Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone…(excerpt from Luke 8:40-56)
All three synoptic Gospel writers pair together the story of the bleeding woman with the story of Jairus’ daughter. On one level, this is logical, since there is clearly a narrative connection between the two stories: the bleeding woman interrupts Jesus’ movement towards Jarius’ house, and so it makes sense to include her story here. It even creates a certain amount of tension in the text—it is presumably because Jesus stops to address the woman that he does not arrive to Jairus’ house in time to save his daughter. Every time I read this account, my heart aches for Jairus in this moment because I cannot imagine his anguish as a father watching the very person who could have healed his only daughter delay and, in so doing, miss his chance to heal her.
But these two healing accounts are connected on a far deeper level than simply their action. There is a profound connection between the state of the bleeding woman and this ruler of the synagogue—though no two people could have been further apart in their experiences of social status and religious acceptance. Jairus would have been at the top of the ladder, so to speak, enjoying general acceptance and mobility for his status; the woman, whose name we don’t even know, would not have even been able to have been hugged or touched by her loved ones without imparting to them her long-endured uncleanness that had kept her isolated from even worship in the synagogue. And yet both of them find themselves in such a desperate, vulnerable position that they come to Jesus exactly as the centurion and the sinful woman did earlier in the chapter: at his feet in humility and recognition both of his greatness and of his willingness to help them. The bleeding woman had, over the span of twelve years, spent everything she had in search of healing, but to no avail. She was still unhealed, unclean and utterly broke. And Jairus had but one daughter, of twelve years. If she was taken from him, he would be left with nothing. And yet both came to Jesus in the hopes of healing.
In this light, the command Jesus gives Jairus, who faces emotional devastation at the loss of his daughter, to “not fear, only believe” is particularly fascinating, because he is, in essence, exhorting him to have the very faith that the bleeding woman, who already knew such devastation, has just demonstrated. It is almost as if she, the outcsast, has become the example of faith to the one everyone would have recognized as the religious authority.
But it is not only in their similarities that these two stories are so profoundly connected. It is also in their differences—that is, in the difference we see in the way that Jesus approaches each situation. Whereas with the bleeding woman there is clearly an attempt to draw her situation out in to the light and make her healing known to all who were there, with the daughter of Jairus there is the complete opposite approach. When he goes into heal her, he takes only the girls’ parents and his most intimate disciples. And then he enjoins them not to tell anyone.
Why such a difference? Leon Morris argues powerfully and persuasively that in the difference we see between the way that Jesus responds to the situation of each of these individuals lies a sensitivity to each of their respective needs. The woman had known twelve years not only of illness, but complete isolation from society. She came to Jesus in secrecy because she would not have been permitted to approach him otherwise, but also because she likely feared the rejection to which she had become accustomed. But Jesus drew her out of the hiddenness she sought precisely because her wounds were not simply physical. They were also emotional and spiritual and in drawing her out, he made her healing public so that there could also be emotional and spiritual healing. I love the fact that this very woman who had been excluded from religious community for twelve years was not only healed, but also honored publicly by the one who is God incarnate.
But the situation of the little girl was completely different. She was young and needed to be protected from the throngs of people who would inevitably seek her out in curiosity. Many would know, of course—everyone who had been present at the house and knew her to be dead; and the story was known well enough to be included in all three Synoptic Gospels—but the key was not only healing her, but also protecting her.
Take a moment to consider the insight this gives us into Jesus’ character. In neither case was he only concerned with the obvious need at hand. He cured both individuals, of course, but he did so in such a way that showed profound sensitivity to the way that situation had affected or would affect each individual; and he did so in a way that would bring not only the physical healing they sought, but also the emotional and spiritual healing/protection they so desperately needed.
This is not just how Jesus is in this instance; it is how he is in all situations. He not only knows where we need physical healing, but also every emotional, psychological and spiritual wound and area of vulnerability we have experienced as a result of those situations, and he desires to bring healing to all of it. Sometimes the means by which he does so may seem to scrape at the wounds that run deepest, as with the bleeding woman who was called to make her situation known among the very people who would have rejected her; but the intention is never for our harm, rather for a more profound healing than we could ever imagine or hope for.
Where might he be prodding your own wounds or fears? And how can we learn to show a similar sensitivity to multifaceted wounds of those around us?
Our Lord is Jehovah Rophe. He is the Lord that heals—not only physically, but also psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. May we all open ourselves to such healing that we might experience his abundant life, and become agents of that healing to all those around us.
Kathleen Durham is the Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.