The fifth Chapter of Mark’s Gospel deals with three miraculous healings performed by Jesus, First, a Gerasene man freed from His possessions, second, a woman healed from a lifelong battle with hemorrhages, and finally, a little girl restored to life. Each of these healings offers us insight to the benevolent heart of God who does not leave us alone in our sufferings, the hope which we await, and to our part: which is to have faith in God.
1) Jesus heals a man with a demon (1-20)
This is the most dramatic of the three healings in this chapter. In a Gentile setting (Jewish farmers wouldn’t keep pigs), Jesus encounters a man who has suffered violently from an unclean spirit. More accurately, it’s several unclean spirits, who identify themselves as “Legion” due to their number. These spirits have caused the man to do great harm to himself all in spite of others’ attempts to restrain him by force. Jesus casts the demons out, sending them into a herd of swine who then proceed to run off a cliff and drown.
The fact that Jesus heals this man emphasizes the fact that we do believe the devil exists – and that, at times, he is permitted to do impact our lives. This isn’t something we should fear like some Hollywood movie but instead recognize that God protects us. When Jesus allows the demons to enter the pigs, whom they promptly destroy we can see clearly their intentions: if God permitted them to do all they wanted to do to us, we, too, would be destroyed. By His death, Jesus destroyed the power of evil over us because He is unwilling to allow us to be destroyed.
The reactions to this healing are many. The owners of the pigs are understandably upset at Jesus by the loss of their flock – but in the eyes of God, no material loss has a greater value than the life of an individual human being, made in His image and likeness. Jesus tells many parables which, like this situation, don’t seem to make sense: leaving ninety-nine sheep to find only one or lighting costly candles to find a lost coin (Luke 15:3-10). That He was able to restore this man to life has a far greater value than their flock, even if the man’s friends and countrymen don’t understand it.
While the healed man wants to leave his home to join the disciples, Christ leaves Him behind with a particular mission: tell those in Gerasene about Jesus. They weren’t prepared to receive Jesus Himself yet, but even so Jesus doesn’t give up on them. This is in keeping with the way Jesus always deals with us: showing mercy and hoping we will turn from our sins.
2) A little girl restored to life (21-23, 35-43)
Becoming a father has taught me a lot about what it truly means to care for another person. Every young life entrusted to a parents care is precious gift, and one which I know I would give my life to protect. Similarly, the parent of any seriously sick child would give anything and do anything to see that child made whole again. In the case of Jairus, a man whose faith gave him great religious responsibility in his synagogue, he recognized in Jesus the answer to his desperate prayer: someone who might help his daughter in her illness.
When they finally get to Jairus’ house, it appears that his worst fears have been realized: his daughter has died. Jesus ignores the skepticism, doubt, and despair given by those around them, instead encouraging Jairus not to fear but to believe (v. 36). From Jesus’ perspective, even if her body is dead, this girl is very much alive. St. Bede points out that “To men’s eyes she was dead, she could not be awoken; in God’s eyes she was sleeping, for her soul was alive and was subject to God’s power, and her body was resting, awaiting the resurrection.” And Jesus, to prove this point, tells her to wake up – restoring her to her father. You begin to get a sense here of what eternal life and the resurrection which we await really means: the end of death and sorrow.
We live in a sort of interim – a time that the Church calls eschatological, meaning “already, but not yet.” Jesus has already died and paid the price for our sin, and the powers of evil and death have been defeated. But in order that more of us might know the freedom of this victory (and get to Heaven), we live in a time where He has not yet returned to raise us up to an eternity with Him. You see this throughout the New Testament – and at Christian funerals today, where we still refer to our beloved dead in the same terms as Jesus describes this little girl: asleep. We cannot awaken them, and though their bodies rest, their souls are very much alive and subject to God’s power.
3) The healing of a woman with a hemorrhage (25-34)
As Jesus was heading to help Jairus’ daughter, he has another significant encounter, this time with a woman who has been ill for twelve years with “a flow of blood.” In the time of Jesus, this would have been seen as a sign of uncleanness (cf. Leviticus 15:25) – leaving everyone that the woman would touch also ritually unclean: suffering shame alongside her physical ailment. Ostracized, lonely, and in pain, you get a better appreciation of why she would have spent so much money and subjected herself to so much suffering (v. 26) to be healed. When she hears about Jesus and all that He has done, she believes that if she can touch even the fringe of his clothes, He can heal her. So she seeks Him out, and in the midst of the crowd, brushes up against Him, and is healed. It’s striking that although to many would have avoided physical contact with her (for fear of becoming unclean), it is physical contact with Jesus that heals her.
It’s precisely here that we need to look more deeply at our own faith. Jesus notices the contact she makes, because her touch is not simply physical contact, but also the encounter of her deep faith with the person Christ. When we go to Mass, we believe that we encounter Jesus in a real way much like the woman… and many of us come and go from Church without being changed at all. Perhaps it is because we approach and merely touch him, unlike this woman. The challenge to us is that we need to engage our hearts in prayer and in particular in those moments when we receive the Sacraments.
There are many parallels between these two healings. The girl is twelve years old, and the woman has suffered for twelve years. Both are healed because of faith: the girl because of her father’s faith, and the woman because of her own. Both recognize that it is beyond their own power to bring this healing, and so they turn to the power of Christ to do it. For us as Christians, we should have a similar faith, expecting God to help overcome any obstacles that get in the way of our task of becoming holy. While ordinarily, God will come to us in unspectacular ways, He is certainly capable of doing whatever is necessary (including miracles) to get us to Heaven. Our part, as always, is to do whatever we can daily to trust God and do whatever He tells us to do (cf John 2:5).
“We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can – namely, surrender our will and fulfill God’s will in us.” -St. Teresa of Avila