All societies have categories for labelling clean from unclean. These are moral categories that determine whether you are in or out of that particular society. In our culture, getting drunk with your makes or picking up a random girl in a bar gets a round of applause in some circles.
Meanwhile, if you’re spotted putting your empty milk bottle into the wrong colour bin, you are out! You are chastised, mocked and considered an outcast.
The world has these categories because it was created by God who is righteous and holy. A God who makes distinctions between right and wrong, pure and impure, clean and unclean, truth and a lie, beauty and ugliness, and so on.
We honour God when we acknowledge and uphold His categories and his definitions. We dishonour Him when we substitute His categories for our own. As someone once said, the battle in our culture is over the dictionary.
The occasion in Mark 5:21 of the woman with a bleed and the death of a little girl in Mark 5:35, not only highlight the separation we experience on account of our uncleanness (a metaphor for sin) but also highlights the true way of reconciliation.
The arrival of Jesus into this world means that God has not left us in our uncleanness. He has made a way to atone for sin so that we can be reconciled. In the Gospel, our hands are washed and we welcomed back to the dinner table in His house.
The woman with the bleed and the dead girl both follow the same theme and are linked to the circumstance of the demoniac among the tombs in the previous event.
Like the demoniac, both these women represent an unclean, and therefore outcast and isolated society. Their circumstances also resemble Israel in that they are both unclean and both are associated with the number twelve. It seems no accident that Mark knew – and wanted us to know – that the bleed had been going on for 12 years and that the deceased girl was twelve years old. Twelve being shorthand for Israel and later the Apostles (cf. Ezekiel 16; Mark. 6:7).
Cleanliness under the Old Covenant was a way to define community. Like all communities ever, the regulations let you know who was in and who was out.
Here in Mark, we meet two women who are excluded from that Covenant Community.
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An issue of blood made you unclean. It put you outside the community. Anything and anyone you touched become unclean.
This meant you could not participate in regular festivals and family gatherings. Death, which itself means separation was also a thing unclean. To touch a dead body made you unclean as well.
In this way, uncleanness had a knock-on effect and mirrors the nature of sin. Like a disease, it gets into everything and on account of it, people are separated from God.
But throughout the Old Testament, a way of atonement and a process of reconciliation was offered.
Because these categories are inescapable, we seek a substitute to atone for our uncleanness. We impose fines on one another as a way of punishing the “evil-doer” as defined by the standards of the culture in which we live.
For example, if you throw rubbish out of your car window you are punished or fined. By analogy, you become unclean. You are a marked man. You might even lose your license and so lose much of your freedom to enjoy the community.
Pay the fine and you are reconciled. You are free to move about in your community again.
Like the two women in these events, we are an unclean society and we are powerless to do anything about it. Our sin pollutes everything.
In order to be clean, we need a Mediator, a Priest. Someone who can lay His hand on both God and Man. And that is what Jesus does.
In the Gospel, He lays a hand on you, and you lay your hands on Him.
By coming in to contact with Jesus you are made clean. He becomes a scapegoat. He takes away your uncleanness, your filth, your shame.
He washes you and sprinkles your conscience with clean water.
This is the message of the Gospel that Jesus came to preach and practise in His healing of these two women. And the message is not, “clean up your act and join Me”, it’s”Join Me and you’ll be clean.”