The fifth in a series of papers I wrote on the Gospel of Mark. I must admit, this material is not wholly original–one of my very first seminary classes expounded on this same passage, and the professor actually had us demonstrate it. It was an incredibly powerful experience, and I hope I’ve translated a bit of that revelation here.
After having placed the urgency of the Kingdom on his readers in Chapter 4, John-Mark encourages us by spending two chapters elaborating on the glorious benefits of Kingdom living. In Chapter 5, Jesus heals the demoniac possessed by “a legion” (vs. 1-20), heals the woman with a 12-year-long issue of blood (vs. 21-34), and raises a man’s daughter from the dead (vs. 21-43). In all these stories, Jesus speaks to people’s fears and reaches those who are outcast from society, showing compassion, calling them “daughter,” and bringing them back to life.
But within these wonderful stories are also several warnings. Even in the face of these beautiful miracles, we see the deep-rooted threads of unbelief choking society. Through the reaction of the crowds, John-Mark shows us many ways we can force the glory “out of our country” by the way we receive or reject the power of God. The people who saw the demoniac healed simply asked Jesus to leave out of fear (vs. 17); the man’s servant tells him there is no hope and he shouldn’t “bother” Jesus (vs. 35); and the mourners laughed Jesus to scorn when He said the girl wasn’t dead (vs. 39). But there’s another antagonist in this chapter that people often miss, perhaps because they usually slip into this role: the crowd pressing in on Jesus (vs. 24).
We don’t typically think of the crowd as antagonistic. They were simply a curious thong, following Jesus, eager to see what He would do. While their curiosity is not in and of itself a sin, there’s a fact about the crowd’s attitude that we often overlook, even though Jesus calls them out on it: This crowd was pressing in around Jesus, able to touch the hem that could fill them with power and healing, and they were not receiving it.
Another professor employs this story in a powerful hands-on activity as part of her Intercession & Warfare class. She has the group cluster around a designated “Jesus,” and then one by one, has each student visualize something they want desperately from God. Each student then presses through the crowd to touch “Jesus,” imagining as they do what it should feel like when we push desperately towards God.
While this exercise is incredibly powerful, the professor warns us that it lacks one crucial element that was present when the woman made her journey. In class, the “crowd” is accepting and supportive. In the original story, the crowd was, at best, disinterested and, at worst, resisting.
The woman was at a disadvantage not only because she was female, but also because she was unclean. Anyone in the crowd who noticed her condition would have likely called her out and pushed her away, not wanting to touch her. But even those that were oblivious to this woman—which must have been most of the crowd—were forming a cold, lifeless barrier around Jesus’ life and love. As Jesus says elsewhere, they were neither entering the Kingdom nor permitting others to enter (Matthew 23:13).
As the woman makes apparent a few moments later, Jesus does not need to reach out towards us for us to receive. The woman reached out and seized Jesus’ power for herself. The crowd could have reached out and accepted Jesus’ spirit for themselves—or, perhaps, even conducted it to others. But instead, they were merely eagerly watching for Jesus to act—for someone else.
This is John-Mark’s less-than-subtle warning to his readers: Do not be part of the crowd and miss the coming Kingdom!