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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Mark 5



Verses 1-43

Chapter 5


5:1-13 They came to the other side of the lake, to the territory of the Gerasenes. Immediately Jesus had disembarked from the boat, there met him from the tombs a man in the grip of an unclean spirit. This man lived amongst the tombs. No one had ever been able to bind him with a chain, because he had often been bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been wrenched apart by him and the fetters shattered; and no one was strong enough to tame him. Continually, night and day, in the tombs and in the hills, he kept shrieking and gashing himself with stones. He saw Jesus when he was still a long way away, and he ran and knelt before him. "What," he said, "have you and I to do with each other, Jesus, you son of the most high God? In God's name, I adjure you, do not torture me!" For Jesus had been saying to him, "Unclean spirit, come out of the man!" "What is your name?" he asked him. "Legion is my name," he said, "for we are many." And he kept begging Jesus with many an entreaty not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of swine was feeding on the mountain-side. "Send us into the Swine," they urged him, "that we may go into them." And Jesus permitted them to go into them. And the unclean spirits came out and entered into the swine and the herd--there were about two thousand of them--rushed down the precipice into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.

Here is a vivid and rather eerie story. It is the kind of story in which we have to do our best to read between the lines, because it is thinking and speaking in terms quite familiar to people in Palestine in the days of Jesus but quite alien to us.

If this is to be taken in close connection with what goes before--and that is Mark's intention--it must have happened late in the evening or even when the night had fallen. The story becomes all the more weird and frightening when it is seen as happening in the shadows of the night.

Mark 5:35 tells us that it was late in the evening when Jesus and his friends set sail. The Lake of Galilee is 13 miles long at its longest, and 8 miles wide at its widest. At this particular part it was about 5 miles across. They had made the journey and, on the way, they had encountered the storm, and now had reached land. It was a part of the lake-side where there were many caves in the limestone rock, and many of these caves were used as tombs in which bodies were laid. At the best of times it was an eerie place; as night fell it must have been grim indeed.

Out of the tombs there came a demon-possessed man. It was a fitting place for him to be, for demons, so they believed in those days, dwelt in woods and gardens and vineyards and dirty places, in lonely and desolate spots and among the tombs. It was in the night-time and before cock-crow that the demons were specially active. To sleep alone in an empty house at night was dangerous; to greet any person in the dark was perilous, for he might be a demon. To go out at night without a lantern or a torch was to court trouble. It was a perilous place and a perilous hour, and the man was a dangerous man.

How completely this man felt himself to be possessed is seen in his way of speaking. Sometimes he uses the singular, as if he himself was speaking; sometimes he uses the plural, as if all the demons in him were speaking. He was so convinced that the demons were in him, that he felt they were speaking through him. When asked his name he said his name was Legion. There were probably two reasons for that.

A legion was a Roman regiment of 6,000 troops. Very likely the man had seen one of these Roman regiments clanking along the road, and he felt that there was a whole battalion of demons inside him. In any event the Jews believed that no man would survive if he realized the number of demons with which he was surrounded. They were "like the earth that is thrown up around a bed that is sown." There were a thousand at a man's right hand and ten thousand at his left. The queen of the female spirits had no fewer than 180,000 followers. There was a Jewish saying, "A legion of hurtful spirits is on the watch for men, saying, 'When shall he fall into the hands of one of these things and be taken?'" No doubt this wretched man knew all about this, and his poor, wandering mind was certain that a mass of those demons had taken up their residence in him.

Further, Palestine was an occupied country. The legions, at their wildest and most irresponsible, could sometimes be guilty of atrocities that would make the blood run cold. It may well be that this man had seen, perhaps even witnessed his loved ones suffer from, the murder and rapine that could sometimes follow the legions. It may well be that it was some such terrible experience which had driven him insane. The word Legion conjured up for him a vision of terror and death and destruction. He was convinced that demons like that were inside him.

We shall not even begin to understand this story unless we see how serious a case of demon-possession this man was. It is clear that Jesus made more than one attempt to heal him. Mark 5:8 tells us that Jesus had begun by using his usual method--an authoritative order to the demon to come out. On this occasion that was not successful. Next, he demanded what the demon's name was. It was always supposed in those days that, if a demon's name could be discovered, it gave a certain power over it. An ancient magical formula says, "I adjure thee, every demonic spirit, Say whatsoever thou art." The belief was that if the name was known the demon's power was broken. In this case even that did not prove enough.

Jesus saw that there was only one way to cure this man--and that was to give him unanswerable demonstration that the demons had gone out of him, at least, unanswerable as far as his own mind was concerned. It does not matter whether we believe in demon-possession or not; the man believed in it. Even if it all lay in his disordered mind, the demons were terribly, real to him. Dr. Rendle Short, speaking about the supposed evil influence of the moon (Psalms 121:6) which emerges in the words lunatic and moonstruck, says, "Modern science does not recognize any particular harm as coming from the moon. Yet it is a very widespread belief that the moon does affect people mentally. It is good to know that the Lord can deliver us from imaginary dangers as well as from real ones. Often the imaginary are harder to face."

This man needed deliverance; whether that deliverance was from literal demon-possession, or from an all-powerful delusion does not matter. This is where the herd of swine comes in. They were grazing on the hillside. The man felt that the demons were asking to be not totally destroyed but sent into the swine. All the time he was uttering the shrieks and going through the paroxysms which were the sign of his malady. Suddenly, as his yells reached a new pitch of intensity, the whole herd took flight and plunged down a steep slope into the sea. There was the very proof that the man needed. This was almost the only thing on earth that could have convinced him that he was cured. Jesus, like a wise healer who understood so kindly and sympathetically the psychology of a mind diseased, used the event to help the man climb back to sanity, and his disordered mind was restored to peace.

There are ultra-fastidious people who will blame Jesus because the healing of the man involved the death of the pigs. Surely it is a singularly blind way to look at things. How could the fate of the pigs possibly be compared with the fate of a man's immortal soul? We do not, presumably, have any objections to eating meat for dinner nor refuse pork because it involved the killing of some pig. Surely if we kill animals to avoid going hungry, we can raise no objection if the saving of a man's mind and soul involved the death of a herd of these same animals. There is a cheap sentimentalism which will languish in grief over the pain of an animal and never turn a hair at the wretched state of millions of God's men and women. This is not to say that we need not care what happens to God's animal creation, for God loves every creature whom his hands have made, but it is to say that we must preserve a sense of proportion; and in God's scale of proportions, there is nothing so important as a human soul.


5:14-17 The men who were feeding the pigs fled, and brought news of what had happened to the town and to the farms. They came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus, and they saw the demon-possessed man--the man who had had the legion of demons--sitting fully clothed and in his senses, and they were afraid; and those who had seen what had taken place told them what had happened to the demon-possessed man, and told them about the pigs; and they began to urge Jesus to get out of their territory.

Very naturally the men who had been in charge of the pigs went to the town and to the farms with news of this astounding happening. When the curious people arrived on the spot they found the man who had once been so mad sitting fully clothed and in full possession of his faculties. The wild and naked madman had become a sane and sensible citizen. And then comes the surprise, the paradox, the thing that no one would really expect. One would have thought that they would have regarded the whole matter with joy; but they regarded it with terror. And one would have thought that they would have urged Jesus to stay with them and exercise still further his amazing power; but they urged him to get out of their district as quickly as possible. Why? A man had been healed but their pigs had been destroyed, and therefore they wanted no more of this. The routine of life had been unsettled, and they wanted the disturbing element removed as quickly as possible.

A frequent battle-cry of the human mind is, "Please don't disturb me." On the whole, the one thing people want is to be let alone.

(i) Instinctively people say, "Don't disturb my comfort." If someone came to us and said, "I can give you a world that will be better for the mass of people in general, but it will mean that your comfort will, at least for a time, be disturbed and upset, and you will have to do with less for the sake of others," most of us would say, "I would much rather that you would leave things as they are." In point of fact that is almost precisely the situation through which we are living in the present social revolution. We are living through a time of redistribution, not only in this country but in the developing nations as well. We are living through a time when life is a great deal better than ever it was for a great many. But it has meant that life is not so comfortable as it was for quite a number of people; and for that very reason there is resentment because some of the comforts of life have gone.

There is a great deal of talk about what life owes us. Life owes us precisely nothing; the debt is all the other way round. It is we who owe life all that we have to give. We are followers of one who gave up the glory of heaven for the narrowness of earth, who gave up the joy of God for the pain of the Cross. It is human not to want to have our comfort disturbed; it is divine to be willing to be disturbed that others may have more.

(ii) Instinctively people say, "Don't disturb my possessions." Here is another aspect of the same thing. No man really willingly gives up anything he may possess. The older we get the more we want to clutch it to us. Borrow, who knew the gypsies, tells us that it is the fortune-telling gypsy's policy to promise to the young various pleasures, and to foretell to the old riches and only riches "for they have sufficient knowledge of the human heart to be aware that avarice is the last passion that becomes extinct within." We can soon see whether a man really accepts his faith and whether he really believes in his principles, by seeing if he is willing to become poorer for them.

(iii) Instinctively people say, "Don't disturb my religion."

(a) People say, "Don't let unpleasant subjects disturb the pleasant decorum of my religion." Edmund Gosse points out a curious omission in the sermons of the famous divine, Jeremy Taylor. "These sermons are amongst the most able and profound in the English language, but they hardly ever mention the poor, hardly ever refer to their sorrows, and show practically no interest in their state. The sermons were preached in South Wales where poverty abounded. The cry of the poor and the hungry, the ill-clothed and the needy ceaselessly ascended up to heaven, and called out for pity and redress, but this eloquent divine never seemed to hear it, he lived and wrote and preached surrounded by the suffering and the needy, and yet remained scarcely conscious of their existence."

It is much less disturbing to preach about the niceties of theological beliefs and doctrines than it is to preach about the needs of men and the abuses of life. We have actually known of congregations who informed ministers that it was a condition of their call that they would not preach on certain subjects. It was a notable thing that it was not what Jesus said about God that got him into trouble; it was what he said about man and about the needs of man that disturbed the orthodox of his day.

(b) People have been known to say, "Don't let personal relationships disturb my religion." James Burns quotes an amazing thing in this connection from the life of Angela di Foligras, the famous Italian mystic. She had the gift of completely withdrawing herself from this world, and of returning from her trances with tales of ineffably sweet communion with God. It was she herself who said: "In that time, and by God's. will, there died my mother, who was a great hindrance unto me in following the way of God; my husband died likewise, and in a short time there died all my children. And because I had commenced to follow the aforesaid way, and had prayed God that he would rid me of them, I had great consolation of their deaths, albeit I did also feel some grief." Her family was a trouble to her religion.

There is a type of religion which is fonder of committees than it is of housework, which is more set on quiet times than it is on human service. It prides itself on serving the Church and spending itself in devotion--but in God's eyes it has got things the wrong way round.

(c) People say, "Don't disturb my beliefs." There is a type of religion which says, "What was good enough for my fathers is good enough for me." There are people who do not want to know anything new, for they know that if they did they might have to go through the mental sweat of rethinking things and coming to new conclusions. There is a cowardice of thought and a lethargy of mind and a sleep of the soul which are terrible things.

The Gerasenes banished the disturbing Christ--and still men seek to do the same.


5:18-20 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed kept begging him that he might be allowed to stay with him. He did not allow him, but said to him, "Go back to your home and your own people, and tell them all that the Lord has done for you." And he went away and began to proclaim the story throughout the Decapolis of all that Jesus had done for him.

The interesting thing about this passage is that it tells us that this incident happened in the Decapolis. Decapolis literally means The Ten Cities. Near to the Jordan and on its east side, there were ten cities mainly of rather a special character. They were essentially Greek. Their names were Scythopolis, which was the only one on the west side of the Jordan, Pella, Dion, Gerasa, Philadelphia, Gadara, Raphana, Kanatha, Hippos and Damascus. With the conquests of Alexander the Great there had been a Greek penetration into Palestine and Syria.

The Greek cities which had been then founded were in rather a curious position. They were within Syria; but they were very largely independent. They had their own councils and their own coinage; they had the right of local administration, not only of themselves but of an area around them; they had the right of association for mutual defence and for commercial purposes. They remained in a kind of semi-independence down until the time of the Maccabees, about the middle of the second century B.C. The Maccabees were the Jewish conquerors and they subjected most of these cities to Jewish rule.

They were liberated from Jewish rule by the Roman Emperor Pompey about 63 B.C. They were still in a curious position. They were to some extent independent, but were liable to Roman taxation and Roman military service. They were not garrisoned, but frequently were the headquarters of Roman legions in the eastern campaigns. Now Rome governed most of this part of the world by a system of tributary kings. The result was that Rome could give these cities very little actual protection; and so they banded themselves together into a kind of corporation to defend themselves against Jewish and Arab encroachment. They were stubbornly Greek. They were beautiful cities; they had their Greek gods and their Greek temples and their Greek amphitheatres; they were devoted to the Greek way of life.

Here, then, is a most interesting thing. If Jesus was in the Decapolis it is one of the first hints of things to come. There would be Jews there. but it was fundamentally a Greek area. Here is a foretaste of a world for Christ. Here is the first sign of Christianity bursting the bonds of Judaism and going out to all the world. Just how Greek these cities were and just how important they were can be seen from the fact that from Gadara alone there came Philodemus, the great Epicurean philosopher, who was a contemporary of Cicero, Meleager, the master of the Greek epigram, Menippus", the famous satirist, and Theodorus, the rhetorician, who was no less a person than the tutor of Tiberius, the reigning Roman Emperor. Something happened on that day that Jesus set foot in the Decapolis.

There is now good reason to see why Jesus sent the man back.

(i) He was to be a witness for Christianity. He was to be a living, walking, vivid, unanswerable demonstration of what Christ can do for a man. Our glory must always be not in what we can do for Christ but in what Christ can do for us. The unanswerable proof of Christianity is a re-created man.

(ii) He was to be the first seed of what in time was to become a mighty harvest. The first contact with Greek civilization was made in the Decapolis. Everything must start somewhere; and the glory of all the Christianity which one day flowered in the Greek mind and genius began with a man who had been possessed by demons and whom Christ healed. Christ must always begin with someone. In our own circle and society why should he not begin with us?

IN THE HOUR OF NEED (Mark 5:21-24)

5:21-24 When Jesus had crossed over in the boat back again to the other side, a great crowd gathered together to him; and he was by the lakeside. One of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, came to him; and, when he saw Jesus, he threw himself at his feet. He pled with him, "My little daughter is lying at death's door. Come and lay your hands on her, that she may be cured and live." Jesus went away with him; and the crowd were following him, and crushing in upon him on all sides.

There are all the elements of tragedy here. It is always tragic when a child is ill. The story tells us that the ruler's daughter was twelve years of age. According to the Jewish custom a girl became a woman at twelve years and one day. This girl was just on the threshold of womanhood, and when death comes at such a time it is doubly tragic.

The story tells us something about this man who was the ruler of the synagogue. He must have been a person of some considerable importance. The ruler was the administrative head of the synagogue. He was the president of the board of elders responsible for the good management of the synagogue. He was responsible for the conduct of the services. He did not usually take part in them himself, but he was responsible for the allocation of duties and for seeing that they were carried out with all seemliness and good order. The ruler of the synagogue was one of the most important and most respected men in the community. But something happened to him when his daughter fell ill and he thought of Jesus.

(i) His prejudices were forgotten. There can be no doubt that he must have regarded Jesus as an outsider, as a dangerous heretic, as one to whom the synagogue doors were rightly closed, and one whom anyone who valued his orthodoxy would do well to avoid. But he was a big enough man to abandon his prejudices in his hour of need. Prejudice really means a judging beforehand. It is a judging before a man has examined the evidence, or a verdict given because of refusal to examine it. Few things have done more to hold things up than this. Nearly every forward step has had to fight against initial prejudice. When Sir James Simpson discovered its use as an anaesthetic, especially in the case of childbirth, chloroform was held to be, "a decoy of Satan, apparently opening itself to bless women, but in the end hardening them, and robbing God of the deep, earnest cries, that should arise to him in time of trouble." A prejudiced mind shuts out a man from many a blessing.

(ii) His dignity was forgotten. He, the ruler of the synagogue, came and threw himself at the feet of Jesus, the wandering teacher. Not a few times a man has had to forget his dignity to save his life and to save his soul.

In the old story that is precisely what Naaman had to do (2 Kings 5:1-27 ). He had come to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy. Elisha's prescription was that he should go and wash in the Jordan seven times. That was no way to treat the Syrian Prime Minister! Elisha had not even delivered the message personally; he had sent it by a messenger! And, had they not far better rivers in Syria than the muddy little Jordan? These were Naaman's first thoughts; but he swallowed his pride and lost his leprosy.

There is a famous story of Diogenes, the Cynic philosopher. He was captured by pirates and was being sold as a slave. As he gazed at the bystanders who were bidding for him, he looked at a man. "Sell me to that man," he said. "He needs a master." The man bought him; handed over the management of his household and the education of his children to him. "It was a good day for me," he used to say, "when Diogenes entered my household." True, but that required an abrogation of dignity.

It frequently happens that a man stands on his dignity and falls from grace.

(iii) His pride was forgotten. It must have taken a conscious effort of humiliation for this ruler of the synagogue to come and ask for help from Jesus of Nazareth. No one wishes to be indebted to anyone else: we would like to run life on our own. The very first step of the Christian life is to realize that we cannot be anything other than indebted to God.

(iv) Here we enter the realm of speculation, but it seems to me that we can say of this man that his friends were forgotten. It may well be that, to the end, they objected to him calling in Jesus. It is rather strange that he came himself and did not send a messenger. It seems unlikely that he would consent to leave his daughter when she was on the point of death. Maybe he came because no one else would go. His household were suspiciously quick to tell him not to trouble Jesus any more. It sounds almost as if they were glad not to call upon his help. It may well be that this ruler defied public opinion and home advice in order to call in Jesus. Many a man is wisest when his worldly-wise friends think he is acting like a fool.

Here was a man who forgot everything except that he wanted the help of Jesus; and because of that forgetfulness he would remember for ever that Jesus is a Saviour.

A SUFFER'S LAST HOPE (Mark 5:25-39)

5:25-39 Now there was a woman who was suffering from a haemorrhage which had lasted for twelve years. She had gone through many things at the hands of many doctors; she had spent everything she had; and it had not helped her at all. Indeed she rather got worse and worse. When she heard the stories about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd, and she touched his robe, for she said, "If I touch even his clothes I will be cured." And immediately the fountain of her blood was staunched, and she knew in her body that she was healed from her scourge.

The woman in this story suffered from a trouble which was very common and very hard to deal with. The Talmud itself gives no fewer than eleven cures for such a trouble. Some of them are tonics and astringents; but some of them are sheer superstitions like carrying the ashes of an ostrich-egg in a linen rag in summer and a cotton rag in winter; or carrying a barley corn which had been found in the dung of a white she-ass. No doubt this poor woman had tried even these desperate remedies. The trouble was that not only did this affect a woman's health, it also rendered her continuously unclean and shut her off from the worship of God and the fellowship of her friends (Leviticus 15:25-27).

Mark here has a gentle jibe at the doctors. She had tried them all and had suffered much and had spent everything she had, and the result was that she was worse instead of better. Jewish literature is interesting on the subject of doctors. "I used to go to the physicians," says one person, "to be healed, and the more they anointed me with their medicaments, the more my eyes were blinded by the films, until they were totally blinded." (Tobit 2:10.) There is a passage in the Mishnah, which is the written summary of the traditional law, which is talking about the trades that a man may teach his son." Rabbi Judah says: 'Ass-drivers are most of them wicked, camel-drivers are most of them proper folk, sailors are most of them saintly, the best among physicians is destined for Gehenna, and the most seemly among butchers is a partner of Amalek'." But, fortunately and justly, there are voices on the other side. One of the greatest of all tributes to doctors is in The Book of Sirach (one of the apocryphal books written in the time between the Old and the New Testaments) in Sirach 38:1-15.

"Cultivate the physician in accordance with the need of him,

For him also hath God ordained.

It is from God that the physician getteth wisdom,

And from the king he receiveth gifts.

"The skill of the physician lifteth up his head,

And he may stand before nobles.

God hath created medicines out of the earth,

And let not a discerning man reject them.

"By means of them the physician assuageth pain,

And likewise the apothecary prepareth an ointment:

That his work may not cease,

Nor health from the face of the earth.

"And to the physician also give a place;

Nor should he be far away for of him there is need.

For there is a time when successful help is in his power;

For he also maketh supplication to God,

To make his diagnosis successful,

And the treatment that it may promote recovery."

The physicians had had no success with the treatment of this woman's case, and she had heard of Jesus. But she had this problem--her trouble was an embarrassing thing; to go in the crowd and to state it openly was something she could not face; and so she decided to try to touch Jesus in secret. Every devout Jew wore an outer robe with four tassels on it, one at each corner. These tassels were worn in obedience to the command in Numbers 15:38-40, and they were to signify to others, and to remind the man himself, that the wearer was a member of the chosen people of God. They were the badge of a devout Jew. It was one of these tassels that the woman slipped through the crowd and touched; and, having touched it, she was thrilled to find herself cured.

Here was a woman who came to Jesus as a last resort; having tried every other cure that the world had to offer she finally tried him. Many and many a man has come to seek the help of Jesus when he himself was at his wits' end. He may have battled with temptation until he could fight no longer and stretched out a hand, crying, "Lord, save me! I perish!" He may have struggled on with some exhausting task until he reached the breaking-point and then cried out for a strength which was not his strength. He may have laboured to attain the goodness which haunted him, only to see it recede ever farther away, until he was utterly frustrated. No man should need to be driven to Christ by the force of circumstances, and yet many come that way; and, even if it is thus we come, he will never send us empty away.

"When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, O abide with me."

THE COST OF HEALING (Mark 5:30-34)

5:30-34 Jesus was well aware in himself that the power which issued from him had gone out of him; and immediately, in the middle of the crowd, he turned and said: "Who touched my clothes?" The disciples said to him: "Look at the crowd that are crushing you on every side--what's the point of saying, 'Who touched me?'" He kept looking all round to see who had done this. The woman was terrified and trembling. She knew well what had happened to her. She came and threw herself down before him, and told him the whole truth. "Daughter!" he said to her, "Your faith has cured you! Go, and be in good health, free from the trouble that was your scourge."

This passage tells us something about three people.

(i) It tells us something about Jesus. It tells us the cost of healing. Every time Jesus healed anyone it took something out of him. Here is a universal rule of life. We will never produce anything great unless we are prepared to put something of ourselves, of our very life, of our very soul into it. No pianist will ever give a really great performance if he glides through a piece of music with faultless technique and nothing more. The performance will not be great unless at the end of it there is the exhaustion which comes of the outpouring of self. No actor will ever give a great performance who repeats his words with every inflection right and every gesture correct like a perfectly designed automaton. His tears must be real tears; his feelings must be real feelings; something of himself must go into the acting. No preacher who ever preached a real sermon descended from his pulpit without a feeling of being drained of something.

If we are ever to help men, we must be ready to spend ourselves. It all comes from our attitude to men. Once Matthew Arnold, the great literary critic, said of the middle classes: "Look at these people; the clothes they wear; the books they read; the texture of mind that composes their thoughts; would any amount of money compensate for being like one of these?" Now the sense of that saying may or may not be true; but the point is that it was contempt that gave it birth. He looked on men with a kind of shuddering loathing; and no one who looks on men like that can ever help them.

Think on the other hand of Moses, after the people had made the golden calf when he was on the mountain top. Remember how he besought God to blot him out of the book of remembrance if only the people might be forgiven. (Exodus 32:30-32.) Think of how Myers makes Paul speak when he looks upon the lost and pagan world:

"Then, with a thrill, the intolerable craving,

Shivers throughout me like a trumpet call--

O to save these, to perish for their saving--

Die for their life, be offered for them all."

The greatness of Jesus was that he was prepared to pay the price of helping others, and that price was the outgoing of his very life. We follow in his steps only when we are prepared to spend, not our substance, but our souls and strength for others.

(ii) It tells us something about the disciples. It shows us very vividly the limitations of what is called common sense. The disciples took the common-sense point of view. How could Jesus avoid being touched and jostled in a crowd like that? That was the sensible way to look at things. There emerges the strange and poignant fact that they had never realized that it cost Jesus anything at all to heal others.

One of the tragedies of life is the strange insensitiveness of the human mind. We so often utterly fail to realize what others are going through. Because we may have no experience of something, we never think what that something is costing someone else. Because something may be easy for us we never realize what a costly effort it may be for someone else. That is why we so often hurt worst of all those we love. A man may pray for common sense, but sometimes he would do well to pray for that sensitive, imaginative insight which can see into the hearts of others.

(iii) It tells us something about the woman. It tells us of the relief of confession. It was all so difficult; it was all so humiliating. But once she had told the whole truth to Jesus, the terror and the trembling were gone and a wave of relief flooded her heart. And when she had made her pitiful confession she found him very kind.

"Let not conscience make you linger,

Nor of fitness fondly dream;

All the fitness he requireth

Is to feel your need of him."

It is never hard to confess to one who understands like Jesus.

DESPAIR AND HOPE (Mark 5:35-39)

5:35-39 While he was still speaking, messages came from the household of the ruler of the synagogue. "Your daughter," they said, "has died. Why trouble the teacher any more?" Jesus overheard this message being given. He said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Don't be afraid! Only keep on believing!" He allowed no one to accompany him except Peter and James and John, James' brother. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue. He saw the uproar. He saw the people weeping and wailing. He came in. "Why," he said to them, "are you so distressed? And what are you weeping for? The little girl has not died--she is sleeping." They laughed him to scorn.

Jewish mourning customs were vivid and detailed, and practically all of them were designed to stress the desolation and the final separation of death. The triumphant victorious hope of the Christian faith was totally absent.

Immediately death had taken place a loud wailing was set up so that all might know that death had struck. The wailing was repeated at the grave side. The mourners hung over the dead body, begging for a response from the silent lips. They beat their breasts; they tore their hair; and they rent their garments.

The rending of garments was done according to certain rules and regulations. It was done just before the body was finally hid from sight. Garments were to be rent to the heart, that is, until the skin was exposed, but were not to be rent beyond the navel. For fathers and mothers the rent was on the left side, over the heart; for others it was on the right side. A woman was to rend her garments in private; she was then to reverse the inner garment, so that it was worn back to front; she then rent her outer garment, so that her body was not exposed. The rent garment was worn for thirty days. After seven days the rent might be roughly sewn up, in such a way that it was still clearly visible. After the thirty days the garment was properly repaired.

Flute-players were essential. Throughout most of the ancient world, in Rome, in Greece, in Phoenicia, in Assyria and in Palestine, the wailing of the flute was inseparably connected with death and tragedy. It was laid down that, however poor a man was, he must have at least two flute-players at his wife's funeral. W. Taylor Smith in Hastings' Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels quotes two interesting instances of the use of flute-players, which show how widespread the custom was. There were flute-players at the funeral of Claudius, the Roman Emperor. When in A.D. 67 news reached Jerusalem of the fall of Jotapata to the Roman armies, Josephus tells us that "most people engaged flute-players to lead their lamentations."

The wail of the flutes, the screams of the mourners, the passionate appeals to the dead, the rent garments, the torn hair. must have made a Jewish house a poignant and pathetic place on the day of mourning.

When death came, a mourner was forbidden to work, to anoint himself or to wear shoes. Even the poorest man must cease from work for three days. He must not travel with goods; and the prohibition of work extended even to his servants. He must sit with head bound up. He must not shave, or "do anything for his comfort." He must not read the Law or the Prophets, for to read these books is joy. He was allowed to read Job, Jeremiah and Lamentations. He must eat only in his own house, and he must abstain altogether from flesh and wine. He must not leave the town or village for thirty days. It was the custom not to eat at a table, but to eat sitting on the floor, using a chair as a table. It was the custom, which still survives, to eat eggs dipped in ashes and salt.

There was one curious custom. All water from the house, and from the three houses on each side, was emptied out, because it was said that the Angel of Death procured death with a sword dipped in water taken from close at hand. There was one peculiarly pathetic custom. In the case of a young life cut off too soon, if the young person had never been married, a form of marriage service was part of the burial rites. For the time of mourning the mourner was exempt from the keeping of the law, because he was supposed to be beside himself, mad with grief.

The mourner must go to the synagogue; and when he entered the people faced him and said, "Blessed is he that comforteth the mourner." The Jewish prayer book has a special prayer to be used before meat in the house of the mourner.

"Blessed art thou, O God, our Lord, King of the Universe,

God of our fathers, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier,

the Holy One of Jacob, the King of Life, who art good and doest

good; the God of truth, the righteous Judge who judgest in

righteousness, who takest the soul in judgment, and rulest alone

in the universe, who doest in it according to his will and all his

ways are in Judgment, and we are his people, and his servants, and

in everything we are bound to praise him and to bless him, who

shields all the calamities of Israel, and will shield us in this

calamity, and from this mourning will bring us to life and peace.

Comfort, O God, our Lord, all the mourners of Jerusalem that

mourn in our sorrow. Comfort them in their mourning, and make

them rejoice in their agony as a man is comforted by his mother.

Blessed art thou, O God, the Comforter of Zion, thou that buildest

again Jerusalem."

That prayer is later than New Testament times, but it is against the background of the earlier, unrestrained expressions of grief that we must read this story of the girl who had died.


5:40-43 But he put them all out, and he took with him the father of the little girl, and the mother and his own friends, and went into the room where the little girl was. He took the little girl by the hand, and he said to her, "Maid! I say to you, Arise!" Immediately the maid arose and walked around, for she was about twelve years of age. And immediately they were amazed with a great astonishment. He gave them strong injunctions that no one should know about this. And he ordered that something to eat should be given to her.

There is a very lovely thing here. In the gospel itself, "Maid! Arise" is "Talitha (Greek #5008) Cumi (Greek #2891)", which is Aramaic. How did this little bit of Aramaic get itself embedded in the Greek of the gospels? There can be only one reason. Mark got his information from Peter. For the most part, outside of Palestine at least, Peter, too, would have to speak in Greek. But Peter had been there; he was one of the chosen three, the inner circle, who had seen this happen. And he could never forget Jesus' voice. In his mind and memory he could hear that "Talitha (Greek #5008) Cumi (Greek #2891)" all his life. The love, the gentleness, the caress of it lingered with him forever, so much so that he was unable to think of it in Greek at all, because his memory could hear it only in the voice of Jesus and in the very words that Jesus spoke.

This passage is a story of contrasts.

(i) There is the contrast between the despair of the mourners and the hope of Jesus. "Don't bother the Teacher," they said. "There's nothing anyone can do now." "Don't be afraid," said Jesus, "only believe." In the one place it is the voice of despair that speaks; in the other the voice of hope.

(ii) There is the contrast between the unrestrained distress of the mourners and the calm serenity of Jesus. They were wailing and weeping and tearing their hair and rending their garments in a paroxysm of distress; he was calm and quiet and serene and in control.

Why this difference? It was due to Jesus' perfect confidence and trust in God. The worst human disaster can be met with courage and gallantry when we meet it with God. They laughed him to scorn because they thought his hope was groundless and his calm mistaken. But the great fact of the Christian life is that what looks completely impossible with men is possible with God. What on merely human grounds is far too good to be true, becomes blessedly true when God is there. They laughed him to scorn, but their laughter must have turned to amazed wonder when they realized what God can do. There is nothing beyond facing, and there is nothing beyond conquest--not even death--when it is faced and conquered in the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Mark 5:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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