If you’re new to my blog or to our ongoing series examining Jesus’ values and ministry in Luke, you can start with Part 1 here.
Let’s start Part 4 with a summary of Luke 8:40-56 (and parallel passages Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-42). Just FYI, this entry’s passage is rather lengthy compared to our previous two passages. I’ll attempt to keep my comments to an economy, hopefully striking the balance between brevity and helpfulness –
Jesus and the disciples have just been asked to leave the area of the Gerasenes after a successful exorcism of the town crazy by Jesus. They sail back across the Sea of Galilee to the western/northern shore, where their reception is decidedly more positive (they likely have returned to the area near Capernaum, where Jesus had previously healed the Roman centurion’s slave in Luke 7). In almost a repeat of the centurion’s story, a Jewish synagogue leader named Jarius comes to Jesus begging him to heal his 12 year old daughter, who is at home and near death.
Jesus agrees and begins following Jarius – unfortunately, the scene surrounding Jesus is (once again) chaotic. Luke says the crowds were “pressing against Him” and thus restricting his movement to a crawl.* In the loud confusion, elbows and voices sparring for a moment of Jesus’ time, a woman suffering with a medical “hemorrhage” approached Jesus from behind (so neither he, nor the disciples apparently, had noticed her) and she touched the edge of his outer garment.** For she thought to herself, “If I just touch his clothes, never mind his flesh – I’ll be healed.” (Mk 5:28) It was a move of desperate faith. And it works.
The text says that “immediately” her flow of blood dried up, and she was able to feel instantly within her body that she was made well. Contrary to her plan, however, she did not escape notice. Jesus (who comes across very much like an Obi-Wan figure in his scene, even more than in most of the Gospel stories)*** had felt healing power issue forth from him when the woman brushed against his clothes, so he begins to ask the crowd and the disciples: “Who is the one that touched me?” Peter, incredulous, replies amidst the chaos: “You see the crowd pressing in on you, and you ask ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus is insistent. The woman is now terrified, and reveals herself to Jesus.
Obi-Wan Jesus replies: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
While he’s still speaking, Jesus and the crowd hear the report from Jarius’ servant: “Your daughter has died; do not trouble the Teacher any longer.” One “daughter” has been healed, but in the process the other daughter has died. But Jesus cryptically answers: “Do not be afraid any longer; only believe. And she will be made well.”
Arriving, finally, at Jarius’ home, a select few are allowed to come with Jesus inside the girls’ room (Peter, James, John, and Jarius/Mrs. Jarius). Despite the protests that the girl is dead, Jesus grabs her by the hand and calls out in vernacular Aramaic: Talitha qum! She “immediately” got up. Jarius/Mrs. Jarius are amazed, but Jesus commands them not to tell anyone what has happened today.****
In our previous two passages, Jesus seemed to primarily focus his attention on the unrighteous spiritual forces and false deities in the region of Galilee. Implicitly, he is still doing so in today’s passage, though the focus seems to be more upon the people afflicted by physical oppression.
Once again, Jesus’ divine nature is questioned, just like in the previous sections. The Jewish crowds near Capernaum are obviously more familiar with Jesus’ miracles and ability to heal physical ailments than the Gerasenes were across the lake, but Jesus’ ability to resurrect someone actually past the door of death does not seem to be on their radar. The full extent of Jesus’ divine nature is still being slowly revealed.
The third similarity in these passages also carries through: the abodes of the dead and demonic, and the transition from ritualistically unclean spaces to ritualistically clean. The hemorrhaging woman has been unclean going on 12 years, making her ritualistically invisible to her larger community, and an outcast. Likewise, Jarius’ daughter is on the verge of death throughout this passage – death is reflective of a return to the chaos of the pre-Creation state, a return to chaos. The chaos of the crowd, in a sense, calls attention in the background of the action to the chaos of death of the little girl which hangs over the entire scene. The time pressure is felt, as Jesus is continually prevented from reaching the girl in time. Yet, Jesus “enters the tent” of the dead (thus being made unclean according to Torah) and overcomes the forces of death and chaos, restoring order to disorder.
Our fourth similarity also holds: fear. In all three of these Luke passages, fear has been a constant. First it was the disciples that were afraid, then it was the Gerasene villagers. Now, it is the woman who was healed of her hemorrhage who is terrified, and comes to Jesus trembling. Further, notice the reaction of Jarius and his wife once their daughter has been resurrected. Luke says, “Her parents were amazed…” The Greek term is a bit stronger than the English rendition implies; the parents’ spirits are literally “displaced,” they are nearly insane with wonder and awe at what has just happened. They’re floating, untethered from their reality.
There is one outstanding question for me in this passage, which I have yet to arrive at a satisfactory answer to. I’ll address that issue in the podcast. (Just a quick plug if you’re not yet listening…we have fun, I swear.)
*Luke uses the term συμπνιγω (soom-pnee’-go), which is defined as a full-on choking or a suffocating throng of people. Not the most pleasant situation.
**The exact medical condition of the woman is unclear (Gr. ρυσις, “hroo’-sis”), the word vaguely refers to an issue with flowing fluid (presumably blood). The text is clear that she has suffered with this condition for 12 years by this point, and Mark includes the detail that she had “endured much” at the hands of doctors, spending all her savings and only getting worse under their care. Perhaps Luke, trained as a physician, did not care to indulge in Mark’s overt condemnation of his profession…? Luke is almost certainly using the account in Mark as his primary source here, so it is correct to view Mark’s version as the more complete version. Again, we see that the authors of these Gospels are given artistic freedom under the influence of the Holy Spirit of God to compose their accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings according to their specific tastes and burdens.
*** Before you accuse me of heresy: Both Jesus and Obi-Wan are wearing cloaks. Both are living a nomadic life in the desert. Both feel something like “a great disturbance in the Force/Spirit”. C’mon.
**** Who puts four footnotes in a blog post? You, faithful reader, are to be commended for having persevered through the trials of the footnotes, and clearly you are worthy of learning the deeper mysteries of God’s revealed truths, as you have eagerly consumed each of the four Footnotes of Power. If this were a role playing game, you would gain 1000 experience points and earn the special underwater breathing apparatus of spiritual enlightenment, to aid you in your quest against Leviathan, the main boss of Level 12. That, of course, is the underwater level. It’s fairly discouraging. Even with the special underwater breathing apparatus of spiritual enlightenment, it’s existentially bleak.