In performing the miraculous cure of the woman with haemorrhages and the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, Jesus teaches that great graces are granted to those who have more faith.
Gospel – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him, and He stayed close to the sea. 22 One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing Him he fell at His feet 23 and pleaded earnestly with Him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay Your hands on her that she may get well and live.” 24 He went off with him, and a large crowd followed Him and pressed upon Him.
25 There was a woman afflicted with haemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus and came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak. 28 She said, “If I but touch His clothes, I shall be cured.” 29 Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30 Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from Him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched My clothes?” 31 But His disciples said to Jesus, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon You, and yet You ask, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32 And He looked around to see who had done it. 33 The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told Him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
35 While He was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher any longer?” Disregarding the message that was reported, 36 Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” 37 He did not allow anyone to accompany Him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, He caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 So He went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 And they ridiculed Him. Then He put them all out. He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with Him and entered the room where the child was. 41 He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” 42 The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded. 43 He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat (Mk 5:21-43).
I – The Account of St. Mark
Mark the Evangelist stands out for the simplicity of his descriptions. His commentaries are sparse and forthright; He elaborates his narratives concisely, with little recourse to literary technique, as we have observed in previous articles. However, in the verses selected for the Liturgy of the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, these characteristics do not prevent him from describing Jesus’ marvellous deeds vividly and eloquently. He surprises us with a wealth of detail that makes the scenes truly captivating, and almost dispenses with the need for further commentary. Notwithstanding, the profundity of the Word of God always enables the highlighting of certain aspects that can touch the soul.
In setting out, it is important to consider that this passage sets Our Lord Jesus Christ’s humanity in high relief. While St. John’s writings reveal a distinct concern with emphasizing the divinity of the Saviour, without losing sight of the human side, we notice the harmoniously opposite intention in the narratives of St. Mark. We know that the former composed his Gospel motivated by the struggle against the gnostic heresies of his time. What reason prompted this disciple of St. Peter to follow the opposite path? Let us consider the sacred text.
II – Harmony between Divinity and Humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him, and He stayed close to the sea.
Christ had just expelled a Legion of demons from the possessed man of Gerasa (cf. Mk 5:1-16), in an extraordinary manifestation of power. One of them, the mouthpiece of the impure spirits, begged Jesus not to send them out of that region, but to order them to enter a herd of swine that was feeding nearby. When He gave them leave, the animals immediately rushed into the sea and were drowned. After counselling the exorcized man to return to his friends and proclaim everything that the Lord had done for him (cf. Mk 5:19), the Teacher set out to cross the Sea of Galilee. Before reaching the other shore, news of His arrival had spread, for at that time, although virtually only verbal communication existed, news spread like wildfire. When He alighted from the boat, the beach was full of people wishing to see Him and to drink in His doctrine.
A synagogue official untouched by pharisaic prejudice
22 One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing Him he fell at His feet 23 and pleaded earnestly with Him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay Your hands on her that she may get well and live.” 24 He went off with him, and a large crowd followed Him and pressed upon Him.
Having the status of synagogue official, Jairus surely had titles and a good social position. However, aware that his knowledge was as nothing compared with the wisdom of Our Lord, for whom he fostered true admiration, he sought Jesus in order to beseech Him to cure his dying daughter. When he saw Jesus, he knelt before Him – proof of complete submission – and, acknowledging His strength and power, entreated Him to lay His hands on the girl. It was customary for priests to lay their hands on the sick when praying for them, a practice also adopted by Jesus on various occasions (cf. Mk 6:5; 8:23, 25; etc.). Because of his faith, Our Lord chose to heed his request.
As He set off toward Jairus’ house, the Divine Physician was followed by a large crowd that “pressed upon Him,” for everyone was eager to approach Him, to hear His words or to make requests.
A woman who was living a slow death
25 There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
Blood is the sign of life and, naturally, a gradual loss of blood signifies the waning of life. This woman had spent all that she had on many treatments, but the doctors had not succeeded in curing her; instead, they had reduced her to penury. She had knocked on every door to no avail, and we can easily imagine the sufferings she endured due to the meagre resources of the time! But, despite these failures, she kept her spirits up and her hope alive.
Faith and constancy to obtain the cure
27 She had heard about Jesus and came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak. 28 She said, “If I but touch His clothes, I shall be cured.” 29 Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
This verse typifies Jesus’ great fame among the people; it was widely held that it was enough to touch His garment or to fall under His shadow to be healed – undoubtedly, a resounding glory!
Encouraged by the reports she had heard about Our Lord, this woman of robust faith thought to herself: “Here is the solution!”, and she decided to touch the Divine Redeemer’s cloak, fully convinced that this alone would resolve her problem. She could have reasoned that a cry from afar would have served; but the faith that God planted in her soul made her aware that this grace required her to “touch His clothes.” In this way, it would be obvious that her health had come from Our Lord, eliminating any suspicion that it had been granted by the intervention of an Angel or any other factor.
Now, the poor woman feared to present herself before the Messiah, not only due to timidity, but because she knew that the circumstances did not favour voicing her request, since this illness had made her legally impure (cf. Lv 15:25). Let us bear in mind that women, at that time, and particularly among the Israelites, were relegated to an inferior plane on the social scale. It would be inappropriate for a daughter of the Chosen People to adopt an attitude such as that of the Canaanite woman (cf. Mk 7:24-30; Mt 15:21-28) – a pagan, exempt from Jewish customs – who came to Him crying out dramatically to implore His aid. But faith urged the sick woman on. And so, despite the pressing multitude, she gradually drew closer until she noticed, perhaps after several attempts, an opening through which she extended her arm and managed to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. Instantly, she was cured.
This passage teaches us that, at times, to obtain a special grace we must persevere despite the difficulties; enduring jostling, contempt, and even rejection.
Human question, with divine intention
30 Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from Him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched My clothes?” 31 But His disciples said to Jesus, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon You, and yet You ask, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32 And He looked around to see who had done it.
At first sight, Mark’s expression is somewhat puzzling: “aware at once that power had gone out from Him.” In fact, on account of His divine, infallible, and ever-present knowledge, Jesus was cognizant of everything. How can it be explained that He perceived something of which He could not have been ignorant? In His humanity, by experiential knowledge, He confirmed that which He had seen from all eternity, as God. The Evangelist highlights this detail to transmit a clear vision of Our Lord’s human side, after having made His divinity evident by the instantaneousness of the cure.
He could have let the woman depart, yet He chose to ask who had touched Him, in order to heighten the attention of the Apostles and to invite the woman to give testimony, as St. Jerome affirms: “Did the Lord by chance not know who had touched Him? Why then did He seek her? Clearly He knew, but He wanted her to declare herself. […] If He had not pronounced the question […], no one would have known that He had performed a miracle. […] For this reason He asked the question, so that the woman would publicly acknowledge Him and God would be glorified.”1 The God-Man thus demonstrated that He had worked the cure, preventing the devil from planting in the mind of the beneficiary the idea that the occurrence had been mere coincidence or the result of psychological power, as the rationalists maintain in analysing such episodes.
Faith and love win divine life
33 The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told Him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
Instead of withdrawing quickly to escape an embarrassing situation, the woman chose to accuse herself, perhaps fearing to lose the health that had been restored to her, if she did not do so. Accordingly, she knelt before Jesus, trembling, but confiding in His mercy, and related what had happened. Her praiseworthy conduct shows that she was a humble person, with an upright conscience even tending to scrupulosity, for she believed she had stolen something from Our Lord and wished to return it, without, however, the benefit being taken from her.
The Saviour’s reply prompts the conjecture that He looked upon her with great benevolence and kindness. He called her “daughter,” which means that she came to enjoy His divine nature. Indeed, at that instant she had such enthusiasm and admiration –even adoration – for the Son of God, that sanctifying grace was infused in her. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches,2 when the rational creature directs himself to the due end, he is already justified. Supernatural life is introduced into those who are captivated and enchanted by something superior to the point of loving it more than themselves. St. John Chrysostom comments: “for her faith had made her truly a daughter.”3 What glory she received with this title from the lips of Our Lord Jesus Christ!
At the same time, the words “your faith has saved you” denote that her cure was also due to this virtue. It is faith that unites us to God, and that is why those who possess it to an eminent degree attain power from on high. Undeniably, Jesus could have cured her solely by His omnipotent will. But He made His working of miracles conditional on the faith – at times strong, at others weak – that He found in souls.4 When faith was lacking, He normally did not perform a miracle (cf. Mk 6:5). It is not related, for example, that any of the Pharisees who approached Our Lord were cured…
Our Lord urges the afflicted father to grow in confidence
35 While He was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher any longer?” Disregarding the message that was reported, 36 Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” 37 He did not allow anyone to accompany Him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
It is easy to image Jairus’ shock when he heard of his daughter’s death, especially since this was an epoch in which the sense of family was much stronger than it is today and the paternal role was exercised vigorously. As provisions for the burial had already been made, the servants sought to deter the Master, fearing that the arrival of Jesus, accompanied by the multitude, would provoke a major upheaval in those tragic circumstances.
But with a care and concern suited to inspiring the customs of the Ancien Régime, Jesus fortified the confidence of Jairus. The counsel, “‘Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole’” – according to St. Augustine – “was not to upbraid him for want of belief, but to encourage him to a yet stronger faith.”5 The girl was dead! Her joints had stiffened, her body had become cold, ready to be embalmed, wrapped in cloths and entombed in a grotto. However, although the daughter was no longer able to practise an act of faith, her father did so, expressing his faith by bringing the request to the Divine Master. It is likely that even on his way home, in Christ’s company, he interiorly reaffirmed, and with growing fervour, the certainty of his daughter’s resurrection. The faith of this synagogue official, as well as that of the three Apostles whom Jesus chose to accompany Him, made His intervention entirely viable, for it was frequently through the belief of third parties that the connection between the omnipotence of Christ and the realization of the miracle was established. If Jairus had deemed that his daughter’s death made the Saviour’s presence unnecessary, the favour of her resurrection would not have been attained.
We should have this same faith, especially during life’s most difficult moments. Given the importance of this virtue, it is the one the devil most assails, seeking to diminish, weaken, and undermine it, in order to keep us from obtaining what we need. Following the teaching of the Divine Master in this Liturgy, “just have faith.” Let us believe in His mercy above and beyond the apparent reality, remembering that when we implore some favour that is useful for our salvation, for the good of our neighbour and the glory of the Holy Church, God has more interest in giving than we have in receiving it. Actually, our desire was preceded by His, from all eternity.
Only those with faith witness the miracle
38 When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, He caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39So He went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40And they ridiculed Him. Then He put them all out. He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with Him and entered the room where the child was.
The entourage stopped at the door of the house amid a commotion characteristic of the demonstrative ways of the middle-eastern people. Some wept, others wailed; there was a general uproar. Jesus’ first concern was to calm everyone, affirming that the girl was only sleeping. In fact, “to men she was dead, who were unable to raise her up; but to God she was asleep, in whose purpose both the soul was living, and the flesh was resting, to rise again.”6 For Him, as God, death is no more than simple sleep, which can be instantaneously interrupted by His power, since it will be He who will personally resurrect all of humanity on the last day. With Jairus’ daughter we can symbolically contemplate ourselves in the tomb, deteriorated by the passage of time, awaiting the moment in which, at the order of the Supreme Judge and by His power, our body will unite with our soul in a state corresponding with that of the latter.
However, the incredulous onlookers thought that Jesus was mistaken, for they knew that the body of the girl was lifeless. Then they began to scoff at Him, revealing how feigned and egoistic their weeping had been; had it been authentic, they would have continued crying, without becoming vexed at His words.
For this reason, Jesus ordered everyone to leave, except the father, mother, and His three disciples – the only ones in that place with faith. Those without faith impede the flow of grace and negatively affect the Communion of Saints. This signifies that sceptics obstruct spiritual progress within their own circles. We should exercise a prudent vigilance in dealing with such persons, so as not to lose graces by their harmful influence. We further see in this scene how God respects family ties, for He resurrects the girl, primarily for the sake of her parents. We can assume that both she and they were saved and rejoice today in Heaven.
Our Lord emphasizes His humanity through a great miracle
41 He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” 42 The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded.
Once again, St. Mark juxtaposes the Lord’s divine and human aspects. He projects His humanity, in relating that Jesus chose to go to the house of Jairus, to take the hand of the child and order her to rise. Was this journey, this gesture or those words necessary? No, for He is God, and He could have prevented the death or worked the resurrection at a distance. But He acted in this way to clearly show that it was His work, and so that the girl, upon awakening, would feel that she was in His hands. In this way, He showed himself to be Man, even in performing miracles, and in the efficacy of His word He emphasizes His divinity.
Further solicitude of the God-Man
43 He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat.
Jesus prohibited the occurrence from being spread about, for the time was not ripe for such a portentous sign to become known. It is beautiful that the evangelical narrative relates His concern that the girl be fed, something that the parents, shaken by the event, would likely have overlooked. Such care shows how the tenderness of all mothers the world over, combined, would not equal His solicitude for one person. But, as God, could He not simply have eliminated the child’s hunger? For, what is easier: to miraculously satisfy an appetite or to restore a life? But He wanted the parents to give her something to eat, for two reasons. Firstly, to prove that their daughter was actually alive, as St. Jerome affirms: “each time that He raised someone from the dead, He ordered that they be given something to eat, so that it not be thought that the resurrection was a phantasmagoria.”7 Secondly, in order to show His love for natural order. It was entirely appropriate that the parents feed their daughter, who had just suffered a mortal illness. Undoubtedly, her health was now better than before the sickness, but a good meal was advisable to restore her energy.
III – The Divine Life Should also Shine in Our Humanity
In perusing this rich Gospel – the most detailed narrative among the synoptic recordings of this episode – we behold the perfect harmony between the human and the divine in Our Lord Jesus Christ. As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, “Christ came to save the world, not only by Divine power, but also through the mystery of His Incarnation. Consequently in healing the sick He frequently not only made use of His Divine power, healing by way of command, but also by applying something pertaining to His human nature.”8With this rich kaleidoscope of manifestations of both natures in the Divine Person of Jesus, we should attentively consider His interaction with men throughout His earthly life, in order to contemplate Him in all His grandeur.
With the same keenness, we should strive to understand what happens around us. Because our faith is feeble, we tend to see reality through a strictly human prism, undervaluing the supernatural vision. But human existence is always subject to the influence of the invisible world and, therefore, our tendencies are connected to the action of a devil or an Angel. Thus, just as it is unthinkable to consider Our Lord merely as a Man, ignoring the hypostatic union, it is also a grave error to overlook that, by Baptism, each Christian, while being a mere creature, ascends to a participation in the divine life. This means that our decision-making is marked either by grace, or by its absence. We should know how to distinguish by which of these factors we are being influenced. Is it by Angels or devils? Grace or disordered natural instincts? Virtue or vice? With this approach we will see everything, not in two dimensions, but from the perspective of eternity.
Human love of infinite magnitude
As a consequence of original and actual sin, the gates of Heaven were closed to us and we merited eternal death. Nevertheless, the Word, having become Incarnate, humanly experienced sentiments of boundless compassion for us. On how many occasions, watching a loved one leave this world, have we not desired to die in their place? Well, Our Lord Jesus Christ so loved us that He gave himself up for us and redeemed us by His sacrifice, opening for us the way to true life. Meditating on this marvel brings us enormous profit, for we are often assailed by afflictions, temptations, and fear, and at times even fall lamentably into transgression; but if Our Lord cures, resurrects, and pardons, He has the power to alleviate our problems and raise us from any fall. What do we need to do? “Just have faith!”
The haemorrhaging woman, figure of the sinner who still has faith
In this sense, the haemorrhaging woman, who “only grew worse,” is the image of one who, deprived of the vital stream of grace and supernatural energy after committing a grave fault, runs after false solutions and seeks happiness where it cannot be found, forming bad friendships and opting for those relationships that deviate from the right path. The more they strive to satisfy their desires, the more attenuated they become and the more distanced from that which they erroneously seek. The vividness of the intelligence diminishes, along with the strength of the will; the dynamism of the soul fades away. The virtues and gifts have been lost by sin; the soul retains only a vestige of hope and a “sinew” of faith. As new transgressions are committed, these remnants are also gradually extinguished.
To avoid coming to such a pass, it is indispensable, if we fall, that we repent and implore: “Lord, I deserve every chastisement and perhaps even hell. But I beg pardon for my crimes with ardent faith in Thy power.” Let us confide in Jesus who is always willing to cure us, not only of physical ills, but especially of moral ones, restoring innocence to our soul, as He restored health to the haemorrhaging woman. He is far more concerned with reviving the soul than the body; indeed, He did not bequeath to the Church something in the form of an automated teller to cure diseases, at which the sick kneel and arise healed. But He did institute the Sacrament of Penance, which Old Testament personages did not have at their disposal. At that time, no one could turn to a priest to accuse themselves of their faults and be absolved, with the certainty of being cleansed of all guilt. What a great gift the Divine Redeemer has placed within our reach!
We have the Eucharist!
Following the example of the protagonists of the Gospel for this Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, let us approach Our Lord so that He may pour out His blessings upon us. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we do more than take the hand which lifted the girl from her deathbed or touch the cloak by which the woman’s health was restored: each one of us receives Jesus in Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Since He gives himself entirely to us, can He not cure our miseries, solve our spiritual problems and, even supply our material needs? Let us beseech Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, for a faith greater than that of the haemorrhaging woman and of Jairus, so that we can profit from all the treasures which, in His mercy, He desires to grant us! ◊
1 ST. JEROME. Commentarius in Evangelium secundum Marcum, Homilia III (5,30-43). In: Obras Completas, vol. I: Obras Homiléticas. Madrid: BAC, 1999, p.853.
2 Cf. ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. Summa Theologiæ, I-II, q.89, a.6.
3 ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM. Homilia XXXI, n.2. In: Obras, vol. I: Homilías sobre el Evangelio de San Mateo (1-45). (Ed.2). Madrid: BAC, 2007, v.I, p.619.
4 Cf. ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, op. cit., III, q.43, a.2, ad 1.
5 ST. AUGUSTINE. De consensu evangelistarum, lib.II, c.28, n.66. In: Obras, vol. XXIX. Madrid: BAC, 1992, p.377.
6 ST. BEDE. In Marci Evangelium Expositio, lib.II, c.5: ML 92, 182.
7 ST. JEROME. Adversus Jovinianum, lib.II, c.17. In: Obras Completas, vol. VIII: Tratados apologéticos. Madrid: BAC, 2009, p.339; 341.
8 ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, op. cit., III, q.44, a.3, ad 2.