I like Carl Trueman. In fact, I have the T-Shirt, but I’ll spare you that photo. I came across this brief article the other day and think it worth sharing. Hope you enjoy it.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of preaching is the way that it forces one to look in more detail at biblical texts than one would typically so do; and this often throws up odd textual peculiarities and apparent throwaway lines that, on reflection, are anything but irrelevant. One such occurs in Mark 5. The chapter is one pervaded by uncleanness, from the man who lives among the (unclean) tombs filled with (unclean) demons to the poor woman who has an (unclean) flow of blood which excludes her from life in the covenant community to Jairus’s daughter who has been taken by (unclean) death. It is, of course, a great chapter for talking about sin in a world where it is claimed people no longer grasp the concept of sin at all. They may not know what the word means but they probably know what dirty tricks, dirty minds and dirty politicians are. The language of dirt is still accessible as a moral category, even in these apparently amoral times.
The peculiarity in the text is the role of ‘twelve years.’ Mark tells us that the woman has suffered from a flow of blood for twelve years (v. 25); in other words, she has been unclean, and thus excluded, for that length of time. Then, later in the passage, almost as a throwaway line or an afterthought, he mentions the little girls is twelve years old (v. 42). The placement of the information jars a little and, indeed, the detail seems unnecessarily specific: that the girl walks about after being resurrected seems to require no explanation as the report of her walking obviously implies she is of an age to walk. Yet Mark adds this detail anyway. Why?
Well, this is just speculation but could it be that he is underlining the acute nature of the older woman’s suffering? In my mid-forties now, I can remember being thirty-three as if it was yesterday. When you are eighteen, twelve years seems a long time – indeed, it is two thirds of your life, after all. But at forty-five, the years flick by like trees observed from a fast moving train carriage. Yet if I had had a toothache since the age of thirty-three, or had been undergoing cancer treatment for a decade, I suspect I would have been acutely aware of the length of every single second of my suffering.
Behold the compassion of the Lord: the healing of this woman was no cheap stunt; she had suffered. She had been consumed spiritually, physically and financially by the affliction. More that that, she had suffered for twelve long years. Let those words sink in. Twelve long years – the twinkling of an eye to some, but for Jairus’s daughter, an entire lifetime; and presumably it felt like an entire lifetime to this woman, whose memories of her earlier life in the covenant community must have been distorted, if not buried, under the years of torment. And as she reaches out in her uncleanness and touches Christ, the net result is not that both of them become thereby unclean (as should have happened according to Leviticus 15) but she is made clean. This is an act of great power; it is also, given her pitiable chronic condition, an act of amazing mercy and deliverance. The throwaway line about the little girl’s age serves to point us to the desperate condition of fallen (unclean) humanity and to the remarkable compassion of God – our God – in addressing the human predicament. Praise God for literary touches, the throwaway lines, in the pages of scripture that bring out so beautifully his grace and mercy.