I have read my Bible for years and years. It’s full of stories about real people – people I can relate to. I can see so much of myself in them.
Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’
Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed at that moment.Matthew 9v. 20-22
The scenario begins with Jarius, a ruler of the synagogue who had a very sick daughter. She was only 12 and she was dying. It doesn’t take much to imagine his desperation. He would do anything… anything at all to save her. He’s an important man in his community. He’s well respected and yet in front of this large crowd, here he is, on his knees and begging Jesus to come to his house to heal her. To his utter joy, Jesus decides to break off his journey and now they’re on their way…
There’s someone else in the crowd. A woman. A woman on her own. There’s a reason for that. She’s been bleeding for 12 years. It could be her period but it must be more than that. It hasn’t stopped for 12 long and painful years. She has suffered not only the pain of her illness but for the whole of that time she’s been an outcast in the community as well.
When a woman has a discharge of blood…. she will be unclean… Any bed she lies on… will be unclean… anything she sits on will be unclean… Whoever touches them will be unclean; he must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening.Lev 15v. 25 – 30
What does that mean in practical terms?
It means if she’s married, she can’t sleep with her husband. She has to have her own chair and no one must touch it… tough enough in her own home, but what if she wants to go to someone else’s home? How can she visit her aged parents or help them manage their lives? It would cause a lot of problems. No one can touch her things. She has to eat alone, wash up alone. She can’t even walk to the market for fear of bumping into someone and making them unclean. If she’s tempted to touch so much as an apple on the stall, it becomes unclean.
In actual fact, we know nothing of her private life but if she is married, how could she care for her children? Ill and in pain, she would really struggle with normal family life. If she isn’t married, 12 years is a long time. The first flower of her youth has already gone and with it her chance to marry. She is destined to be alone for the rest of her life.
The gospel of Mark tells us she’s spent all her money trying to get healed. She’s suffered under the hands of physicians… but they only seemed to make her worse! She’s incurable. This woman could write a book about her disappointments. After all, she has had 12 years of humiliation, embarrassment and making excuses.
Exhausted, suffocated by the crowd and panicky that someone will recognise her and expose her shame, it probably took a lot of physical strength to get close to Christ, but she’s determined. She’s in pain and isn’t it so often the case that when we’re in pain that is the time when we reach out to God?
All the same, this woman didn’t dare get close enough to talk to Jesus. She feels dirty. After being told that she’s unclean for so long, it’s rubbed off into something tangible. So she humbles herself in secret. She comes up from behind. She doesn’t want to be seen so she sneaks up on Jesus and she’s lucky. Nobody notices her. She kneels and stretching out her fingers, she touches the edge of his cloak…
Instantaneously she knows something has happened. That dreadful feeling of flow has stopped… dried up. She has been miraculously healed!
Her heart leaps with joy. What a difference this will make. She’s got her life back again. She only has to go to the priest and make the required sacrifice and she can live a normal family life again. She could sit next to someone without feeling guilty. She could cuddle her children. Have a normal married life… and if she isn’t already married… there’s still time to get a husband! Oh the joy of it! How fantastic… she’s so happy, happy, happy…
But then Jesus stops.
The crowd stops too. Everyone falls silent.
The woman is frozen to the spot as Jesus turns and says, “Who touched me?”
Let’s pause a moment and look at the crowd
Here’s a group of disciples and hangers-on crowding around Jesus. One account tells us they almost crushed him. They were the ‘In’ crowd. They were probably made up of people like you and me. Women on their way to the market, stall holders, business people, teachers, retired people, mothers with small children. Ah yes, there were plenty of people there that day but only one person touched him. I think we all, myself included, need to pause here and ask ourselves a very important question. Am I simply going along with the crowd or am I really connecting with Jesus? This woman shows us there is a very real difference.
But right now she’s in a panic. He’s a rabbi. She’s touched his cloak. Matthew tells us it was only the edge, but according to the Jewish custom, she’s done a terrible thing. She’s now made him unclean. Bad enough when it’s her husband, or her father. They love her. They’re willing to suffer the consequences for the sake of a hug but this is Jesus, we’re talking about. He’s a holy man…
She creeps away.
His disciples spread their hands and shrug their shoulders. “How can you say that? Look around you. Everybody’s pushing and shoving. Of course somebody touched you. We all did!’ They only saw the crowds but Jesus knew there was a needy person there. That challenges me as well. Am I aware of the needs of others? Am I an encourager, a person who is approachable? There are needy people all around us. Are we looking out for them? Or are we only part of the crowd?
Jesus is still looking around. ‘Someone deliberately touched me,’ he says. ‘I felt healing power go out from me.’
The woman is afraid, but she realises the seriousness of the situation. She’s been found out. She didn’t mean anything by it. She just wanted to be well again. When she put her hand up, she’s so scared Mark tells us she’s trembling with fear. Was Jesus going to be angry with her or humiliate her in front of all these people…? Worse than that, will he take the healing away?
We fall into that same trap when we think God will treat us in the same way the rest of the world does. How many times have we done something we’re ashamed of and thought God would be angry with us? How often have we held back from something, maybe even taking Communion, because we’re ‘not right with God’? We put ourselves through countless days of misery for no good reason. We so often get everything back-to-front. We think we need to fix ourselves first and then come to Jesus. Hey, guess what? Jesus wants you to come as you are. So from now on, let’s keep short accounts with God. If we mess up, let’s confess it and ask for his forgiveness straight away.
This woman is an honest woman. She comes forward. She falls at his feet, confessing all. Mark tells us, she told him the whole truth, about her illness, her despair, the doctors, the fact that her money’s all gone, her depression. She explains that she was so sure if she could just touch him she would be whole. She’s babbling away and now she’s crying … all because she’s been wonderfully healed.
Jesus smiles. ‘Daughter… Nobody has spoken so kindly to her in years. In fact it’s the only time, as far as I can see, that Jesus ever used the word as a personal title… ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.’
I must just mention Jarius again. He must have been distraught to be held up by this incident but in the end, his daughter was healed as well. You see, there is no urgency where God is concerned. Jesus wasn’t moved by the crisis, he was moved by compassion.
This lady was hindered by her present. Ostracised and rejected she wasn’t even allowed to go into the Temple to worship God. Years of disappointment had worn her down. It would have been so easy to stay at home and accept the inevitable. This story is not just about the health of our bodies. God is interested in every part of our lives. So what about our disappointments? Have we been asking God for something over and over again? Are we still waiting for an answer?
Let’s make up a check list first. Does our request line up with scripture? Is what you’re asking for God’s will? Sadly the Bible doesn’t have a verse that says ‘Seek my face and you’ll stay a size 8, or trust in me and you’ll win the lottery.’ If it did, believe me I would have prayed that prayer a million times.
This lady’s disappointment over many years didn’t stop her going for it one more time and this time, she got what she wanted. And for that reason, Jesus commends her faith.