Jairus and the Unclean Woman

Some Thoughts on Luke 8

Tim Bliss February 2024

Jairus - Luke 8

A couple of things particularly struck me from Sunday’s reading (4th Feb) that were seemingly unconnected but would probably have given a clear message to those present generally and perhaps Jairus in particular.

The Old Testament laws, which were very strictly interpreted and enforced by the Pharisees, would have meant that the woman in the story had been ceremonially unclean for twelve years continuously. This would have prevented her from living any kind of normal life or socialising with others and she would have been excluded from the synagogues & the temple. Jairus, as a synagogue leader, would have very much kept his distance from such a woman (ceremonial uncleanliness was transferable by contact).

The woman and Jairus were at opposite ends of the social hierarchy and Jairus’ standing as a community leader might have been thought to give him priority treatment (although he himself does demonstrate considerable humility when he approaches Jesus). His twelve year old daughter is seriously Ill and time is of the essence. As they are hurrying back to his house they are interrupted by this unclean woman who has been that way since more or less the time that Jairus’ daughter was born. 

She then does what would probably at the time have been considered an absolutely outrageous thing and touches the edge of Jesus’ cloak. This act, in the eyes of the Pharisees would have made Jesus ceremonially unclean, at least until he had undertaken ritual washing (Leviticus 15:27), but this act of faith on the part of the woman results in her healing! 

Everything stops.

Jesus could have just carried on. The woman would still have been healed but no-one would have known. This would have saved her embarrassment and Jesus could have carried on to Jairus’ house without anyone being concerned that he had been in contact with an unclean person but this was not what happened. 

Jesus stops. “Who touched me?” He asked.

Of course Jesus knew who it was and why. The question was for the woman, for the crowd and for Jairus.

We don’t know how long it took for the woman to pluck up the courage to come forward. It may only have been moments or it may have taken much longer but for Jairus it must have seemed an age. The woman eventually comes forward, explains everything and admits to touching Jesus. Jesus reassures her that she has been healed, commends her for her faith and sends her on her way.

This all leaves Jairus with a problem. Despite the healing nothing else has changed. In the eyes of the law the woman is still ceremonially unclean for another seven days (Leviticus 15:25-28) and Jesus until the evening. There is an urgency because of his daughter’s acute illness but the legal problem of having Jesus enter his house in this condition is also now an issue.

At this point events take another turn when the messenger arrives to tell Jairus that it is too late. His daughter has died. For Jairus this must have been devastating. If only that woman hadn’t interrupted them. If only Jesus hadn’t stopped. Now it was all too late.

Jesus quickly reassures him that all is not lost and his daughter can still be healed. “Only believe” he says. So whether out of a supreme act of faith or out of sheer desperation (or perhaps a bit of both?) he accompanies Jesus back to his home & the rest is history.

For once we are not confronted by a group of disgruntled Pharisees keen to point out all the theological problems. Perhaps because it was undeniable that a miracle had happened, perhaps because Jairus was a friend and colleague, or perhaps they just weren’t present on this occasion and Jairus and his wife took seriously Jesus’ instruction not to tell anyone what had happened.

What can we take away from all of this?

Firstly: The love & compassion of Jesus does not respect social or religious hierarchies. 
(Jairus had to wait while Jesus dealt with someone who was very much his social inferior.)
He loves you and has time for you whether you are a prominent leader or a social outcast.

Secondly: God’s timing is not our timing. Sometimes we have to wait for our prayers to be answered. The woman had to wait twelve years to be healed while Jairus, twelve year old daughter had to wait until it was seemingly too late.

Thirdly: We shouldn’t put God in a box. Sometimes He doesn’t work within the rules we set for Him. Jesus did unexpected things and didn’t fit in the framework that the religious leaders understood. 

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

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