Monday, July 10, 2017

Luke 8:40–56

Luke 8:40–56 (ESV): Jesus Heals a Woman and Jairus’ Daughter


In the previous passage Jesus healed a demon-possessed man. In this passage, the theme of healing continues.

When he “returns”—the ESV Study Bible notes say that he’s returning to the Galilean side of the sea—he is welcomed by the crowd, as well as the ruler of the synagogue, a man named Jairus. Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet, imploring him to come and heal Jairus’ dying daughter, and Jesus agrees to go with him.

One of the members of the crowd is a woman who has had a “discharge of blood” for twelve years, and who has spent all of her money on physicians trying—unsuccessfully—to get it healed. So as Jairus and Jesus pass, with the crowd pressing in against Jesus, she decides to go and touch the fringe of his clothes, hoping for a miracle. And she gets it! Immediately, we are told, her bleeding ceases. However, she had been hoping to fly under the radar, and on this point, she is less lucky: Jesus immediately stops his progress, and starts asking who it was who touched him. Peter seems to think Jesus is crazy for even asking—with all of these people pressing against you, you think there was one specific person who was different from the rest?—but Jesus is adamant: power has gone out from him, and he wants to talk to the person to whom it went.

When the woman sees that she’s not going to be able to get away with touching Jesus unnoticed (see the “Thoughts” below on this point), she comes, trembling, and falls on her knees before him, to confess “in the presence of all the people” why she touched him (verse 47 (ESV)). Whatever she thought was going to happen, however, it turns out okay: all he tells her is that her faith has made her well, and that she can go in peace.

While he’s talking to her, though, someone from Jairus’ house comes to inform Jairus that his daughter has died, so he should not “trouble the Teacher” anymore. Jesus, however, tells Jairus not to worry:
But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” (verse 50 (ESV))
So they continue on to Jairus’ house, where he allows only Jairus, Jairus’ wife, Peter, James, and John to accompany him. On his way in he tells the crowd not to weep, because the girl is only sleeping, not dead, but the crowd laughs at him. But he goes to the girl, takes her by the hand, and tells her to arise, which she does. (Verse 55 (ESV) tells us that “her spirit returned,” which means that he was speaking metaphorically when he said that she was only asleep: she really was dead, and had to be raised from the dead.) Jesus instructs them to give the girl something to eat, but also instructs them not to tell anyone what has happened.


My first thought has pretty much nothing to do with the passage, but I notice that verse 41 (ESV) calls Jairus “a ruler of the synagogue,” and I find that a very interesting phrase: the “ruler” of the synagogue? Not a rabbi, or a teacher, or a priest, or a caretaker… a “ruler”? I looked this up in my usual ESV Study Bible, which says:
a ruler of the synagogue. See note on Mark 5:22. A board member of the synagogue, or more likely the official in charge of arranging services (cf. Luke 8:49; Acts 13:15; 18:8).
Which of course led me to look at Mark 5:22, and the note there said:
The laymen who were rulers of the synagogue presided over the affairs of the synagogue, including organizing and teaching in synagogue services. Most of them were Pharisees. The Greek term, archisynagōgos, has been found on many inscriptions from Palestine and throughout the Roman world (on synagogues, see note on Luke 4:16 and
(… the online version I was using is cut off there, that wasn’t a copy and paste error.)

An important fact about the healing of the woman in this passage—one that could get lost on the modern-day reader—is that the specific nature of this woman’s ailment, the fact she suffers from bleeding, makes her ceremonially unclean. By Jewish law, touching Jesus when she’s in this state would also make him unclean. When he calls out to find out who’s touched him, and she comes to him, “trembling,” to confess that it was her, she has genuine reason to feel guilty for what she’s done. When she falls down before him, and declares “in the presence of all the people why she touched him,” she believes that she is informing Jesus that he is now unclean, and that it’s her fault. For some of the people there at the time, the real miracle of this story is not so much that he healed the woman, but that he actually reversed the nature of being clean or unclean as it is described in Jewish law: according to the law, whenever something/someone unclean touches something/someone clean, the clean thing becomes unclean. It is a one-way transaction: unclean things take away the clean-ness of clean things. In this case, however, Jesus’ clean-ness actually makes the woman clean, which is a reversal of how it worked.

I seem to recall one exception in the Old Testament law, where anything that touches a particular item—I think it was the Ark of the Covenant, but could be wrong, and couldn’t quickly find it—would become clean. However, the item in question, whether it was the Ark or something else, would be inside the Most Holy Place, where nobody could go anyway, so for any practical purposes, it wouldn’t be possible to use the item for making things clean. This would be all the more striking for the people who witnessed this event: The only way, in Jewish law, for something unclean to be made clean would be to get as close as possible to the physical presence of God Himself—but in doing so, the thing would be destroyed. In this case, the fact that Jesus can be touched by something or someone and actually make it clean equates him with God—and yet the woman wasn’t destroyed.

I’m pretty sure that’s why he makes the point of talking to this woman, frankly: he goes to all of the trouble of trying to find out who touched him, when, as Peter rightly points out, lots of people are touching him, and when he finally finds her, all he tells her is that her faith has made her well, and she can go in peace? I think his main reason for taking the time to tell her this is to point out, to her and everyone else, what has happened: this woman, who has been unclean for twelve years, has been made clean—and, perhaps just as importantly, by touching Jesus she has not made him unclean.

Interestingly, the story wrapped around this story has that in common: by touching the girl’s dead body, again, by Jewish law, this should have made Jesus unclean. Not only does it not make him unclean, but through his touch, he is able to bring life back into the body.

It didn’t occur to me when I wrote about the complementary passages in Matthew and Mark, but there might be another reason why Jesus tells the crowd that the girl isn’t dead, but only sleeping: he goes to the trouble of telling the girl’s parents not to tell anyone what has happened, but obviously word is going to get around as to what has happened. There’s a big crowd mourning the girl’s loss, and suddenly they’re going to see her walking around and eating; won’t they tell people? But perhaps Jesus is hoping that they’ll start to second guess themselves as to what happened: “Maybe we were wrong! Maybe she wasn’t really dead after all!” It seems a little deceptive for Jesus, though, so I can’t give full support to this theory.

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