Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Diseased & the Dead pt. 1

In the course of yet another amazing day in the life of Jesus Christ the Lord had demonstrated His power over nature and the supernatural. Landing once again on the shores of Capernaum, after leaving Gadara at the Gadarenes’ request, Jesus displayed His power over disease and death. The demonstration involved two people from opposite slices of the societal spectrum. The story is told in Mark 5:21-43. In that passage Mark employed a “split-screen” method, a literary device he first used back in 3:20-35. One screen is devoted to Jairus, the ruler of the local synagogue whose twelve year old daughter is deathly ill. The second screen shows us the woman who for twelve years has suffered from a hemorrhage. These two individuals may be from opposite ends of the social scale, but they also have much in common. Let’s first take a look at the contrasts.

The Contrasts

Gender the most obvious difference in the two. Beyond that basic distinction, however, there are more substantial contrasts. For the past twelve years this woman had suffered from “an issue of blood”; most likely a chronic internal hemorrhage. During that exact same time span Jairus had enjoyed and been blessed by his only daughter (Luke 8:42).

For twelve years this woman would have been viewed, because of a condition over which she had no control, as an outcast. She was ceremonially unclean according to Leviticus 15, specifically verses 25-27 which state:
And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation…she shall be unclean…And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean.
Whoever touched this woman would also be considered unclean, and would have to wash his clothes, take a bath, and be unclean until the evening.
Had this woman been married, her husband had most likely divorced her. She was shunned by normal society. Worship in either the synagogue or the Temple was forbidden. Any material wealth she may have had was exhausted in a vain attempt at seeking a cure. John Mark supplies us with a not so subtle glimpse of his opinion of the medical profession. It was not complimentary:
{She} had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse.
“Suffering” is a suitable description for many of the treatments that this poor woman would have endured. Citing the Talmud, Kent Hughes lists in his commentary several “remedies” that would have been attempted.
Take three pints of Persian onions, boil them in wine, and give her to drink, and say “Arise from thy flux.” If this does not cure her, set her in a place where two ways meet, and let her hold a cup of wine in her right hand, and let some one come behind and frighten her, and say, “Arise from thy flux.”

If none of the above failed to work she could always try carrying the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen bag in the summer and a cotton bag in the winter, or she could carry around a barleycorn kernel that had been found in the dung of a white female donkey. (pp. 125-126)
Suffered many things indeed!
This woman had a defiling and debilitating disease which had, for twelve years, cut her off from society and the sanctuary.

Jairus, on the other hand, was not only a respected member of the synagogue; he was the ruler of it. Because of his exalted position he was almost certainly affluent and most definitely influential. He also belonged to the cross-section of Jewish society most opposed to Christ’s ministry. No doubt he was present when Jesus was last in the Capernaum synagogue. On that Sabbath He healed the man with a withered hand, and this so enraged the Pharisees that they immediately conspired with the politicians – the Herodians – on how to have Jesus killed (3:6).

These are two completely different people, but for all that separates them there is more that unites them.

The Commonalties

Jairus and this woman were disparate and desperate people. Unequal in every way: a man and a woman, synagogue ruler and synagogue outcast, respected and humiliated, rich and poor, yet both were in dire need; she for rescue from twelve years of misery, and he for the healing of his twelve year old and only daughter. Desperation is often what drives people to Christ, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Self-sufficient people do not seek a Savior. It is not the healthy who seek a physician but the sick (2:17). One word best describes the shared aims of these two people: desperation.

Seemingly hopeless is another appropriate description. This woman was hopeless, or, at least she was down to her final hope. We know that the woman had exhausted herself and her resources in seeking a cure for her condition, but none was forthcoming. The stigma and humiliation of her physical state was second only to leprosy. Nothing had worked. No one could help her. This despondent woman had suffered unimaginable physical and emotional stress, but she was given a glimmer of hope when she heard about Jesus of Nazareth. This man said and did the most marvelous things. Having heard of His healing powers and His great sympathy, this bleeding, broken, and bankrupt woman came to Christ in her despair. He was her only hope.

Likewise, Jairus was in a seemingly hopeless position. He was learning the hard way what Bishop Ryle wrote in his Expository Thoughts on Mark,
Sickness is a great leveler. It makes no distinction. (p. 104)
Despite his exalted position, the Jewish religion was impotent to fix his situation. Jairus only had one real option open to him. His little girl was menacingly ill, and he knew that she would die unless something miraculous happened. He knew there was only One who was capable of performing a miracle: Jesus of Nazareth.

For Jairus to publicly approach Jesus, bow at His feet, and beg Him to come and heal his daughter would have severely injured his standing with the Jews. When a similar leader – Nicodemus – wanted an audience with Christ he secretly came at night, so as not to draw attention to their meeting (John 3:1-2).

Jairus was beyond concern for his reputation. His little girl was dying. He had no where else and no one else to turn but to Jesus. He may not have been sure about Jesus, but he was sure that Jesus was his only chance. It was not love that drove Jairus to Jesus. It was his desperate need. “Despair,” to quote Hughes, “is commonly the prelude to grace.” (p. 127)

The final and most glorious commonality of the two is that both stood equal before Jesus. Not only equal in essence as human beings despite their disparate positions, but both equally desperate; unable to save themselves or remedy their respective situations. They looked to Jesus as their only hope.

To be concluded.

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