13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark 5:21-43
One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing Jesus he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death.” […] There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. 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.
In today’s Gospel, we read of two figures: A woman and a young girl. The woman has suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years; the child was only twelve years old when she died. Our Savior heals the former, and raises the latter.
While many modern(ist) biblical scholars have all sorts of theories as to why these two miracles are intertwined, the Church Fathers see in these two women (rather, a woman and a little girl) a metaphor for salvation history. These two are figures for the manner in which the Jews and the Gentiles have been called to salvation in Christ.
The Literal Sense – Historical summary
A brief summary of the two miracles will help us to understand the details of the spiritual interpretation given by the Church Fathers.
First, the synagogue official, Jairus, comes to Jesus asking for him to come and lay hands upon his young daughter who is sick to the point of death. So Jesus begins to go with him.
However, there is a large crowd following around our Savior and, in the midst of this crowd, there is a woman who has been afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She comes up to him from behind and touches the hem of his garment (probably the tassel of his prayer shall). Immediately, she is healed; and Jesus instructs her.
At this moment, people arrive from the house of Jairus to announce that the little girl has died – but our Lord goes on, ignoring their ridicules. Entering the house (taking only Peter, James, and John, together with the girl’s parents), our Lord takes her by the hand and says, “Talitha koum” – “Little girl, get up.” Immediately, the girl wakes from the sleep of death and all are amazed; but Jesus tells them to give her something to eat.
A Spiritual Sense – The history of salvation
Many of the Church Fathers recognize in these two figures (the girl and the woman) the two classes of men who are called into the Church of Christ – the Jews and the Gentiles. So, Rabanus, Jerome, and Bede. St. Thomas summarizes this in the Catena Aurea, on Matthew 9:18 and following, and also Mark 5:21 and following.
From the Catena Aurea
“The ruler of the synagogue signifies Moses; he is named Jairus, ‘illuminating,’ or, ‘that shall illuminate,’ because he received the words of life to give to us, and by them enlightens all, being himself enlightened by the Holy Spirit. The daughter of the ruler, that is, the synagogue itself, being as it were in the twelfth year of its age, that is, in the season of puberty, when it should have borne spiritual progeny to God, fell into the sickness of error.
“While then the Word of God is hastening to this ruler's daughter to make whole the sons of Israel, a holy Church is gathered from among the Gentiles, which while it was perishing by inward corruption, received by faith that healing that was prepared for others. It should be noted, that the ruler’s daughter was twelve years old, and this woman had been twelve years afflicted; thus she had begun to be diseased at the very time the other was born, so in one and the same age the synagogue had its birth among the Patriarchs, and the nations without began to be polluted with the pest of idolatry. For the issue of blood may be taken in two ways, either for the pollution of idolatry, or for obedience to the pleasures of flesh and blood. Thus as long as the synagogue flourished, the Church languished; the falling away of the first was made the salvation of the Gentiles.
“Also the Church draws nigh and touches the Lord, when it approaches Him in faith. She believed, spoke her belief; and touched, for by these three things, faith, word, and deed, all salvation is gained. She came behind Him, as He spoke, If any one serve me, let him follow me; or because, not having seen the Lord present in the flesh, when the sacraments of His incarnation were fulfilled, she came at length to the grace of the knowledge of Him. Thus also she touched the hem of His garment, because the Gentiles, though they had not seen Christ in the flesh, received the tidings of His incarnation. The garment of Christ is put for the mystery of His incarnation, wherewith His Deity is clothed; the hem of His garment are the words that hang upon His incarnation. She touches not the garment, but the hem thereof; because she saw not the Lord in the flesh but received the word of the incarnation through the Apostles.
“Blessed is he that touches but the uttermost part of the word by faith. She is healed while the Lord is not in the city, but while the Lord is yet on the way; as the Apostles cried, Because you judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. And from the time of the Lord’s coming the Gentiles began to be healed.”
“Mystically, however, Jairus comes after the healing of the woman, because when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then shall Israel be saved.”
Or again, Bede:
“Mystically; the woman was cured of a bloody flux, and immediately after the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue is reported to be dead, because as soon as the Church of the Gentiles is washed from the stain of vice, and called daughter by the merits of her faith, at once the synagogue is broken up on account of its zealous treachery and envy; treachery, because it did not choose to believe in Christ; envy, because it was vexed at the faith of the Church. What the messengers told the ruler of the synagogue, Why trouble you the Master anymore, is said by those in this day who, seeing the state of the synagogue, deserted by God, believe that it cannot be restored, and therefore think that we are not to pray that it should he restored. But if the ruler of the synagogue, that is, the assembly of the teachers of the Law, determine to believe, the synagogue also, which is subjected to them, will be saved.
“Further, because the synagogue lost the joy of having Christ to dwell in it, as its faithlessness deserved, it lies dead as it were, amongst persons weeping and wailing. Again, our Lord raised the damsel by taking hold of her hand, because the hands of the Jews, which are full of blood, must first be cleansed, else the synagogue, which is dead, cannot rise again. But in the woman with the bloody flux, and the raising of the damsel, is shown the salvation of the human race, which was so ordered by the Lord, that first some from Judea, then the fullness of the Gentiles, might come in, and so all Israel might be saved. Again, the damsel was twelve years old, and the woman had suffered for twelve years, because the sinning of unbelievers was contemporary with the beginning of the faith of believers; wherefore it is said, Abraham believed on God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.”