A “Markan Sandwich”. That’s often how this passage is described. They show up in Mark, but most clearly here. A “Markan Sandwich” is when Mark takes a story and kind of “sandwiches” it within another story. It’s as though there is one story that is the bread and another that is the meat. In this case the story of Jairus and his daughter is the bread, and the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years is the meat.
Mark is intentional about telling the story this way, but the question is why? What’s the purpose of doing this? I don’t suppose we really know, but it’s pretty apparent that he wants us to read each of these stories in context with the other. Whenever we see this format, one of the first things we should do is compare and contrast the stories. Because it’s a “sandwich”, there are likely intentional similarities and corresponding differences.
Similarities: Both stories involve women who desire/need healing. Both women are at some point “unclean” (once the girl is presumed dead, she is “unclean”, and women who were bleeding were considered I clean. I know, I know! It some serious sexist stuff.). The number 12 (a common biblical number) comes up with both (one is 12 years old, one has been bleeding for 12 years). Both get healed. And By virtue of contact, Jesus would be deemed “unclean” in both stories. Anything else you see?
Differences: One involves a grown woman, one a child. The woman touches Jesus, but the girl is touched by Jesus. The girl has someone advocate for her, the woman advocates for herself. One is healed very publicly, the other very privately- and even more so Jesus is intentional about making sure it goes this way; he instructs the woman to confess in front of the crowd to being the one who touched him, but with the girl, he specifically sends people away. The woman is likely poor and comes from a low social status, while the girl is likely wealthy and comes from a high social status. Again, anything else?
There are sure to be more, but as you can see, there are many similarities and corresponding differences. The question I wonder is this: Why does Mark choose to do this here? There have been numerous healings throughout the gospel. Why does he do this here? There are a whole heap of potential answers, but I might throw this one out as a possibility:
In 4+ chapters we have about six stories of Jesus healing someone or casting out evil spirits (I might be off with my quick count), not counting the “many” that are also often referred to (see 1:34, for example). That’s actually kind of a lot. By this point reading about him healing someone is kind of yawner. “Got it, okay, you healed someone again. Yay, Jesus.” But so far all of his healing and exorcisms have been on men (with the exception of Simon’s mother-in-law, who, unlike the men, is not a stranger). But all of sudden, here we have two stories about two different women. I think Mark uses the “sandwich” here because he wants us to slow down for minute. He’s saying “paying attention to this one”.
He wants us to pay attention because these ones involve women, and women whose intersections of identities represent such a wide span of women, that he intends to mean all women. We have young woman and an older women, a rich woman and a poor woman, and insider and an outsider). Women literally didn’t count in those days (we’ll see this in soon in Mark 6:44 where “those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men“). I wonder if Mark is saying here, what he’s been saying all along, which is the boundaries of who counts is tearing open: Women count. Women matter. And they matter a lot. They are not property. They are not assets. They are humans endowed with the power of the spirit just like men. And they can receive this power, just like a man, either by touching the “Son of God” directly and being touched by him. This is not a good old boys club- not any more.
There are a myriad of other points to pull out of these stories. They are rich and full. It’s a good sandwich. What the ingredients you notice? How did it speak to you?