A Want of God: Mark 5:21-43

We are a people whom God hath converted to himself . . . and joined to his own Spirit. We, many of us, sought truly and only after God from our childhood . . . and knew not how to turn to that of God in us. . . . By this means we came to great distress and misery beyond all men. Not but that all men were in as great a want of God, his life, power, and presence as we; but the sense thereof was not so quickened in others as in us.1 – Isaac Penington

Through the metaphor of suffering and healing, chapter 5 of the Book of Mark illustrates the realization of conversion to God. Throughout this chapter in both the first and the second halves, a few individuals stand out as possessing – to use Penington’s words – a quickened sense of their want of God; it is they who are to be healed/converted. Similarly in both halves of the chapter, the crowd acts as a foil to these individuated persons. It is the herd or throng, those acquiescing to the dominant social consciousness, who openly resist or covertly deny healing through Jesus Christ, the power of God.

In the first half of chapter 5, we visited one whose mind, soul, and heart vividly manifested his “want of God”: the Gadarene demoniac.2 By way of contrast, we were also exposed to a group of people who requested Jesus “depart out of their coasts”(17), indicating their refusal to undergo the difficult, solitary trial of entertaining the truth of their inward state, as had the demoniac. In their refusal, they opted for an alternate, less courageous way of being: reliance upon the sanction and acceptance of the tribe or herd. In this story, the one saved and the many lost function as prototypes: the demoniac demonstrating courageous willingness to undergo transformation/healing, and the herd representing cowardly refusal and enabling conformity.    

In the second half of the chapter (verses 21 through 43), Jesus has once again “passed over . . . unto the other side,” and we are again on that side of the sea where society congregates and crowds form: immediately, we are told that “much people gathered unto him”(21). This is the place where shortly before, Jesus had taught parables to those who see but do not perceive, to those who hear but don’t understand (4:12). On this side of the sea, where society comes out in force (24), people are lacking in the inward depth that follows from conscientious self-scrutiny, and instead turn to shallow, social enmeshment.

Jesus’s healing work is performed solely within individuals (23-24, 30). Though the crowd on this side of the sea does not bluntly request he leave – as did their Gadarene counterparts (17) – they, nevertheless, deny him. Their collective stance exempts each from acknowledging the deceit that lies within the heart, and consequently there is no sense of personal need for truth: no “want of God.” The refusal of truth in their inward parts disqualifies them all from receiving Jesus’s response or healing.

Rather his attention is given to two individuals, the synagogue ruler (22-24) and the woman with “an issue of blood”(25), each of whom expresses his or her own deeply felt need. It is they who stand out from the crowd and receive Jesus’s assistance. As with the demoniac in the first half of the chapter, it is once again individuals who receive Jesus’s regard and healing.

Throughout the chapter, those who act collectively are given short shrift. For example, though the crowd presses upon him, he senses and responds only to the touch of the distressed woman who acts in faith (30, 34). To accompany him to the ruler’s house (37), he selects only a few disciples, and they are individuated by name: Peter, James, and John. At the house, he sends away the grandstanding weepers and wailers who, lacking sincerity, quickly resort to scornful laughter (38, 40); he again selects only the truly distraught ones, the parents, to enter the healing chamber. Finally, after the healing of the girl, Jesus firmly commands those present to not speak of it to others: “And he charged them straitly that no man should know it” (43). He would stem the contagion of idolatrous faith that quickly spreads through hearsay and, in turn, becomes the dominant social consciousness. Instead, he insists upon authentic faith that arises from the transformative healing itself.

There are two sorts or degrees of Faith: – the first is, that by which the mind gives its assent to the truth of a thing on the testimony of another; the second is of a more exalted nature, being of Divine origin, and is a gift of the Holy Spirit. – A Guide to True Peace3

Greater and Lesser

In the first half of chapter 5, we saw the most extreme, vivid example of an individual’s restoration to Life. In the second half of the chapter, the stark, unembellished battle for the soul is no longer on view, rather we see examples of the suffering that beleaguers every person in the world: the threat of losing what is most dear. In this second half, a prominent man fears the death of his daughter, and a woman fears for her health. Though each is threatened with exceedingly great loss, neither the man nor the woman undergoes the direct attack on the soul that we witnessed earlier in the Gadarene. The loss of a child or of one’s health are two of the most severe losses one can undergo in the world, yet they do not automatically lead to loss of the soul: a lesson also presented in the book of Job.

The division of the chapter midway between the two locations suggests the two passages are in balance: the telling of the demoniac’s story is given space equal to the two healing stories in the chapter’s second half. Balance or equation between the two halves of the chapter implies the first threat was as severe as the latter two combined. The worst loss in the world – even of child or health – is not as injurious to one’s being as is the loss of one’s soul, that is to say, the loss of one’s connection to God: a lesson also presented in the story of Abraham and Isaac.

In the Gadarene story, the archetypal threat to being (a soul overrun by demons) was illustrated. In the stories of Jairus, the synagogue ruler, (22) and the woman with “an issue of blood”(25), we are shown lesser threats. Yet suffering the loss of what is greatly valued can and often does lead to despair, bitter resentment, cynicism, or narcissism: all signaling unbelief and alienation from God.4 Thus the synagogue ruler hearing his daughter has died (35) is bolstered immediately by the Living One’s guidance: “Be not afraid, only believe” (36). Believing that God can and will see us through our deepest losses maintains an open conduit to that infinite Source of strength and well-being: Christ, the power of God.

Essentials and Incidentals

In the second half of chapter 5, we have witnessed two individuals’ need for God. The writer gives us numerous details about each of them, which we can analyze to find what qualities they have in common and what qualities are particular to each. The common qualities inform us of what is needed to be ready to receive Christ’s healing in our lives, while the differences signal that each healing occurs within a unique individual in all his particularity. Given our natural propensity to confuse the incidental with the essential,5 the writer distinguishes between the two by making the essential qualities appear in both characters and the incidental, only in one.

Both the ruler and the woman are in need and are confident Jesus can help6 (23, 28); both believe that touch (connection to or unity with Jesus) will provide the healing they seek (23, 28); both honor Jesus by falling down before him: i.e., subjecting themselves (22, 33); and the healing each of them receives is linked to the number 12 (25, 42), indicating wholeness or completion.7

The individuality of the synagogue’s ruler and the woman with “an issue of blood” is indicated by their dissimilarities: the ruler is a man of high status, and we’re given his name (22), while the woman is among the crowd and anonymous (31); the ruler asks directly for Jesus’s help (23), while the woman secretly touches Jesus’s clothes (27); Jesus intentionally heals the ruler’s daughter (41), while his healing of the woman is accomplished without his knowledge or intent (30). The dissimilarities inform us of qualities that are incidental to spiritual healing, namely social status, gender, age, and Jesus’s consent (30).8


Chapter 5 of Mark is a lesson in the personal dynamics of salvation. Suffering comes to everyone in this world; it is a given. Our response to that fact of life determines whether or not we are prepared to receive God’s merciful resolution. The individual who inwardly reflects upon the truth of his condition and conscientiously endures that truth will become open to receiving God’s grace. The many who turn away from the truth to outward, social distraction will come to find that their lives have been no more than a confounded, man-made flight, downed in darkness: without wisdom, without virtue, and without fulfillment. The stakes are high in this life, and we are responsible for meeting the high expectation inherent in our humanity. In Scripture, we have been given guidelines and information on the way forward, particularly in this chapter where options are so clearly delineated. Our progenitors in faith, the early Friends, lived fully into the responsibility that confronts us all.

Pull down that dead, dark, corrupt image, and mere shadow and shell of Christianity, wherewith Antichrist hath deceived the nations, for which end he hath called us to be a first-fruits of those that serve him, and worship him no more in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the spirit.9—Robert Barclay

Oh, the mystery of life! Oh, the hidden path thereof, which none can learn but those whom the Father teacheth! But many think to learn in that, which ever was, and ever will be, shut out. If Christ would lay his doctrine before them, and make it good to their understanding, they would receive it. No, no; they must bow to Christ, to his name, to his power, to his will, to his way of manifesting his truth; he will not bow to theirs.10 – Isaac Penington

1 Isaac Penington, The Works of Isaac Penington (Glenside, Pa.: Quaker Heritage Press, 1995), 1:92-93.

2 See my essay “The First Workings of the Lord: Mark 5:1-20” at Abiding Quaker, December 2022.

 3 Miguel Molinos, Jeanne-Marie Guyon, and Francois Fenelon, A Guide to True Peace, facsimile of 1815 edition compiled by William Backhouse and James Janson (Sebastopol, Calif.: Jim Wilson, 2019), 17.

4 [Satan challenges God:] ”Thou hast blessed the work of his [Job’s] hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face” (Job 1:10-11).

5 A blatant example of confusing the incidental with the essential is recorded in Fox’s Journal where people claim the incidental of gender is an essential determinate in whether or not one possesses a soul: “After this, I met with a sort of people that held women have no souls, adding in a light manner, no more than a goose. But I reproved them and told them that was not right, for Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.’” The Journal of George Fox, ed. John L. Nickalls (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, 1985), 8-9.

6 To apply these essentials to ourselves, it would be appropriate to substitute the word “truth” in place of the word “Jesus,” as we have no knowledge of who Jesus is until he appears within, whereas prior to his appearing, we can attempt to discern truth from falsehood. Initially – in the first birth – it is solely to truth that we owe our allegiance. It is the allegiance itself that deepens and readies the soul to receive Jesus Christ.

7 “The number [12] pointed in the first instance to unity and completeness, which had been sanctioned by Divine election, and it retained this significance when applied to spiritual Israel.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Mich. 1939), IV:2162.

8 Jesus’s sensing that “virtue had gone out of him” and not knowing who had “touched [his] clothes”(30) suggests both his “being in the form of God . . . and [his being] made in the likeness of men”(Phil. 2:6-7) That is to say, he has the virtue (power) of God, yet is not all-knowing (Mk. 13:32). It is his Spirit that is the operative force in the healing, not his flesh, which “profiteth nothing”(Jn. 6:63). The healing is attributed to the woman’s faith, “Thy faith hath made thee whole”(34). [Italics mine.] In this way, the distinction is subtly made that Jesus is to be worshipped as the conveyer (mediator) of the power of God, and not in a fleshly way: as an idol who magically heals physical ailments. Faith is the life and power of God received.

9 Robert Barclay, Apology for the True Christian Divinity (Glenside, Pa.: Quaker Heritage Press, 2002), 480.

10 Penington, Works, 4:23.

Mosaic of Woman with Hemorrhage from Basilica of Sant’ Apollinaire Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy

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1 Response to A Want of God: Mark 5:21-43

  1. aztxcact says:

    Thank you, Pat, for taking the time and effort to share what you have been given.



    Liked by 1 person

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