds welcomed Him back (Mark 5:21, Luke 8:40). Matthew has interposed at least two events that separate them, the healing of the paralytic who’s lowered through the roof and the calling of Matthew with the resultant feast and question from John’s disciples, Mark and Luke placing these at different points in their narrative (Mark 2:1-22, Luke 5:17-39) though they keep together the incidents in the same order.
But Matthew’s introduction appears to demand that the reader accept that the following passage took place immediately after the question put to Jesus by John’s disciples (which appears to be connected chronologically with the call of Matthew the tax collector and the feast which follows - though we cannot be absolutely certain, as all three synoptic Gospels follow this order, it seems the most likely).
When the author states (Mtw 9:18) that
‘While He was thus speaking to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before Him...’
there is a definite link between the passages which indicates that the ruler was in such an immediate need for Jesus to do something quickly that he was willing to forego any pleasantries which may have been expected and to advance into the feast to search Jesus out.
Mark 5:22 tells us that this man, Jairus, was one of the rulers of the synagogue, an even more surprising action for a man such as he to come in to a gathering of ‘tax collectors and sinners’ (Mtw 9:10) when he would automatically be contaminated with ceremonial uncleanness as we saw on an earlier web page. The urgency with which he regards his situation is being adequately demonstrated here and we should be under no illusion that, to this ruler, the matter was of so much importance that a disregard for the old way of worship devised by the scribes and Pharisees was, in his eyes, worth ignoring.
Matthew’s account compared to Mark and Luke’s is sparse to say the least and, leaving the Greek words to one side for the moment, it’s easy to see from a straightforward comparison of the number of verse divisions in each that, once again, Matthew is being as brief as can be (the story is recorded in just 9 verses, whereas Mark’s is in 22 and Luke’s in 16).
Some commentators, probably because of the way in which the Gospels came to be written and compiled, tend to make an error of judgment in their assessment of Matthew’s author. For instance, Mathag comments that
‘Matthew’s characteristic abbreviation of Mark is even more evident here than usual. Matthew seems impatient of Mark’s asides and details and gives only the bare essentials of the story’
which presupposes that Matthew’s account is merely a summary of what Mark writes with more expansion (notably, Matthew even harmonises the ruler’s initial request for Jesus to come and heal his daughter with the news that comes a short time afterwards which announces her death - Mtw 9:18). However, why then does Matthew (9:23) include mention of (my italics)
‘the flute players and the crowd making a tumult’
when Mark 5:38 describes the scene that Jesus saw as
‘...a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly’
(even Luke’s account makes no mention of the flute players). While the second, unitalicised, phrase of Matthew may be taken to be a summation of what Mark’s written, the former can only be taken to be an expansion, an added detail that Matthew has found from somewhere which Mark has omitted.
Simply saying that Matthew has abbreviated Mark, therefore, is incorrect. The complexities of manuscript production cannot have been as simple as, for instance, it is in the mind of some commentators who see Matthew’s Gospel as a precis of Mark’s passages with additional material thrown in that was lacking in his.
Finally, it’s often been wondered why these two incidents of the healing of the haemorrhaging woman and the raising of the dead girl are run together by all three Synoptic Gospel writers. The simple answer - and the one which is the most logical - is that all three writers understood that the two incidents took place in this order, the one interjecting as they record.
There seems to be little similarity between the two incidents otherwise save that the people upon whom the miracles were done were both female and the time period of ‘twelve years’ is both indicative of their condition. The woman who touched Jesus’ garment had had her bodily ailment for twelve years (Mark 5:25) and the daughter who was raised from the dead was twelve years old (Mark 5:42) but the significance of the two pieces of information may be more a coincidence than a reason for the attempt to run the two stories together.
It would appear, then, that the journey’s interruption was really part of the incident laid before us.
The woman with the flow of blood
Mtw 9:20-22 Pp Mark 5:22-24,35-43, Luke 8:41-42,49-56
Matthew gives us the briefest of stories here to summarise the incident which occurred on the way to the ruler’s house - just three verses in modern translations compared with ten in Mark and six in Luke. In Matthew we learn nothing about the money spent on the illness by the woman herself and the incident which occurs after she withdraws from the immediate presence of Jesus is also summarised into just one statement by Jesus that the woman’s faith is what has made her well.
I shall, therefore, be borrowing from the other two parallel passages as we go through the incident to try and give a bit better setting and to attempt to explain some of the cultural considerations which may otherwise pass us by.
The passage is an interruption in the movement of Jesus and His disciples towards the ruler’s house and one that Jairus may have been finding difficulty in accepting. The impeding crowd were hindering Jesus’ advance towards the house badly enough, without the need Jesus felt for having to turn to the crowd to single out one specific individual to speak directly to.
Mark records for us (5:23) that Jairus had said that his daughter was at the point of death and, to him, every second must have seemed like an eternity but, if he did say anything, his words have gone largely unrecorded and it would appear that he was content to allow Jesus the freedom He required to see to whatever confronted itself even in the journey.
So Jesus has time even for the less well thought of in society and even to the point when He’s seemingly busy doing something else and journeying elsewhere. There’s a calmness in the things of the Kingdom here which shouldn’t go unnoticed - to Jesus, it didn’t matter what situation He found upon His arrival at the house because He knew the power of God was well able to come into it and bring about the will of the Father. He isn’t even remotely phased when the news comes to Him that the daughter has just died (Mark 5:35-36) and doesn’t turn to the woman who’s just been healed and say
‘Woman! If you hadn’t’ve delayed me, this man’s daughter would have been restored!’
Simply, Jesus isn’t into making people take guilt trips because He knows the power of God. Therefore, He takes His time when the incident under consideration takes place.
1. The physician, the illness and the tassel
Mark 5:26 gives us some background on the lady in question that she had
‘...suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse’
whereas Luke 8:43 summarises all the ‘cures’ that would have been offered her (both physical and spiritual) by noting simply that she
‘...could not be healed by anyone’
The ‘physician’ of Biblical times could be defined in many ways and it’s not easy to be able to know just how far the woman went in her seeking out of a cure for her bodily ailment. Ancient schools of physicians often mixed spiritual beliefs with physical healing and so, from an early time, demonic influence was ascribed to certain illnesses, incantations and spells being necessary to remove the influences manifested in the sickness.
This is unlikely to have been the case with most of the Jewish physicians of Jesus’ day, however, though certain incapacities such as epilepsy may well have been attributed to the demonic and others assigned to the judgment of God upon an individual.
But herbal remedies were widely known and there would have been many local applications of common plants that were looked to to remove the more common ailments from a person - just as, today, a friend of mine was told to apply mashed potato to her chest when she had a bronchial infection in the Ukraine by one of the locals (and it worked!). There are cures and remedies in the natural world and many people are skilled in the use of such resources - for the christian, however, when that knowledge is linked with spiritual belief that contradicts the pure teaching of the Bible, it’s time to put it to one side and ignore it!
But how far did this lady go? Was she so desperate that she’d ventured to the more ‘spiritually orientated’ healers who relied more on the magical than the physical? Or had she stayed within the boundaries of Judaism and sought out every person she could find who might be able to effect a cure? All that we’re told, however, is that (Mark 5:26) she had
‘...spent all she had...’
and that, even though they had promised to improve her situation, the net result was that she was growing steadily worse.
In her situation, she really had nowhere else to turn to but Jesus.
Her condition - the ‘haemorrhage’ or ‘flow of blood’ spoken of by all three Gospel writers (Mtw 9:20, Mark 5:25, Luke 8:43) - is particularly noteworthy seeing as it links this woman’s incapacity with the theme of uncleanness that we’ve witnessed as recurring throughout these two healing chapters of 8 and 9.
Dealing with the woman’s regular discharge of blood in her menstrual cycle, the OT speaks of the uncleanness of such a time in Lev 15:19 where it notes that
‘When a woman has a discharge of blood which is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening’
But, more than this, the woman’s flow of blood had continued for many days (in fact, twelve years) so that she would have been almost continually unclean if the discharge had taken place at regular enough intervals (though Mathag is one who notes that the discharge of blood may not have been the continuation of her menstrual discharge and speaks only of some ‘haemorrhaging’ with no indication, he says, of the source of that blood). As it says in Lev 15:25-30 (my italics)
‘If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean’
The Law then goes on to speak of the problem of contracting ceremonial defilement by coming into contact with either a chair or a bed on which the woman has either sat or slept but it would appear that the injunction that
‘...whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening...’
which applied to the woman who had the regular menstrual discharge must also apply in this case. Therefore, the woman is a walking source of uncleanness rendering unclean any and all who she comes into contact with - even more surprising, then, had the crowds known of her condition that they would have let her push through them to reach out and touch Jesus.
Anyone who she came into contact with was immediately rendered unclean and it may be that the numbers would have run into tens of people who should have obeyed the Mosaic injunction and become ‘unclean until evening’.
But, like the leper of Mtw 8:1-4, the Law won’t stand in the woman’s way of receiving her healing from Jesus. Indeed, by a strange twist of circumstance, it would appear that she reached out and touched the very reminder of the Law that was sown into Jesus’ garments (though this is not as certain as some would like to make out).
The Law commanded the Israelites to make four tassels for their garments from a cord of blue (Num 15:37-41, Deut 22:12) and to sow them into the ‘corners’ of their garments that they might be reminders to the Jews to remember all the commandments of the Lord and so be careful to do them.
On a future occasion, Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for making
‘...their phylacteries broad and their fringes long’
in order that the size of their piety might be demonstrated before men for their own praise and adoration. Jesus didn’t condemn them for wearing them at all, only for the lengths which they’d gone to to make their righteousness evident. This same Greek word employed here for fringes is the one used in Mtw 9:20 for the ‘fringe’ of the garment (Strongs Greek number 2899) and it seems likely that this is what’s being referred to by the Gospel writer (Luke 8:44 also uses the same word whereas Mark is content only to speak of the woman touching the garment rather than specifying which part it was.
One of the other occurrences of the word is in Mark 6:56 where we have a broad summary of the healing power of Jesus, the author noting that the crowds were content to ‘...touch even the fringe of His garment; and as many as touched it were made well’).
However, the identification of the ‘hem’ with the ‘tassels’ is by no means certain and Luknol informs his readers that
‘...here, where the idea is of only the periphery of the garment, the more general sense “edge, hem” is called for’
Kittels also notes the dual usage and opts for the ‘hem’ being referred to in the present story rather than to any ‘tassels’.
This certainly seems more logical and it’s difficult to see if there was any point that both Matthew and Luke were trying to convey by specifically mentioning the tassels of Jesus’ garment (as Mark fails to mention it, it would appear that they are both not using Mark as their sole point of reference here in their composition of the story - if at all). Against this, however, Lukmor gives a good reason for accepting it to be the tassel when he notes that
‘The fringe will be the tassel on the end of the square garment that was thrown over the left shoulder and hung down the back...We should not think of the lower hem, as this could not be reached in the circumstances’
Perhaps, then, we should accept that the OT tassel is being referred to but there is little or no significance for the story set out before us except, as Mathag informs us, it shows us that
‘Jesus is thus faithful to the Torah in His dress’
How Jesus dealt with similar types of people on different occasions doesn’t always seem to follow a preconceived methodology and this is shown once again here. In Lev 15:28-30, there was a specific procedure laid down in the Law for the cleansing of the woman once the continuing discharge had finished and seven days had elapsed but Jesus, unlike what He commanded the leper to take do (and which was equally justifiable from the Mosaic Law), didn’t subject the woman to the same requirements.
Instead of commanding her (Mtw 8:4) to
‘Go...offer the gift that Moses commanded...’
He simply tells her (Luke 8:48) to
‘...go in peace’
It’s not easy to fully understand why that would have been unless the discharge from her body had largely gone hidden and unconfessed up until that point. As we saw with the case of the ex-leper, it was necessary that the man be pronounced ‘clean’ by the priesthood who had also been the ones who had condemned him to a life of exile away from his inheritance that he might be fully restored back into all that was rightfully his.
That would have been partially necessary for the woman also and, after seven days had elapsed, she would have been obliged to have offered sacrifice in accordance with the Mosaic Law. But, if her incapacity had remained more of a personal problem that had largely gone undisclosed (difficult if the woman was married, it has to be said), there would have been no need for her to be restored into society, having not been ostracised by it - but the reason remains far from certain.
All that can be honestly said is that Jesus didn’t always follow the same methodology in dealing with similar sets of people and in similar situations.
2. Union with Christ
In this passage, the woman reaches out and touches Jesus.
But, in the previous passage of Mtw 8:1-4, where we discussed the approach of the leper, we saw that it was Jesus who took the initiative and reached out towards the ill person to make contact with him.
However, although there is a striking dissimilarity in who holds the initiative, in both these incidents the significant thing is that the same Greek word translated ‘touched’ is used to convey the contact that’s being made between Jesus and the sick (Strongs Greek number 680). We saw in the first passage that the word meant more like ‘to fasten on to’ or ‘to join’ rather than intimating that the most casual of contacts was being made.
Hence, Jesus’ question in Mark 5:30
‘Who touched my garments?’
means more than the disciples understood by it. They only perceived that Jesus was saying that someone had made physical contact with Him and objected to His question on the grounds that there were many who were coming into contact with Him through the pressing of the great crowds that were all around (Mark 5:31).
However, although many people had reached out and touched Jesus, it was only the woman who’d reached out and touched Him with the faith to believe that she would receive what she wanted from Him.
Amazingly, Jesus knew in that instant that something significant had happened because He felt that (Mark 5:30)
‘...power had gone forth from Him’
but it was only this dynamic union with Christ that was at the heart of the woman being able to receive what she wanted from Jesus. Indeed, it’s the believer’s union with Christ that’s at the heart of their relationship with Him and it’s that union that causes the believer to be able to walk closely with Him throughout life. Many people certainly ‘brush passed’ Jesus in this life (and there are many in churches throughout the world who have such a casual experience of Jesus) but only a few ever ‘fasten themselves’ on to Him.
This union had certain effects that we can see clearly in the passage:
Firstly, the woman was healed - where the word being used for her healing (Mtw 9:22) is the regular word for being saved in respect to being brought back into a relationship with God (Strongs Greek number 4982). This is more relevant than briefly noting and passing over its significance - the problem with her incapacity was not so much the illness as its effects it had to her relationship with God.
Just as in the case of the leper (Mtw 8:1-4), what is being removed from the individual is a debarment from being able to come into God’s presence. While the paralytic (Mtw 9:1-8) is already acceptable to God because he has no source of uncleanness in himself, both the woman with the haemorrhage and the leper are people who are unacceptable to God through the unclean state of their life - something that each of them is powerless to address and put right.
Secondly, therefore, the woman was made clean (Cp Mtw 8:3-4). As previously discussed, the woman was considered by the society of her day as an object of uncleanness and, therefore, as someone who should be avoided, who would have been forbidden to come into the presence of the Lord in the Temple.
Although it’s quite clear that such a condition as she had did not compel her to leave society as the leper was obliged to do (Luke 8:43 [marg] tells us that she had spent all her living on physicians which implies an occupation), she would have necessarily have been avoided by all the religious Jews - including the scribes and Pharisees - unless they, too, were to suffer the contracting of ceremonial defilement. The healing of the woman thus addressed not only her physical incapacity but also her spiritual need.
Thirdly, the woman was restored back into God’s family and into a relationship with God.
Jesus’ words are quite significant here for He speaks to the woman by calling her ‘daughter’ (Mtw 9:22) and so shows that she was restored into the family of God through her faith. In identifying the woman who touched Him, Jesus was able to show her that it was her faith that had saved her from her condition and that it was by that faith that she had been restored into fellowship with God and His people.
The phrase used by Jesus in Luke 7:50 to the ‘woman of the city, a sinner’ (Luke 7:37) is the identical one as used by Him in Luke 8:48 where the thought is one of forgiveness and of re-inclusion into the people of God - rather than of healing.
Therefore, what we should be careful to consider here is not just the miracle performed but the effects of the healing given and what it implied as we’ve previously noted above.
Jesus - on more than one occasion - performed miracles and healings upon people with the specific intention of bringing them back into a relationship with God. These were not always solely demonstrations of the miraculous, the true significance of which would not have gone unnoticed by the crowds, but they were healings which pointed towards acceptance by God to all - even the outcast - who came to Him in the person of Jesus Christ.
3. Knowing the healing
There remains an element of the magical in this story that some commentators would shy away from - indeed, that some christians would recoil from in horror. But Mtw 14:36 and Mark 6:56 both record for us the additional information that the sick requested that they might even touch the fringe (or the ‘tassels’ - see above) of His garment in order that they might receive healing from Him and, in Acts 19:12, we read of Paul the apostle at Ephesus that
‘...handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them’
the previous verse describing them as
‘...extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul...’
What needs to be pointed out here, though, is that, as in the case of the woman with the haemorrhage, the recipients’ faith seems to have been rooted not in the act of touching the garment but in the person of Jesus Christ - and of His representative in the case of Paul. I have, personally, been in meetings where little pieces of cloth have been cut up so that the visiting minister could pray over them before their being whisked away to be placed on or near the incapacitated person and such a methodology certainly has a ring of magic to it - even though God still uses it to heal people! But, in the record of the first century Church, the people who were healed appear to have had faith in the person they were reaching out towards and not in the efficacy of the procedure.
In this current incident, the woman most certainly is scared to approach Jesus openly - perhaps even through personal embarrassment - but God sees the heart of faith that trusts in the authority of Christ and so meets her need. Mark 5:27 informs us that
‘She had heard the reports about Jesus...’
so that she appears to have come not because she’d heard that touching the edge of Jesus’ garment could heal a person with her condition but that it was Jesus Himself who was effecting the cures and healings.
The implication, however, is that she’s the only one in the crowd who actually reaches out to touch Jesus and who receives healing - the others may brush passed Him or even reach out and lay hold of Him, but no one else appears to have had the faith of the lady who expected to receive what she’d come for.
Significant here also are the words which tell us that the woman was healed in that instant of touching Jesus and that she knew it. Fair enough if she went home and made an examination to see that her flow of blood had stopped or that she waited a few days to make sure that it didn’t return - but the Scripture states that she knew in that moment she touched Jesus that her illness had been rectified.
Luke 8:44 plainly states that, upon touching Jesus (my italics)
‘...immediately her flow of blood ceased’
and Mark 5:29 puts the knowledge of her condition solely with the lady who was ill when it says that
‘...she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease’
Though the first verse might be misconstrued as implying that she found herself healed and that, at a later examination she discovered that it must have happened at the time she’d touched Jesus, the latter makes it plain that there was a ‘knowledge’ that she acquired at the moment of the touch that gave her the assurance that her body was now made whole.
Although we shouldn’t doubt the possibility that, at a later time when she got back to her house - and, perhaps, on subsequent days - she will have examined her condition to make sure that the healing she received was genuine, when she initially received the healing she knew and declared as much when she was confronted by Jesus.
Healing has got a bad press these last few years and one can see why when one looks at the methodology of some of the preachers who tout it to the masses. Yet, even in these types of meetings, God still moves and performs mighty miracles upon people who have genuine needs. The media have been getting involved here as well, sending people who have no incapacity to be prayed with and to declare that they’ve been miraculously healed, thus bringing into disrepute the healer by their own standards which insist that he should know the physical or mental condition of everyone that comes to him even before he’s asked them what their condition is.
The person who prays for people to be healed has to rely on the person being prayed with to declare whether they have received in their own bodies the healing that they’ve come for though, with people who have a visible incapacity, it should be obvious if a healing from God has been received. It isn’t as obvious to determine when a person sitting in a wheelchair has been planted there by disreputable people who are seeking to discredit the moving of God and, although it would be too glib a statement to say that the person praying should be moving in discernment (I Cor 12:10), it’s evident from the passage we’re discussing that, although Jesus probably didn’t know the physical condition of the lady before she made it known to the crowds (Mark 5:33), He definitely knew (Mark 5:30 see also Luke 8:46) that
‘...power had gone forth from him...’
which testified to the reality of what had transpired. Therefore, perhaps the guiding principle for all healers is that they, also, need to ‘know’ that the healing has taken place before they testify to it - either by seeing the eyes of the blind being opened (that is, physically) or knowing in one’s own heart that such an event has taken place (that is, spiritually). It’s difficult to imagine that a person who is praying for healing will know the genuineness of each and every person who comes to be healed, but there certainly does appear to be a need for spiritual insight to be received in such situations, that the work of God might not be hindered or slandered.
Finally, in Mark 5:33 (Luke 8:47) we read that the woman
‘...knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth’
There are many possible reasons for the presence of fear in the woman’s life as she confesses to what Jesus knows someone’s done - and each of them may be either correct or incorrect! Though there may have been a natural fear of needing to declare what had transpired before the crowd (in much the same way as a young speaker needs to try and eliminate the knocking of his knees on his first preaching engagement), the fear more rightly should be seen as being a response in the woman to having to give an account of her actions to Jesus.
The woman didn’t know that what she’d done was acceptable to Jesus and may well have feared lest she’d transgressed some guidelines in healing that Jesus was even now calling her to confess to be condemned before the crowds. Moreover, we must remember that the woman was a source of uncleanness in her condition (before she was healed) and that whoever she had come into contact with would have been rendered ceremonially unclean and excluded from the presence of the Lord God until sundown (see above).
What she had, therefore, done was necessarily a transgression of the Mosaic Law and it seems best to accept that her fear came about because she knew that what she’d done had a certain air of irresponsibility to it and she was expecting to be rebuked for her attitude.
However, Jesus does nothing of the sort. He’s more concerned to emphasise that it’s her faith that’s healed her (rather than any mystical properties in His garments - Mtw 9:22, Mark 5:34, Luke 8:48) than to remind her of the Mosaic regulations and the stupidity of what she’s just done. Indeed, Jesus’ statement that she ‘go in peace’ seems to negate any recriminations which she may feel at a later date when she stops to consider her actions and the uncleanness which she must have imparted to those around her.
As far as Jesus is concerned, the incident is complete and nothing further needs answering.
The ruler’s daughter
Mtw 9:18-19,23-26 Pp Mark 5:24-34, Luke 8:42-48
The crowds who were pressing all around Jesus would have caused, it would have seemed to the ruler, an unnecessary delay to the advance of Jesus to arrive at his house and heal his daughter. The incident of the woman being healed of the haemorrhage, though a matter of rejoicing amongst the crowd, would hardly have been an incident that would have been likely to have caused the ruler’s impatience to be lessened - and one can appreciate why.
As far as he was concerned, each passing moment was only delaying their arrival back at the house where the life of his daughter was fast slipping away. It doesn’t appear that this was to be the first occasion when death was to confront Him - the raising of the widow of Nain’s only son (Luke 7:11-17) appears to have taken place before this and, as a result of that, it’s recorded (Luke 7:17) that
‘...this report concerning him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country’
Maybe the ruler had already heard the reports concerning what had taken place there, but his concern was to transport Jesus as quickly as he could through the pressing crowds in order that his daughter would be healed from her sickness not raised from the dead.
Mattask notes that
‘The narrative does not necessarily imply that the girl...was raised from death...The girl may have been in a deep coma which her relatives not unnaturally mistook for death’
It would be wrong for us to take these words as showing the unbelief of a respected commentator and to label him as someone who fails to believe in the ability of the power of God to raise the dead. Mattask does not deny that the raising of the dead was part and parcel of the proof that Jesus was the One who was promised (Mtw 11:5 - this statement being one that would indicate that the raising of the dead was not a limited occurrence) and that the disciples were sent out from Him with this as one of their clear objectives (Mtw 10:8).
All the commentator is trying to determine is the true interpretation of the words that are presented to us in this passage without trying to undermine what clearly happened on other occasions such as the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) or of the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:11-18).
Having said that, if those who attended the daughter had thought she’d died as did the mother and the mourners, the family and friends also who would have gathered by now, how was it that Jesus knew that she would be alright and that she was really only comatose (the ‘sleeping’ of Mtw 9:24)? That would imply a knowledge that went beyond the evidence of the eyes that presented itself as they neared the house and against the testimony of the ears which had heard the pronouncement of death previously.
Whether we opt for one or the other, the incident remains no less a miracle (as Mattask would have us accept) but the obvious way to read Matthew’s account is that we are dealing with a genuine incident of someone dying and of Jesus bringing their life back. Besides, Luke 8:55’s ‘her spirit returned’ is difficult to interpret as a resuscitation of someone from a coma - it implies that the girl was no longer in the body but that she came back upon Jesus’ command.
Finally, as noted above, Matthew has the ruler approach Jesus initially and say to Him (Mtw 9:18)
‘...My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live’
whereas both Mark and Luke have the first request from the ruler as being a request for healing the daughter who is still alive, followed by an announcement by a messenger from the house that the daughter has died.
Although some have felt this seriously undermines the authenticity of the Gospel narratives (but is it Luke and Mark who are in error or is it Matthew?!), it really only points towards the brevity of the writer of Matthew in combining the two incidents into one to make his passage as concise as possible so as to include what is important to him - that is, the raising of the dead girl.
Matmor proposes that
‘It may be that we should understand Matthew to mean that the man’s daughter was as good as dead, a view that was shortly confirmed by news of the actual death’
Certainly, the ruler knew that his only child was at death’s door but it’s difficult to accept that he presumed her dead when he was looking to Jesus for an expected healing. The point was that she was close to death but that while she remained alive he knew that Jesus could still restore her to them.
That Matthew has run the two incidents together for brevity’s sake, therefore, seems to be the best answer to the problem.
1. One of the rulers of the synagogue
Jairus is recorded as being ‘a ruler’ by Matthew (9:18) and we might have surmised all manner of differing forms of authority that were directly attributable to him as the word employed is by no means specific, but both Mark and Luke use a technical word (Strongs Greek number 752) which is translated as ‘ruler of the synagogue’ where it occurs both in Mark 5:22 and Luke 8:49.
The position of ‘ruler of the synagogue’ seems to be straight forward to define and apply to Jairus were it not for the assertion in Mark 5:22 that he was
‘...one of the rulers of the synagogue...’
and, in Luke 8:41, that he was
‘...a ruler of the synagogue...’
phrases which indicate that there was more than one ruler of a synagogue. This is difficult to substantiate, however, and it would appear that the ‘board’ of officers who had oversight for the general running of the synagogue could be referred to individually as ‘rulers’ even though they were not the main ‘president’ who presided over meetings and who saw to it that what went on during the services was decent and carried out in good order.
This ‘ruler’ is the position who stood up against Jesus when He healed an infirm woman in a synagogue during a sabbath’s service (Luke 13:14) ruling that such healing constituted work and, as such, it was an affront to God (an interesting example of how doing God’s will can offend God, no less!!). Crispus is also mentioned as the sole ruler over the synagogue of Corinth in Acts 18:8 where it’s noted that both he and his entire household gave themselves over to the Gospel that was being preached amongst them. Mention of Sosthenes in Acts 18:17 as being ‘the ruler of the synagogue’ in Corinth when, just a few verses prior, Crispus is declared as such has numerous explanations but it certainly would appear as if there was just a single ruler who was in charge of the synagogue’s meetings and who had the sole oversight for permitting what took place.
Ungers defines the ruler’s duties as including
‘...appointing who should read the Scriptures [see Luke 4:16 for a place where Jesus would have been selected to do such a thing] and the prayer and summoning fit persons to preach; to see that nothing improper took place in the synagogue...and to take charge of the synagogue building’
However, Acts 13:15 tells us that, after a synagogue meeting had been continuing for some time
‘...the rulers of the synagogue sent to [Paul and his friends]...’
indicating a plurality of rulers present within the meeting. Zondervan notes that the phrase ‘ruler of the synagogue’
‘...by the first Christian century was more commonly applied to the Jewish officials and by the fifth century exclusively so’
Therefore, the most we can really say about Jairus’ title is that he was almost certainly not the main ruler who had sole control over the way a synagogue’s meeting went but that he was a part of a more general ‘body’ of officers who presided over all aspects of the synagogue’s day to day running.
2. The aspect of mourning
There are numerous attitudes of mourning associated with the death of loved ones - not only in the NT but throughout the Bible - but, apart from the personal grief that the ruler must have been feeling as the news of his daughter’s death was brought to him (Mark 5:35, Luke 8:49), it’s difficult to see how too much preparation could have been made at that specific time, seeing as the daughter’s death would have taken place only a short time before their arrival at the house.
Even so, the official mourners had still had time to be assembled, hired and to begin to lament the death of the ruler’s daughter (Mtw 9:23, Mark 5:38, Luke 8:52), presumably through the action of the mother who appears not to have accompanied her husband on the journey to find Jesus. Had they been sincere mourners who were present because they felt the sorrow of the parents and were reacting from the emotions in their own hearts, their reaction of laughter at Jesus’ pronouncement that the girl wasn’t dead but sleeping (Mark 5:40, Luke 8:53) would have been expected to be more one of anger and outrage than mirth.
Although there are numerous sources to outline what one would have expected to have taken place on the day of burial (which was normally the same day due to the decomposition of the body in the heat of the region) and in the more orderly arrangements associated with it, it seems all that had begun to occur here was that the necessary preliminary arrangements had been started until the head of the household, the father Jairus, returned from his quest to find Jesus.
It would have been natural for the ruler to have rent his inner garments (a cultural sign of inner grief - Lev 10:6) upon the receipt of the bad news from his household (Mark 5:35) but Jesus’ swift interjection (5:36) may have prevented him from having time to perform such a culturally accepted act of sorrow. Certainly, if the Man whom Jairus had trusted to heal his daughter was assuring him of the positive outcome of the situation (Luke 8:50), he could only continue to believe that there was a twist to the story line that even he couldn’t realise at that time.
Anyway, what did he have to lose?
That ‘flute-playing’ is mentioned by Matthew alone appears to be significant here and is an addition which counteracts the popular belief that the author simply precised Mark (as noted above), but it points towards the Jewish feel to this Gospel.
Flute-playing, although associated with the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Temple at Jerusalem (Sukkah 5:1), is specifically mentioned at the time of the burial of and mourning over the dead in the Mishnah - Jer 48:36 also seems to parallel its usage with the lamenting of the dead.
Though Shabbath 23:4 may be a little inconclusive as to the application of the ‘dirge’ when it mentions that
‘If a Gentile brought the flutes on the Sabbath an Israelite may not play dirges on them unless they had been brought from near by’
Ketuboth 4:4 records for us the opinion of Rabbi Judah who comments that
‘Even the poorest in Israel should hire not less than two flutes and one wailing woman [at his daughter’s burial]’
This also indicates that there would have been professional mourners who were to be employed on an ‘as needed’ basis. If the poorest had to employ at least two flautists and one female weeper, we shouldn’t have too much problem in imagining the quantity of both that may have been employed by one of the ‘rulers of the synagogue’ (Mark 5:22) who would probably have been among the wealthier of the Jews in that area (I wonder if they still got paid after the raising of the daughter from the dead?).
Although the Mishnah is fairly reserved in its mention of the flute, an interesting short snippet occurs in Kinnim 3:6 where Rabbi Joshua cites an ancient proverb which says that
‘While [a beast] lives it has but one voice; after it is dead its voice is multiplied sevenfold...’
going on to explain that the truth of the statement lies in the fact that, upon its death
‘Its two horns become two trumpets, its two leg-bones become two flutes, its hide becomes a drum, its entrails are used for lyres and its chitterlings for harps’
Flutes were not made exclusively from animal bones, however, for Kelim 11:6 notes that
‘If a...double flute...[is] made of metal [it is] susceptible to uncleanness’
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to determine if there were any preferred materials from which a flute played at a funeral would have been made!
We have just noted from Ketuboth 4:4 in the Mishnah that there was a minimum requirement (more like advice than a command) of both flutes and mourners at a poor man’s funeral for their daughter and that this indicated that there was a section of Israelite society that provided a service as professional mourners who would bewail the dead who, it would appear, they may have known very little about (a bit like the minister who stands up in front of the crowds to tell them about the departed who he’s only ever met when the adult was being sprinkled as a child - though first century mourners put more emotion into it).
Zondervan sees the institution of such a group of people as taking place during the latter part of the OT at a time possibly shortly before the exile of Israel into Babylonian captivity. Although some of their Scripture quotations could be taken to be referring to something other than professional mourners and their attributes, there seems to be no doubt over the meaning of Jer 9:17-18 which has YHWH say to His people
‘...Consider, and call for the mourning women to come; send for the skilful women to come; let them make haste and raise a wailing over us, that our eyes may run down with tears, and our eyelids gush with water’
which presupposes their existence throughout the land and which places the origin of such a type of people numerous years before this moment. This seems to have continued throughout the years as the departure of the dead was seen as something of great significance (as, indeed, it is), a transition of one existence into another - though just what that next life might be was variously understood by differing religions and even amongst different people within the Jewish community.
But the presence of mourners shows us that everything has been done in keeping with Jewish tradition and the next stage, no doubt, is that, upon the return of Jairus, the final funeral directions would be made and the girl would be taken out to be buried in a family tomb.
The arrangements that had already been made by the time Jesus arrived may have been very ostentatious judging by the normal practice of the time before the reforming of funerary traditions was undertaken by Rabbi Gamaliel. Edersheim in his ‘Sketches of Jewish Social Life’ notes that
‘At one time the wasteful expenditure connected with funerals was so great as to involve in serious difficulties the poor, who would not be outdone by their neighbours. The folly extended not only to the funeral rites, the burning of the spices at the grave and the depositing of money and valuables in the tomb but even to the luxury in the wrappings of the dead body. At last a much-needed reform was introduced by Rabbi Gamaliel who left directions that he was to be buried in simple linen garments’
This Gamaliel is probably the same as being referred to in Acts 5:34 and the reform would probably not yet have begun to seep its way through Israelite society as the funeral rites would only have been witnessed sometime in the future. This leaves scope for the scene which presents itself to Jesus and the disciples to have been one which was so ostentatious as to swallow up their approach as insignificant and we should, perhaps, think of the laughing crowds (Luke 8:53) as being a multitude rather than a small group of friends and family who had gathered for the occasion.
We like to think of Jesus as being good at everything, prompted by the verse in Mark 7:37 which records for us the voice of the crowd who say of Jesus that
‘He has done all things well; He even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak’
but we shouldn’t forget that at one thing in particular, Jesus was a failure - that is, at doing the generally accepted thing at each and every funeral He ever attended. Indeed, had He taken up the career of undertaking, His business would soon have gone into liquidation and the receivers brought in to give it the last rites.
The NT records for us that Jesus attended just four funerals in His lifetime and that, at each one, He totally disrupted the proceedings. Here, the daughter of Jairus is raised from the dead when they’re preparing the first arrangements for the burial then, in Luke 7:11-18 (an incident which probably takes place before the current passage under discussion), he meets a funeral procession coming towards Himself and the disciples from out the city as He journeys in and raises the dead only son of the mother back to life.
Later in His ministry, He meets up with another corpse near Jerusalem, in Bethany, a man who went by the name of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). This man was already well-known to Jesus and, by the time Jesus arrived, was well-dead, too, having been in the grave for four days (John 11:39). But that didn’t stop Jesus from disrupting the mourning there, either.
Finally, even at His own funeral, when Jesus had the ultimate opportunity to show that He could do what was expected of Him and stay dead, He rose from the grave on the third day.
Each funeral, therefore, that Jesus ever attended, He disrupted - but, by doing so, He brought life out from death and joy from mourning.
Jesus would have made the world’s worst undertaker.
3. At the house
I have dealt with the presence of the mourners in the previous article above and of the content of Jesus’ statement to them which they take with ridicule (as would have been expected by people who cared more about themselves than the happiness of the family).
In the final section, I will take a broad overview of the way that knowledge restricts us being able to demonstrate faith in the will of God and will cover both the statement of the man who comes from Jairus’ house with the bad news and the mourner’s reactions.
There seems little left to comment on here as the narrative is straightforward, apart from a few points which caught my attention and which don’t necessarily appear in Matthew’s text.
Firstly, one of the minor points that’s intrigued me about this story and which doesn’t appear to be part of the main thrust of the narrative, is Jesus’ insistence that, once the girl is raised from the dead, she be given something to eat (Luke 8:55, Mark 5:43 - the point is missing from Matthew but this is not surprising considering the author’s brevity).
One would have expected the room to have been filled with awe and praise to God or, perhaps better, stupefaction and bewilderment accompanied by a weakening of the knees and the odd incident of unconsciousness - but, no. Jesus turns to the parents and tells them to give the girl something to eat. In Luke’s record, Jesus actually commands them to do this, something that’s a little bit stronger than the mere suggestion that the girl may be hungry.
The incident reminds me of a group of young christians who had got up early one morning to pray - and I mean really early - whereupon God’s presence had seemed so tangible and real to them as they met together that they concluded their time together as if they were walking on air and that nothing would be a problem that day in their ‘mission’ to go out on the Lord’s work.
Just as they were about to break up and each go their own way, however, one of them was gripped by a word from Jesus to the group and, wanting to know what it was, they gathered around to listen to their colleague speak. It was quite a simple word - and extremely short - but it ran
‘Don’t forget to have breakfast’
and that was it. They may have had spiritual nourishment that morning but God also wanted to remind them to take something for their physical needs before they went their way on His business!
So, was that all that Jesus was saying? That the parents shouldn’t get caught up in the euphoria of it all and so make sure that their daughter was fed?
Most commentators I’ve read feel this is just about the sum total of the direction, Lukmor summing up the consensus of opinion that
‘Even at the moment of a stupendous miracle, He does not overlook the importance of practical details’
but I think His instruction goes a little bit deeper than that. In Luke 24:36-43, after the resurrection when Jesus stood amongst the disciples, there appears to have been doubt in the disciples’ minds as to what form Jesus had come back to them in so, to demonstrate that He had been raised with His body, He told them (Luke 24:39)
‘See My hands and My feet, that it is I myself; handle Me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have’
going on to prove His statement by asking them (Luke 24:41-43)
‘...“Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate before them’
So, the proof that He was now back amongst them in a physical form was by Him eating something of this world before them. Though they may have imagined that, in some manner we are unaware of, He could be present with them as a spirit (Acts 12:15 speaks of Peter’s angel being a possible explanation for his voice outside the door - something that we simply do not understand in the context of its first century setting and which we would be wrong to imagine is actually a statement that we could build a doctrine on!), He demonstrated He was physically present by absorbing something that was ‘in this life’
This appears to be the reason behind Jesus’ statement, therefore, and would presuppose that the parents of the child (and, perhaps, the three disciples present) were thinking along similar lines. The eating of something tangible would be enough proof to them that their daughter was back with them. Luknol summarises this well when he comments that
‘The life that is restored and affirmed by Jesus is the life that is rooted in the materiality of the world, the life in which we need food for our bodies. It is this full life which has been restored, not merely the life of a ghostly apparition’
Of course, we may be reading too much into this command by Jesus - but there are grounds for believing that it was a reassurance that a bodily restoration had taken place.
Secondly, Jesus tells the parents (Mark 5:43)
‘...that no one should know this...’
and that they were (Luke 8:56)
‘...to tell no one what had happened’
even though we learn from Matthew alone (Mtw 9:26) that
‘...the report of this went through all that district’
This miracle - unlike, for instance, that of the cleansing of the leper (Mtw 8:1-4) - could not have realistically been kept quiet. Especially when the professional mourners would have been sacked almost immediately and the daughter would have been seen walking about in the house, apparently free from any ill effects.
The mourners - as well as the gathering friends and family members - would necessarily have known that something strange had just taken place and would, no doubt, have been the ones who were responsible for spreading the news as Matthew reports (I wonder if the mourners’ line was something like ‘That Jesus is going to put us all out of business’?). But the charge to tell no one wasn’t given to them - it was given to the three disciples who were present (James, John and Peter), to the mother and father and, probably to a lesser extent because she may not have known what had happened, to the daughter.
As Marklane comments
‘These five received the privilege of a special revelation which they were not to share with others. The secret is, accordingly, “a witnessed secret” which is to be kept from others whom Jesus had excluded’
After all, a ruler of the synagogue would have known that Messiah was to prove Himself by the raising of the dead and this demonstrable revelation couldn’t be denied. Certainly, if we are to limit Jesus’ restriction of him telling about the incident, we may feel that the revelation they’ve just had that Jesus is the One promised is what He means - and this is by no means impossible.
However, more naturally, it would be taken to mean the actual events. To this band of five, therefore, the events of what had just transpired were to remain hidden. Perhaps, then, when Jesus and His three followers left the house, Jairus simply dismissed the mourners with their required fee, apologised for having called them and settled back with his wife and daughter for the rest of the day. That questions would be asked of him later is quite certain and how far he felt he could say what had happened is difficult to imagine - but, in this case, there appears to be no reason why we shouldn’t accept that he remained faithful to the spirit of Jesus’ words.
Finally, we have seen throughout chapters 8 and 9 that Jesus has gone after contradicting the ideas men and women had about ceremonial uncleanness as He’s moved about the region of Galilee and dealt with the people who’ve come to Him.
The unclean leper, Jesus grips tightly and so risks contamination (8:1-4); the centurion’s house He’s willing to enter to heal a sick servant when such an act would have rendered Him unclean (8:5-13); He travels to the Decapolean region of Galilee where, by setting foot on their soil, He renders Himself unclean (8:28-34); He associates Himself with tax collectors and risks defilement by being in their presence (9:9-13).
Just when you think that Jesus has just about contravened every cleanliness rule and regulation, He proceeds to do two more...
Firstly, He’s touched by a woman who’s unclean and who would therefore impart her uncleanness to whoever she came into contact with (including the crowd - 9:20-22). Although this isn’t a direct action of Jesus in reaching out towards someone, it shows just how ceremonial uncleanness could have been contracted in Israelite society by the religious Jew and just how much importance needed to be placed upon any male to endeavour to stay as far away from contact with a woman as possible in case, for some reason, menstrual uncleanness was passed on unknowingly (Lev 15:19).
Secondly, and more deliberately, Jesus goes out of His way to touch a corpse (Lev 22:4), something that a religious Jew may have found need to do but which would, nevertheless, have caused him to become unclean before God.
But neither of these are of any problem to Jesus because, through Him, death is being swallowed up by life. This is the principle already described in my notes on the Feast of Tabernacles under the heading ‘Simchat Beth ha-She’ubah’ where Jesus speaks about the Living Water that was to flow from a believer’s life, dispelling all death and uncleanness before it and imparting the presence of God.
What the believer was to receive from Pentecost onwards (Acts chapter 2), Jesus is here demonstrating for all to see.
The knowledge that restricts faith
I would wholeheartedly agree that, at times, the christian thinks too much - whether that be the logic which negates the known will of God or the quest for knowledge which undermines what God wishes to do both in and through the person.
Commentaries such as this one may also impart knowledge and inform the believer as to the meaning of texts and passages so that they may grow to know Jesus more fully, but they can’t impart faith which comes as a response to the revealed will of God and which will cause them to do mighty things for the Lord God.
Christianity is primarily the religion of experience and revelation, supplemented by knowledge which should come about through the former two principles. Too often, however, knowledge is placed over and above the former and a type of christian legalism pervades entire groups of people which detracts from a dynamic relationship with God. Even more common in the present day, it would appear, is a too tight devotion to the former attitudes of experience and revelation without the quest for knowledge so that, after a short while, what a believer receives is distorted because they have no solid framework which should define their experience and show them whether what they think is being received from God is either genuine or bogus.
In the passage under discussion, we can see demonstrated the knowledge which restricts faith in at least three of the characters mentioned, where the factual information which they presented or considered was sufficient was actually a hindrance to the will of God being done.
Firstly, there was Peter and the disciples (Luke 8:45-46).
Peter had seen great crowds around Jesus, pressing to get close to Him, maybe even trying to reach out and touch Him. No doubt it was Peter and some of the other disciples who were trying to hold them back so that Jesus would have as unhindered walk as possible to the ruler’s house. There could be no doubt in Peter’s mind or in anyone else’s that many people had ‘brushed against’ Jesus or who even had ‘touched Him’. Peter’s natural knowledge, however, restricted the spiritual truth of Jesus’ words that one person in particular had touched Him in faith with the result that power had come forth from Him to meet their need.
Peter’s knowledge, then, restricted his perception of spiritual truth and caused him to even disagree with Jesus’ statement to the disciples with a logic that couldn’t be denied.
Secondly, the man who came from Jairus’ house (Luke 8:49).
The man seems to have believed that Jesus was able to heal the sick but, when the life departed from the young girl, he didn’t believe that Jesus could do anything in the situation. The man restricted what Jesus would be asked to do and so restricted what He believed was possible - it was his own concept of Jesus’ authority which was lacking.
The man is similar to ourselves for we too believe that God is able to do something in our situation until things go wrong according to our own concept of how things should happen, so that we fail to be able to imagine God ever being able to intervene on our behalf.
The man’s knowledge, then, restricted his belief in the demonstration of God’s power.
Thirdly, there were the mourners, the superficially religious (Luke 8:52-53, II Tim 3:5).
Jesus’ statement that the little girl was only sleeping (that is, that her death was not to be considered as being permanent) sent the mourners into derisive, mocking laughter. Their knowledge that the girl was dead made them disbelieve the truth of Jesus’ words. But, worse than this, they weren’t just unbelievers of the truth but mocked the very power of God by failing to believe that such a miracle was possible.
Their reasoning caused them to be unable to see a demonstration of God’s power for they were put outside by Jesus while He went in to raise the girl from the dead (Mark 5:40).
The crowds’ knowledge had restricted their belief in the power and truth of God’s word.
A similar event occurred in Mtw 13:53-58 where the people of Nazareth who had known Jesus before He was anointed with the Holy Spirit were unable to conceive of ‘this man’ as having been given such authority from God. Their unbelief actually restricted their faith in God’s power so that they failed to see any great move of God - a warning for each and every established church the world over. It’s not sufficient to have faith in God to see Him move - sometimes, our familiarity with the things of God is the very reason we don’t see God moving.
Contrastingly, Ezekiel 37:1-14 demonstrates to us that the prophet was able to conquer his cerebral knowledge which told him that it was impossible for dry bones to live again and so broke through into faith, prophesying God’s word into existence even though his head may have been struggling with the exact dynamics of such a thing!
Knowledge needn’t restrict a believer and it’s quite true that brains should be employed to acquire information and learning (wherever possible!) but the problem with all our perceptions of the nature of situations is that we believe the testimony of our eyes over and above what God often wills to do.
Knowledge, then, should always be subjected to the will of God, knowing that God’s power can change the consequences of our natural perceptions and revolutionise our lives.
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