And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” Mark 5:34
It’s been over 20 years, but I can still recall the sound of the small voice reaching out to us from the back seat of the car.
“Mr. Rowe, what can I call you?”
Puzzled, my husband half-turned to where Sarah sat behind us next to our biological daughter Amber. Sarah and her younger brother had recently come to live with us in foster care when their own parents were no longer able to care for them.
“I still have a father who’s alive somewhere,” she said hesitantly, “and Amber calls you Dad but I don’t know what I should call you. What did people in the Bible call their parents?”
We couldn’t see Sarah’s face in the dim light, but we could hear the yearning in her voice. Whose daughter was she now? What was her place in this new world where home, community, and relationships had been altered?
I often think of Sarah when I read the account of the two daughters recorded in three of the gospels (Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56; Matthew 9:18-26). A bleeding, desperate woman presses through the crowd to extract healing power from Jesus while he is on his way to heal another man’s daughter.
While often told separately, the stories are interconnected. The healing of the daughter of Jairus, a ruler in the local synagogue, is embedded within the larger story of the hemorrhagic woman, whose chronic bodily discharge renders her untouchable and therefore “unclean” by those in her community. She has been suffering for 12 years, as long as Jairus’s daughter has been alive. The woman’s past has been decimated; the girl’s future is at risk. One has no one to advocate for her; the other has an attentive father.
Yet in Jesus’ presence a miracle happens, the only gospel miracle that apparently takes Jesus by surprise. When the woman reaches out to clutch the hem of Jesus’ garment he insists she reveal herself. For a woman considered ritually unclean by her culture, touching a holy man was violating the boundaries of social convention. Yet Jesus demanded she come out of hiding so he could affirm rather than accuse her.
“Daughter, your faith has made you well,” he said. “Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”
Augustine once wrote that flesh presses, but faith touches. Jesus knew the difference and applauded the desperately ill woman for her audacious faith.
More stunning still is the descriptor Jesus used just prior to his declaration of healing. He called the woman daughter, the only time Scripture records Jesus using this relational word directly to an individual. Once on the fringes of the crowd, she is now welcomed into the family of God. Jesus was interested in restoring her socially as well as healing her physically.
The account of the two daughters has much to teach us. We weren’t created to live in isolation but community. As daughters of our heavenly father, we have a responsibility to care for those on the margins of the society as Jesus did. No one is beyond the reach of his grace.
And nothing is to be gained by hiding from him. Evasiveness comes naturally to humans. Only three chapters into the Old Testament, God confronts our first parents when he discovers them hiding among the trees. The bleeding woman’s intent was to approach Jesus surreptitiously, but Jesus brought her into the open to release her from shame.
Whether it’s our past that needs healing or our future that’s at risk, Jesus is present in our situation. The woman endured chronic suffering and consistent isolation that lasted 12 years. Jairus’s daughter had only experienced a dozen years of life and would have no future if Jesus did not restore her. Yet Jesus healed them both, and did so immediately. By restoring the girl to life, he performed an even greater miracle than he had for the woman.
On that night when our new daughter Sarah asked my husband what she should call him, Mike explained that children in the first century often called their papa “Abba,” the affectionate term Jesus used for his father.
A pause. “May I call you Abba?” Sarah asked tentatively.
I could hear the emotion in Mike’s voice as he answered, “I’d love that, Sarah. May I call you daughter?”
And I could hear the smile in hers as she said, “I’d like that.”
Adapted from the upcoming book This Life We Share: Connecting with God, Yourself, and Others by Maggie Wallem Rowe (NavPress, 2020).