Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Hemorrhaging Woman, Jairus’s Dead Daughter & the OT Purity Laws

All three synoptic Gospels tell the story of Jesus resurrecting Jairus’s daughter, and healing the woman with the twelve-year hemorrhage on the way (Mt 9, Mk 5, Lk 8). The stories are well known.

These are, of course, impressive miracles in their own right. Nonetheless, I can’t help but think that they are to be read with the backdrop of the OT purity laws in mind, thereby underscoring that Jesus has overturned the old order and has introduced the new.

Under the OT system, a person would become unclean if they touched a dead body, or if they entered a house in which there was a dead body (Nm 19.13-14). So, too, a woman with a bloody discharge is unclean, and anyone whom she touches becomes unclean as well (Lev 15.19).

In these this passage, however, instead of Jesus contracting uncleanness from his interaction with unclean people, which is the mode of contagion in the OT, the unclean people become clean as a result of their interaction with Jesus. That is a complete reversal of the OT pattern.

Keeping it brief, I’d argue that the OT cleanliness statutes relate to the curse of death. That’s obvious to see in the case of a dead body. But what about the hemorrhaging woman?

I think Jesus teaches us the OT principle in a passage in which he expressly teaches about the OT cleanliness code:

“And he was saying, ‘That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (M 7.20-23).

Without laying out all the evidence for the argument here, I’d suggest that the OT cleanliness laws deal with things coming out of people – more strikingly, relate to things coming out of us that have to do with life or the generation of life (blood, birth, seminal emissions) – or that reveal the inner man (the “leprosy” diseases that open the skin and thereby expose the “flesh”). These make people unclean because they expose the inner man, the place where death and uncleanness dwell.

Because death cannot dwell with life, unclean people were excluded from the presence of God (Nm 19.13, 20, Lev 15.31) until they were cleansed.

So catch the overall OT picture: The entire creation fell in Adam. Through Moses, God has made a down payment on the promise he made to Abraham, and in Israel reclaims a domain of life in which he dwells with his people in peace.

But this little enclave of life is always being threatened with being overcome by death. And the spreaders of the contagion are the very people whom God has brought close to dwell with him. In spite of what God has done through Moses, death remains the principle of the old creation; life remains the contingency. In the Old Testament, death is always overcoming life. Indeed, death and uncleanness flow out of the people of God. Israel cannot overcome the sin of Adam, because Adam’s problem is their problem.

This is the picture that Jesus enters. Except that Jesus reverses the whole tendency of the old creation. Jesus is the man out of whom life flows instead of death. Rather than becoming unclean when the woman with the hemorrhage touches him, the woman is instead healed. As a result, she will be no longer excluded from God’s tabernacle because of her uncleanness. (Since her hemorrhage had lasted twelve years, she had been excluded for that long.)

So, too, under the OT system, anyone entering Jarius’s house would contract uncleanness because of the dead body in it. But instead of the normal OT pattern of death overcoming life, Jesus overcomes death with life. And if the girl is only asleep, then there is no death contagion to spread at all.

So it doesn’t seem to me that these miracles are “just” miracles. Rather, these miracles very specifically reveal Jesus’ special vocation as the world’s savior and the inaugurator of a new creation. They also show how Jesus supersedes the Old Testament. It’s not at all that what Moses provided wasn’t good – it was very good in the context of the OT. But it couldn’t change the old-creation nature of those who participated in it. Death remained the principle, and life the contingency. Death continually threatened to overwhelm life.

All of this is reversed in Jesus. Life is now the principle, and death is the contingency. Life now overwhelms death. Further, life now flows out of God’s people rather than death:

“He who believes in me, as the Scripture says, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water’” (Jn 7.38).

This is great news. Jesus gives us a new nature. We are now a people in whom life abodes rather than death. And as we move through the world, it is life that flows out of us into the world instead of death.


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