Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Mark 5

Mark 5 (ESV): Jesus heals some people

Synopsis

Once again I’m combining a couple of ESV section headings into one post because they’re thematically connected: verses 1–20 (ESV) talk about Jesus healing a demon-possessed man, and verses 21–43 (ESV) talk about him healing a young girl who has died—with an aside in which he heals a woman with a “discharge of blood.”

The first healing takes place in a place called Gerasenes; I don’t know if that’s significant, but that’s what we’re told. A demon-possessed man is living there among the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. We are told that people have tried to subdue him in the past but that they haven’t been able to because of the man’s strength: he wrenches chains apart and breaks shackles in pieces. But when he sees Jesus from a distance he runs over and falls down before him.

And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” (verse 7 (ESV))
Jesus asks the man—or rather, asks the demon living in the man—what his name is, and the demons respond that their name is Legion, for there are many demons living in the man. The demons beg Jesus not to send them into the countryside; since there is a herd of pigs feeding nearby they ask Jesus for permission to go into the pigs instead. Jesus gives the demons permission, they go into the pigs, and then the pigs rush into the sea where they drown.

At this point the men who’d been herding the pigs run into town to tell everyone what happened, and people from town come out to see for themselves. Those who had witnessed the event recount it for them, and, perhaps more importantly, they see the man sitting with Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and that’s the best proof of all as to what has happened. Proof enough, in fact, that the people become very afraid, and beg Jesus to leave their region. Jesus does so, and the formerly demon-possessed man asks to go with him, but Jesus tells him to stay where he is instead and spread the word throughout the region as to what the Lord has done for him. The man does so, and people marvel at his words.

Meanwhile Jesus goes back across the sea, and is met by a ruler of the synagogue named Jairus, who falls at Jesus’ feet and implores Jesus to come home with him to heal his daughter, who is “at the point of death” (verse 23 (ESV)). Jesus agrees and goes with Jairus, but on the way, as he is passing through the crowds, a woman touches him hoping to be healed of her own illness.

For the last twelve years she has had a “discharge of blood” (verse 25 (ESV)) and has spent all she had on physicians, but is getting worse instead of better. Her faith in Jesus is strong enough that she feels she can be healed just by touching his clothes, and her faith is rewarded because as soon as she does so she can sense that she is healed. She may also be trying to soften the blow of touching a clean man, since she herself is unclean from her continual bleeding. According to the ceremonial law this would make Jesus unclean, and perhaps she is hoping that by confining her touch to his garments, and not his physical person, this will not be the case.

However, her attempts to conceal herself fail because Jesus realizes that power has gone out from him, and turns to the crowd to ask who touched him. His disciples get a bit sarcastic with him on that point—he’s in the middle of a crowd, all kinds of people are touching him—but he will not take that for an answer, he wants to talk to the person who was just healed. The woman realizes that the game is up and comes to fall down before him and admit to what has happened. Instead of getting in trouble for making him unclean, however, Jesus praises the woman’s faith and tells her to go in peace.

But even while he is talking to her some people come from Jairus’ house to inform him that his daughter has died, and therefore he doesn’t need to bother Jesus anymore. Jesus overhears them, and tells Jairus not to fear. He then brings just a few of the disciples (Peter, James and John) with him and Jairus and goes to Jairus’ house, where people are wailing and mourning for the loss of the little girl. Jesus tells them that they don’t need to mourn because the girl isn’t dead, only sleeping, but the people laugh at him because they know that the girl is dead. But Jesus takes his few disciples and the girl’s parents into the room with her, takes her by the hand, and tells her to get up, whereupon she does. They are amazed by this, but Jesus instructs them not to tell anyone. He also tells them to give the girl something to eat.

Thoughts

In the last passage Jesus’ disciples saw Him calm a storm, which gave them an idea of who He really is. They don’t yet have the full picture, but they’re starting to move in the right direction. In this passage it seems that the demons might be a step ahead of the disciples; when they see Jesus, even from a distance, they immediately know who He is and recognize his power over them. Perhaps the disciples can be somewhat excused on this point since the spiritual realm is somewhat hidden from us whereas the demons live in that realm (I think), but it’s interesting nonetheless.

I’m not sure why the demons prefer to go to the pigs rather than being cast into the countryside, but we see Jesus’ power over them in that they can’t do it without His permission. They resist Jesus up to a point, and don’t come out of the man immediately, but eventually they must succumb.

And then, once the townspeople see what Jesus has done, they react the same way that the disciples had when He calmed the storm: they are afraid. Well… it’s not exactly the same reaction, because they go further and ask Jesus to leave. The disciples didn’t ask Him to leave.

I don’t know how important it is to the story, but by the time the woman approaches Jesus she is in pretty rough shape. She is penniless (or nearly so) because she’s been spending all of her money on doctors; she is probably continually weak from loss of blood; she would be unable to worship with her fellow Jews because this continual bleeding would make her ceremonially unclean—and that last point is definitely important to the story because she probably doesn’t believe that Jesus would be willing to touch her, because it would make Him unclean. Little does she know that Jesus is the one person who can actually touch an unclean thing and make it clean, which is not how the ceremonial laws typically work. She was trying to be sneaky and touch him without his knowledge, but it worked out fine in the end.

It has always struck me, when Jesus goes to Jairus’ house, how quickly the people turn from wailing and weeping to laughing at him. However, the ESV Study Bible points out that some of the people in the crowd are probably “professional mourners,” who are paid to weep and wail in this manner, so I can easily see them quickly turning from “doing their job” to laughing at something which struck them as funny. Obviously Jesus has the last laugh in this case.
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