Scripture in Depth

Reading I: Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24

The controlling reading, as usual the Gospel, is the raising of Jairus’ daughter, with its proclamation of Christ as victor over death. The reading from Wisdom provides the Old Testament presuppositions for this victory (Protestants can be assured that although this reading comes from one of the “apocryphal” books, the doctrine it asserts is an interpretation of Genesis 1-3, consonant with Paul’s teaching).

The world as God created it was essentially good (Wisdom 1:14; see Genesis 1). Humans, in particular, were created to be immortal (Gen 3 contrariwise seems to assume that they were created mortal), but Wisdom deduces from the fact of their creation in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) that they were created immortal, and Paul seems to share this assumption when he speaks of death, as does the last phrase in Wisdom 1:14 here, as an alien intruder into the world, consequent upon sin (Romans 5:12).

Finally, Wisdom 2:24 equates the serpent in Genesis 3 with the devil. This is the first known instance of this identification, which is found also in the New Testament, including Paul (see 2 Corinthians 11:3), though not mentioned in Romans 5.

The doctrine of this passage appears at first sight to conflict with the self-evident truth that death is a biological fact. It is arguable, however, from the connection of immortality with righteousness (see Wisdom 1:15), that the author is speaking of moral and spiritual death, as Paul undoubtedly does in Romans 5.

In that case, biological death has more than a merely physical meaning; it is the ultimate sign of human beings’ alienation from God. It is the “sacrament of sin” (P. Althaus). It is death in this sense—not physical death per se, as Christians still have to die—that Christ overcomes by his death on the cross.

Responsorial Psalm: 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13

According to its title, this psalm was originally associated with the restoration of the temple in the time of the Maccabees in 164 B.C. In that case, the original reference to “death” would be the catastrophes of the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes and the Jewish war of independence. It thus becomes a psalm of national thanksgiving. Here, however, it is a psalm celebrating Christ’s victory over death, as adumbrated in the Gospel reading.

Reading II: 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15

As usual, the second reading has no direct connection with the other readings but simply appears in course. 2 Corinthians 8 is concerned entirely with Paul’s collection for the Jerusalem church. He had undertaken to raise this money several years previously at the apostolic conference (Galatians 2) and had faithfully carried out his side of the agreement. Accordingly, he had proposed to the Corinthian converts that they take part in the collection and suggested how it could be organized (1 Cor 16:1-4).

Meanwhile, however, the great crisis in the relations between Paul and the Corinthians had supervened, the result of the appearance of the false prophets in Corinth. In the ensuing fray (involving a sudden and disastrous visit to Corinth by Paul), the severe letter, identified by many with 2 Corinthians 10-13, a visit by Titus, the Corinthian volte-face, and the writing of the letter of thanksgiving (2 Cor 1:1–2:13; 7:5-16), the collection had been forgotten.

Now that the crisis is over, Paul can return to the subject (2 Cor 8 and 9, thought by some to be two separate communications on the subject). In the course of this correspondence, Paul musters every argument he can think of to encourage the Corinthians to proceed with their fund-raising drive.

The strongest motivation for Christian giving is specified in 2 Corinthians 8:9—gratitude for the riches Christ has brought through his self-emptying in the incarnation (for the doctrine, see Philippians 2:6-11).

Gospel: Mark 5:21-43 or 5:21-24, 35b-43

It is characteristic of Mark’s Gospel for one pericope to be inserted in the middle of another. Here the story of the woman with the hemorrhage is inserted into the narrative of the raising of Jairus’ daughter. It is disputed whether this insertion is due to the evangelist’s redaction or whether it came to him in this form from the tradition.

The older form critics took the latter view, supposing that the insertion was a device to explain the delay between the arrival of the messenger from Jairus and Jesus’ arrival at the house, a delay that meant that the little girl was dead by that time.

Later redaction critics are inclined to see in the insertion an attempt by the evangelist to allow one miracle to interpret the other.

The healing of the woman with the hemorrhage is interpreted as an act of salvation (Mk 5:28, 34); so also is the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Each is therefore a prefigurement of Christ’s salvation from death. The shorter reading simply omits the insert.

We first offer a reconstruction of the history of the tradition of the two stories. On the historical level, we may suppose that Jesus healed the daughter of Jairus from a critical but not fatal illness (Mk 5:23). In the tradition the narrative was then modeled on the raisings by Elijah and Elisha and served to proclaim Jesus as the eschatological prophet. The background of this story seems to be thoroughly Palestinian.

The story of the woman with the hemorrhage, on the other hand, seems to be more Hellenistic. The woman’s action in touching the healer’s garment suggests that she thought of Jesus as theios aner (“divine man”). This aspect is enhanced by Luke, who adds that Jesus knew that power (dynamis) had gone out of him when the woman touched him.

Mark seeks to correct this notion by transforming the woman’s superstitious act into an expression of faith, and the whole episode into a personal encounter with the Savior.

In addition, by combining the two episodes Mark inserts at the end of the raising his motif of the messianic secret (Mk 5:43a). From a historical point of view, the command to keep silent about the raising would be absurd, but as a theological device it makes sense.

What Mark is saying is that the true significance of the act of raising is not yet apparent. It is only at the resurrection that the veil of secrecy over Jesus will be lifted (see Mk 9:9), and therefore it is only then that Jesus will be seen as victor over death.

The raising of the little girl is not itself Jesus’ victory over death (the girl had to die sometime, and certainly did). It was only a parable or prefiguration of the act by which Jesus overcame death in its existential sense. The healing of the woman with the hemorrhage prefigures Christ’s death as a cleansing from sin.

 

Reginald H. Fuller
 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson