Mark 5:21-43

Lengthy excerpt from on of my finals.


Of the nine Markan Sandwiches, I have chosen to examine the text in Mark 5:21-43. This story is one of the more famous occurrences of Mark’s doubling feature, or intercalation and to begin with the exegesis of this text, understanding the context of the larger section in which our particular pericope is located will be helpful. It is important to properly locate the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the woman subject to bleeding for twelve years in context of three other healing narratives in which Jesus’ power is on full display for Mark’s readers.  This larger context begins in chapter four at verse 35 and runs through the end of chapter five. In these “four miracles of 4:35-5:43 the power of Jesus over chaotic nature, destructive demons, debilitating illness, and death itself is portrayed in a more sustained and graphic manner than anywhere else in the gospel.”[1] In Mark 5:21-43, these stories can be read a part, and taken individually to the great benefit of the reader, it is important to note that with intercalation in Mark, there is an interpretive element in the combination of both texts that must not be overlooked.[2] Our text under consideration opens with mention that Jesus had “again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake… (Mark 5:21).”[3] The first part of the narrative begins in Mark 5:21 which we shall label “A”, runs from verses twenty-one to twenty-three, and then picks back up in Mark 5:35-43. The “B” portion of the intercalation begins in Mark 5:25 and continues to Mark 5:34. The narrative opens with Jesus back in Jewish territory after vanquishing the masterpiece of Satan in Gentile territory, Mark 5:1-20, and a synagogue ruler named Jairus approaches Jesus and similar to the demoniac in the previous text falls at Jesus feet (cf. Mark 5:6, 22). Jairus has a need, a need to heal his unnamed dying daughter. Jesus consents to this man’s request and begins towards his house. As Jesus is making his way towards Jairus’ house, a large crowd iimpeding his progress.

Mark uses this journey to Jairus’ home to introduce the “B” section of the sandwich. A women who would have been ritually impure, and therefore a social and religious outcast due to having been “subject to bleeding for twelve years” (Mark 5:25).[4] This unnamed woman, has been bleeding and dying for the same amount of time that Jairus’ daughter has been living.[5] In Mark 5:26, again stressing the desperate condition of this unnamed hemorrhaging woman, Mark informs his readers that she had suffered under the care of many doctors and was as financially bankrupt as she was physically. As a religious and social outcast, she would have been required to avoid crowds due to uncleanness according to the Torah.[6] This woman risks a great deal entering into a social gathering, such as a crowd pressing around Jesus. Her touch would have contaminated all. Her desperation and having heard about Jesus, she is seeking to touch the edge of his clothes (Mark 5:27-29). Her risk pays off, and her bleeding stopped (Mark 5:29). Jesus recognizes that power has left his body and asks “who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30). As often the case in Mark’s gospel, the disciples do not understand what is occurring. The unnamed once bleeding woman comes forward, falls at Jesus feet, similar to the demoniac and Jairus and confesses her bold action. The unnamed woman, once a social and religious outcast is given back her status as an insider, and is called “daughter” (Mark 5:34). Jesus calls her bold action “faith,” (Mark 5:34) and then as he is still speaking a contingent from Jairus’ house interrupts and ends section “B” to inform Jairus that his beloved daughter has died.

  Section “A” is the focus once again and offers what appears to be a key contextual clue to Jairus in Mark 5:36, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Once at Jairus’ house, they are greeted with “commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly” (Mark 5:39). It seems that a funeral is underway, and Jesus is laughed at as he informs the crowd that that little girl had not died but is sleeping (Mark 5:39-40).  As the “A” section comes to a close, Jesus takes the few disciples with him and the girl’s parents into her room and risks becoming ritually impure by reaching out for her dead hand.[7] Jesus then speaks a word in Aramaic, which Mark translates for his readers, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5:41). The unthinkable happens. The dead girl is raised from the dead, and is given something to eat, and then orders the family not to talk about what they had witnessed (Mark 5:43).

There are some common themes that run through both stories that help the reader to interpret both stories in light of each other.[8] Both stories involve touching. Jesus is touched by a ritually impure social outcast, and is asked to touch a sick daughter who becomes a corpse. In these stories Jesus is portrayed as extending the borders of the kingdom as the divine warrior, touching the ritually impure and the dead. The Law says that Jesus should have been made unclean, but instead he extends his holiness, cleanness, and wholeness to both women. Both stories involve unnamed women, both incidentally called daughters. Both stories involve fear and trembling. Jesus tells Jairus not to fear but to believe, reminiscent of the believing woman who risked everything to touch Jesus. Both stories indicate that Jesus is a safe place. Both stories emphasize the importance of faith/belief. Faith plays an important role in the healing of the once hemorrhaging woman and the once dead daughter of Jairus. Faith is an important

element all through this narrative section and is contrasted by the prominence of unfaith in the next section, Mark 6:1-6, where unfaith plays a decisive role in the lack of healing. Both stories portray Jesus as the divine warrior who brings wholeness and holiness to places it has not previously been. In Mark 4:35-5:43 Jesus encounters unclean demons in the form of severely possessed man, uncleanness in the form of a severely bleeding woman, and uncleanness from a corpse. Mark tells his readers of the God-man on the loose bring wholeness to a broken world. Mark tells his readers that Jesus will go anywhere, to rescue anyone, anytime. Both stories affirm the power of Jesus, and “by the end of this unit the audience has witnessed four victories in the eschatological warfare manifested in Jesus’ ministry; Jesus has saved people from the threat of chaos, from spiritual bondage, from illness and isolation, and from death.”[9] These stories are sandwiched into the larger section of discipleship where disciples of Jesus are to bring words of good news and to good deeds to be extensions of the kingdom in this broken world.In conclusion this paper has examined the literary convention known as intercalation or more commonly referred to as Markan Sandwiches. Mark uses this literary feature to convey key themes of his Gospel masterpiece. In the story under consideration in this paper, faith in the power of Jesus is the key element of both stories. Mark’s Gospel was once thought to be a less coherent presentation of the ministry and mission of Jesus, however, more recent Biblical scholarship has demonstrated time and time again that Mark’s presentation of Jesus is that of an artistic masterpiece.[10] Mark has regained his place as a rightful author and presenter of the powerful words and deeds of Jesus.

[1] John R. Donahue, and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark. Sacra Pagina. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2002), 179.


[2] Janice Capel Anderson, and Stephen D. Moore, eds., Mark and Method:  New Approaches in Biblical Studies (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), 39.


[3] Unless otherwise indicated all Bible references in this paper are to the New International Version (NIV) (Grand Rapids, MI: International Bible Society, 1984).

[4] Janice Capel Anderson, and Stephen D. Moore, eds., Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), 39.


[5] Sharyn Dowd, Reading Mark: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Second Gospel (Macon: Smyth and Helwys, 2000), 56.


[6] David E. Garland, The NIV Application Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 219.

[7] Sharyn Dowd, Reading Mark: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Second Gospel (Macon: Smyth and Helwys, 2000), 56.


[8] Michael Martin, Class notes from BIB 6305 Studies in the NT Text: Mark, (Lubbock Christian University, Fall 2007).

[9] Ibid., 58.


[10] Janice Capel Anderson, and Stephen D. Moore, eds., Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), 2-21.

About Jason Retherford

The random musings of a youth minister.
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