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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost — June 30, 2024

Carol Holbrook Prickett writes about Mark 5:21-43 in conversation with Evie, a 12-year-old girl.

Mark 5:21-43
Year B

The concentric stories of the bleeding woman and the dying girl in Mark 5 have long been favorites of mine. Along with featuring two women who receive Jesus’ healing, it’s a brilliant example of Mark’s ability to tell compelling, emotional stories with just a few words. When I was a little girl sitting in the pews, so many Bible stories seemed aimed at someone else—men, adults, saints, figments of history. But when Mark 5 came around, the Bible was for me. I was the woman creeping through the crowd. I was the girl lying on the bed, and my heart soared when Jesus spoke, as if directly to me: Talitha koum! (Little girl, get up!)

By a first-century reckoning, it is astonishing that Jesus bestows this healing – perhaps even this resurrection – on a little girl whose life is largely viewed as unimportant. Child mortality in the ancient world was staggeringly high, and even if she made it to adulthood, this young woman would then likely face similarly staggeringly high rates of maternal mortality. If you are going to save someone, save a king, a soldier, a priest, an heir — not a little girl.

Yet when her distraught father comes to Jesus to beg on her behalf, Jesus goes. The little girl’s worthiness to be saved is not in her wealth, rank or societal usefulness. She is worthy because she is loved, by her father on earth and her Father in heaven.

Since this gospel story tells us young women are invaluable by heaven’s reckoning, I thought I should hear a young woman’s perspective on this Scripture. So, I reached out to a friend of mine, Evie, who has just turned 12 herself. Evie is part of a multi-congregation youth group that my own church takes part in, and I have been delighted by her interest in Scripture and her ear for liturgy. If you take a look at this week’s published liturgy, you’ll find that the call to worship and prayers of confession, illumination, and dedication are purely hers.

Evie’s first insight colored what I wrote above — that Jesus acts like a father to the little girl, not only in going to her bedside and treating her with tenderness and compassion, but in how he continues to take care of her, making sure she has food to eat. “You can see God the Father in what Jesus does,” Evie said. “Everybody else treats him like a doctor for hire, but he acts like a father.”

But for the most part, Evie was far more interested in the first story in Mark 5, the woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. She empathized with the anxiety and shame of feeling like you’re not welcome among your peers. She was delighted by the contrast between the faithlessness of the people who did not believe Jesus could heal the little girl, even laughing at his unwillingness to give up, and the quiet, self-determined faithfulness of the woman who came to touch his cloak.

At first, Evie wasn’t sure what to make of the fact that Jesus never asks the woman’s name or has any of the conversations we’d consider to be relationship-building. After a while, though, she decided that the name was immaterial. Jesus knew what was important — the woman’s pain, her faith, her hope and her courage in “coming clean.”

Mark 5:30 claims mysteriously that Jesus was “aware that power had gone forth from him” when the woman touches his hem. Ever since I was a child, I had imagined that he felt something in his own body, like a muscle weakening or static discharge. But Evie had a different take. “When she touched him, Jesus could feel her suffering and her relief,” she assured me.

Whether you take that as interpretation or midrash, I was struck by Evie’s suggestion that Jesus’ healing power involves a oneness with the person healed. In her mind, Jesus’ empathy is not just emotional but visceral; he feels what we feel. I don’t know if any of my biblical professors from seminary would find that truth in this passage, but my heart tells me that Evie is right. Jesus does not just know our suffering in a second-hand, clinical, intellectual way. Jesus feels our suffering. Jesus feels our relief.

As we were wrapping up, Evie had one last insight to share. She drew a big circle around Jesus’ words in verse 34: “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” “They’re both daughters,” Evie said with a triumphant smile. “They’re both daughters of God, even though one is old and one is young. They both matter to Jesus.”

Sitting across from her at her kitchen table, a Bible open between us, I was glad to hear it.

Questions for reflection

  1. What is your own history with these two stories? What memories, assumptions, or interpretations do you bring to the text?
  2. How have you experienced or witnessed Jesus’ kind of healing?
  3. Whose lives and voices are most important in your congregation? In your community? How can you encourage those people who are not heard often to speak, and those who speak often to listen?

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