The Garments of Christ: Mark 5, 21-43

There’re two miracles of Jesus in Mark’s gospel for Tuesday. Jesus brings a little girl who died back to life. A dramatic story. The other miracle isn’t so dramatic. As Jesus goes to the little girl’s house, a woman comes up behind him. She’s been hemorrhaging blood for twelve years. She touches his garment and she’s cured.

No one in the crowd seems aware of what happened, except Jesus, who commends the woman for her faith. Power went out from him and cured her.

A miracle, yes, but not one you’d compare to what happened to the little  girl who was raised from the dead.   

Yet, the two stories are linked together in Mark’s Gospel. Why?  

Years ago I visited the catacombs in Rome where early Christians buried their dead. Over one of the graves in the 4th century Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter was a simple picture of a woman touching the garments of Jesus, the story from our gospel. Why was it there, I wondered?

Other pictures in the catacombs were clearly messages about death. Jonah is saved from the belly of the whale,  the three children in Babylon are saved from the fiery furnace,  Lazarus comes out of the tomb. How does the picture of woman belong with them?

Is she saying to those resting here that you don’t have to see Jesus face to face to be saved by his power? She simply touched his garments. The Christians resting there never saw his face either, but they listened to his word; they knew him in sacraments–they touched his garments. They knew Jesus in signs and were saved by his power.

The Christians buried there were baptized in Christ with water; they received his body and blood in signs of bread and wine, they heard his word. Like the woman they touched his garments and the power of Jesus went out to them.

The Gospel of Mark was written in Rome around the year 70, many scholars say. By then most people who knew Jesus physically had passed on. Now I’m not a scholar by any means, but I wonder did Mark keep these two stories together to affirm what Christians of Rome believed. Jesus brought life to the little girl; he also brought life to the woman who touched his garments, and to all who touch his garments.

In preparing the Catechism of the Catholic Church for publication after the Second Vatican Council the authors of the catechism told publishers to put that picture from the catacombs of the woman touching the garments of Jesus at the beginning of its section on the sacraments.

The woman’s an image of a church that knows Jesus through signs, through sacraments. She’s an example of faith that believes Jesus really comes to us through signs.  They’re like the garments of Jesus the woman touched, which brought her life before she saw him face to face.  They also bring us life and the promise of seeing God face to face.

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