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Readings: 4th Sunday after Trinity

19 June 2015


2 Samuel 1.1, 17 -end; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8.7-end; Mark 5.21-end


O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that with you as our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal; grant this, heavenly Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.


MARK, commentators observe, frequently sandwiches an incident between two parts of a framing event. The encounter with the woman who suffered from haemorrhages, coming in the midst of the panic in the household of Jairus, is a dramatic use of the technique. This time, there is important symbolic interaction between the lives of the woman and the little girl, but this is always subordinate to further developments in the Gospel's ongoing question, "Who is Jesus?" He is about to be revealed as the restorer of the unclean outcast, and the conqueror of death.

Once again, there is a crowd (Mark 5.21). On this occasion, they are more than background, because they will witness two remarkable things, and hear direct reports of a third. It could only have been desperation that drove a leader of the synagogue to kneel so publicly before a teacher already under surveillance (Mark 3.22). When he pleads on his child's behalf, he uses the diminutive form of "daughter", with all the power of affection that "little" can convey when attached to "boy" or "girl".

As they set off for his house, the woman - anonymous in the following crowd - manages to get close to Jesus. She too is taking a risk, by doing something the law forbids: touching him, although her perpetual bleeding makes her ritually unclean (Leviticus 12.1-7, 15.19-25). She too finds herself on her knees before Jesus, telling him - and some of the crowd - about the torment of the past 12 years (Mark 5.33).

Meanwhile, the child's death is announced. Mark's narrative gives no suggestion that Jesus deliberately delayed to ensure that he would be confronting death (contrast John 11.1-27). Jesus's response to one human cry has been interrupted to respond to another, even more immediate. He could have made no comment on the sensation of power going out of him (Mark 5.30), and hastened on, knowing that the person who had touched him was healed. Instead, he wanted a face-to-face encounter and, when it came, he addressed the woman as "Daughter". After all this time, someone had acknowledged her in love rather than contempt. This is the first sign that her history and that of the child will coincide (Mark 5.34).

The crowd does not squeeze into the house of Jairus. Only Peter, James, and John accompany Jesus - as they will at two further critical points: the transfiguration, and the final time of prayer in Gethsemane (Mark 9.2-13, 14.32-42). This is their first opportunity to grasp that Jesus can bring life out of death, and it is underlined by the use in Greek of resurrection language: "Get up!" (Mark 5.4.1-42). Only five people have witnessed this. Soon enough, those outside the house will know that the child is alive, but they will not know how it happened. Perhaps it is this that makes sense of the apparently futile instruction that "no one should know this" (Mark 5.43).

Although offered as an aside, the child's age is mentioned for a purpose (Mark 5.42). Her lifetime has been the woman's illness. Her healing happens at a moment of transition from childhood to adulthood; the woman's healing ends her childbearing years, but restores her to a full place in her community. Both are daughters, and a couple of years later they may find themselves among the weeping "daughters of Jerusalem" who line the road to Golgotha (Luke 23.28). For Mark, they are already daughters of the new Jerusalem.

Users of the SPCK edition of this year's lectionary will have realised that the Track 1 Old Testament reading cannot be right (the Church House Publishing edition is correct). A small misprint specifies 1 Samuel rather than 2 Samuel. Instead of trying to fill in the non sequiturs with excerpts from the history of Samuel's birth, we are invited to reflect on David's lament for Saul and Jonathan, after the battle against the Philistines which left three of Saul's sons dead, and Saul dead by his own hand (1 Samuel 31.1-13). His song of grief is a beautiful composition, reflected in the fact that it has given us three English idioms: "tell it not in Gath"; "in life and death they were not divided"; and "how the mighty have fallen" (2 Samuel 1.20, 23, 19, 25, 27).

This is the end of David's troubled relationship with Saul. Soon, he will make Jerusalem his own capital city (2 Samuel 6.1-19).

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