Jairus, his daughter and a sick woman: How Jesus redefined holiness

In the story of Jairus' daughter Jesus redefines holiness.Pixabay

In Mark 5:21-43 there's a story of Jesus encountering two different people. It's a sandwich story. It begins with a man named Jairus begging him to come and help his dying daughter; on his way, Jesus is touched by a woman with a flow of blood, and she is miraculously healed; then when he arrives at Jairus' house he finds his daughter is already dead, and raises her to life.

At first sight, the stories look as though they have nothing to do with each other. Actually, they both make the same point.

In the world of 1st-century Judaism, religious contamination was a big issue. Ritual contamination came about primarily through touching the wrong thing or the wrong person. If you were a good Jew, you showed your obedience to God by keeping his Law. If you touched a dead body, or a women during her period, you were unclean. It was one of the ways you as a Jew expressed your faith.

For people like the very strict Pharisees, that became more important than anything else. Somewhere along the way, kindness, generosity, and sense that God is more interested in people than in rules, got lost. Jesus didn't really worry about rules, but he worried a lot about people: he healed on the Sabbath, he with tax-collectors and sinners and he touched people with leprosy.

So Jesus here was redefining holiness. When the women touches him and makes him ritually unclean, he has every right to be angry. Instead, he calls her "daughter" and tells her to go in peace. When he arrives at Jairus' house, he walks over to the dead girl and takes her by the hand, deliberately making himself unclean by touching a corpse. But instead of her transmitting the contamination of death to him, he transmits the joy of life to her.

If we're Christians, we don't feel quite the same about ritual contamination. But we still face the same temptation to avoid people or situations that make us uncomfortable or that we feel might compromise our faith. There might be people whose lifestyles or opinions we disapprove of. We might feel we need to put some distance between us and them. But Jesus never did that.

So this is a story about the way Jesus redefines holiness. It's not about keeping away from challenging people or challenging situations, because they might contaminate you. It's about deliberately touching them, because your hope, faith and trust will infect them with the grace of God.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods