In our ongoing study of the “Life and Vision of Jesus” from Luke and Acts, this week’s passage is key to understanding many other passages within Luke’s gospel. The story of Jairus and the woman is actually a combination of two stories – one about an unnamed woman, who was suffering from bleeding, and the other about the daughter of a Jewish synagogue leader – both of them healed by Jesus.
As the story opens, Jesus returns from the far side of the lake (a Gentile region) where he preached, and demonstrated, a message of liberation to the Gentile population (e.g., by liberating a demonized man). In verse 40, Luke tells us that Jesus had returned to Jewish territory. His implication: Jesus will do for Jews what he did for the Gentiles, liberate and save them. (That is precisely what the Jews were eagerly anticipating – but their expectations had to do with liberation from oppression by the Roman occupying force.)
Jairus, the man who approaches Jesus to plead for help, is a synagogue leader, a well-respected figure, as the synagogue was the center of the community’s life. He is desperately seeking a miracle as his daughter is deathly ill. Having great faith that Jesus could work a miracle, he falls at Jesus’ feet, pleading for help. Jesus went along with Jairus, while the community, eager to witness a miracle, crowded around, “almost crushing Jesus” (v. 42). Jesus’ disciples were likewise excited to see Jesus spark a popular movement.
But then, to their consternation, Jesus is distracted. A nameless woman with a long-standing bleeding issue “came up behind him” in the crush and touched his cloak. She is instantly healed. She has interrupted the important and urgent mission to which Jairus had summoned Jesus. Jesus turns around to ask, “Who touched me?” (v. 45). “Don’t worry about it,” the crowd responds (in effect), “we don’t have time for that.” Peter seems to express some irritation: “With this crowd jostling you, it could have been anyone.”
But it matters to Jesus. He explains: “I know that power has gone out from me” (v. 46). This nameless person is someone who matters to Jesus. Even Luke does not name her. But Jesus stops, and wants to talk to her. Not because he is offended, but because she is important to him. He wants her to be acknowledged. In the eyes of the community, she was worse than a nobody; she was “unclean” – someone from whom they kept their distance. But she mattered to Jesus. And with healing her, Jesus had liberated her, not just from her illness, but from the social stigma. “Power has gone out from me,” said Jesus. With his power, he had empowered her – someone who hadn’t dared be seen, much less speak up! Empowerment. That’s what Jesus is up to.
So “the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet” – just like Jairus. The same posture. But what a contrast!
The crowd – and Jesus’ disciples – were eager to hurry Jesus along to attend to the need of a prominent and powerful community leader, and to move him on from attending to a nameless nobody. But Jesus did not choose to operate that way.
The way Luke tells the story reflects his intending us to understand that the people in this story are representative figures. Consider the details he includes. How long had the woman been suffering from bleeding? 12 years. How old was Jairus’ daughter? 12 years. How many disciples did Jesus choose to send out (Luke 9:1)? Twelve. Luke includes those numbers because they represent Israel (the 12 tribes). They represent the way God’s people are often eager to attend to the prominent and overlook the nameless in dire need.
But Jesus tells the woman, “Daughter, your faith has healed you” – or, more literally, “your faith has saved you” (v. 48). It was “while Jesus was still speaking,” says Luke, telling her, “DAUGHTER, your faith has saved you,” that someone came to Jairus to say, “your DAUGHTER is dead” (v. 49). Both are daughters – daughters of God, part of the household of God – whether rich or poor, prominent or powerless, named or nameless, both are daughters in the household of God. And now there is this reversal of states taking place in the lives of these two daughters: One is now saved; the other is now dead.
And that’s precisely what’s going on in this story. The once-nameless woman now has a name – her name is ‘daughter of God.’ And notice how Jairus is identified in verse 49. Luke calls him “the leader.” His name never again appears in the story. He is known as ‘a leader, the child’s father, a parent…’ (The NIV translation takes the liberty of supplying his name.) What does this mean? That, as far as Jesus is concerned, neither person counts for more than the other. In Christ, the weak become strong, and the strong, weak. To this once-forsaken woman, who, for twelve long years, had no access to the temple, Jesus said, “Your FAITH has saved you” (v. 49). And to the religious leader, Jesus says: “‘Do not fear. Only BELIEVE, and she will be saved.’” The only thing that matters is FAITH– looking to God for healing, for salvation.
Then Jesus dismissed those who were following along out of curiosity, and, entering the house, took the girl by the hand. As with the woman who touched Jesus, there was healing in his touch. As with the woman with the bleeding issue, we too often prefer to avoid touching the “untouchable.” But there was healing in that touch, in connecting, rather than avoiding the “untouchable.” Jesus modeled that for us.
The intermingling of these two stories highlights the way that Jesus intends, in His Kingdom, “the first shall be last, and the last shall be the first.” What matters is not how much we have, but how much we love and serve. The crowd was expecting that the Messiah would restore their prospects as a nation. But Jesus models: “Your healing is not complete until others are healed. Their brokenness is not a distraction; their healing is the only way to restore all of us.” That’s the gospel – the good news of the upside-down Kingdom.
In the very next paragraph, Jesus calls the Twelve together and sends them out to preach the good news of the Kingdom and to effect liberation from demons and sickness (9:1-2). Again, the Twelve are representative of God’s people on mission. And then Jesus feeds the Five Thousand. How many baskets of left-overs do they collect? Twelve! Jesus’ disciples are tasked with working with him to provide abundantly for all of God’s people (echoes of Jesus’ “give the girl something to eat”).
1) Recognize that, when it comes to how God works, ‘distractions in life may be divine gifts (and divine grace) in disguise.’
We may be in a hurry and, in our anxiety, see others (especially “insignificant” others) as distractions to overlook. But, in so doing, we may overlook what God is doing around us. God is at work to effect the healing of His people and His world – not only our healing, but our neighbors’. We will be healed together. Our job is not to cross our arms and wait until Jesus gets the job done, but to join him in noticing, in listening, in healing and feeding both bodies and hearts.
Distractions in life may be divine gifts, divine grace (and divine voice) in disguise.
2) We are radically connected to others in Christ.
No matter our skin color or cultural background, no matter how much, or how little, we have, Jesus calls us all by the same name: “Daughter… son… my people.” In Christ, we are connected – radically connected – and that’s what distinguishes church from the rest of the world. So we must be willing to choose inconvenience and risk to ‘regard others as better than ourselves’ (Phil. 2:3) in the household of God.
3) We must practice genuine love for our neighbors.
Throughout Luke’s gospel, we find Jesus is much concerned with the poor. Poverty in today’s world can, of course, take multiple forms, such as relational poverty, mental poverty, physical disabilities or infirmities, and so forth – but these various aspects of poverty must not overshadow the importance of our Christian responsibility to those who are going through economic hardships. Luke-Acts, and Jesus himself, and the whole Bible, are very much concerned with our use of money. (In the Old Testament prophets, God’s people’s responsibility for the poor is mentioned in almost every other chapter.)
Of course, almost everyone thinks that they themselves are suffering from a shortage of money. But the principle is not that the “more privileged class” should help “the less privileged class.” It is that all of us must be helping whoever is less affluent. We are to give, not only to the church and to overseas missions, but to our neighbors. (At Village, our Grace Fund is set aside to help those who in need. This Lenten season, let’s participate in giving to the Grace Fund. And if you are in need, please do not hesitate to tell us, your brothers and sisters, about your need.) In Christ, we are radically connected, and we can only be healed together as a community.
In conclusion, Jesus’s vision for His church and for His world, includes healing broken lives and broken relationships, seeing His people cross boundaries to connect with one another as a reconciled and reconciling community. He is making this happen. The question for us becomes: Do you want to be healed? And are you willing to be a part of His work of bringing healing and restoration to the world? When you say, “I am willing, Here I am, Lord…” Christ will EMPOWER you… He is our Healer and our Leader in caring for others.
1) In your faith journey, who do you identify with in this passage? The woman? The disciples? Jairus? His daughter? The crowd? (You may identify with more than one.) Share how you identify with them.
2) How have you experienced “radical connection to others in Christ.” Describe that experience.
3) Where do you sense God calling you, at this time, to participate in his work? Where can you empower the powerless?