Year B – Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Stories of two women:

The gospel reading of today narrates to us two stories. Both, stories of women. One story is contained within another. Both are stories about women who are ‘dead’ in their own way. It is interesting to note that all the synoptic gospels have these two stories put together and narrate them in very similar words (Mt 9:18-25; Mk 5:22-43; Lk 8:41-56). The two women represent two different age groups: the younger one has died before time, at the onset of adolescence, and the cause of her death is unknown; the older woman is socially dead. Jesus raises both to life – new life.

Let us first focus on the older woman. Mark adds an important detail about the woman which Matthew and Luke prefer to omit: she “… had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she had spent all she had without being any the better for it; in fact, she was getting worse (Mk 5:25-26).” There are many implications here that flow from the Book of Leviticus chapter 15:19-33. Given her condition of the hemorrhage for 12 years, she would have been physically weak. She was religiously ostracized since she could not have participated in worship – she could not enter the synagogue or the temple. She was socially isolated because she could not participate in any social events. May be even her husband left her because they could not touch each other. Moreover she was economically drained out since “she had spent all she had.” She was as good as dead!

The healing that she received from Jesus now re-establishes her humanity. She could sing as Mary did in the Gospel of Luke: “The Lord has looked upon the humiliation of his servant… For the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He has used the power of his arm… He has raised high the lowly… He has filled the starving with good things… He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his faithful love” (Lk 1: 46-55). This is a hymn that many women could sing even today.

The humane compassion of Jesus

At the heart of raising these women to life and restoring their humanity is the humane compassion of Jesus. In both cases, there is touching involved. In both cases, that touching was a taboo-broken. The bleeding woman was not supposed to touch anyone; she would render unclean everything that she touched. But that was a special touch even for Jesus. In that touch her faith is made tangible, and Jesus appreciates it: “My daughter,” he said, “your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free of your complaint” (Mk 5:34).

In the second case, Jesus breaks the taboo by touching a dead child. Touching the dead body would have rendered him unclean. He could not have participated in social interaction without having a bath following such a contact with the dead body. He could have worked the miracle just by uttering a word. But touching was necessary to re-establish the humanity of the child, at the risk of Jesus being impure. And finally, here is yet another powerful expression of Jesus’s humanity: he told them to give her something to eat.

Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.

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