I have such empathy for this woman. She had her period for twelve years solid, and no one could heal her. Not the official physicians, not the naturopaths, not the friends that prayed over her. But this wasn’t a simple matter of washing a lot of undergarments. No, not in ancient Israel.
Leviticus 15:25-27 gives us a clue as to her fate for the past dozen years: “When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. Anyone who touches them will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.”
For a culture obsessed with outward cleanliness (to the point where Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs”) this woman was a pariah. If she was married, she had probably been divorced for her infertility. At the very least, she was ostracized from anyone she loved because to touch anything she had touched would give them a whole day’s worth of work. It would have been easier for her to block herself off from the world than to watch them dance around her, trying not to touch anything she had used.
Imagine that. Alone, untouched except by doctors leeching out both her life and her money, invisible in a society that couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t touch her.
Let’s walk with her for a moment.
She shimmies through the crowd, taking a chance that they won’t recognize her and call her out for her uncleanness. She gets close enough, finally, and crouching low, she stretches a trembling hand to the hem of his robe. And in touching the Clean One, she is made clean, for the first time in a dozen years.
Jesus could let her slip back away into her life of anonymity. She would be happy in her health, though impoverished. But he does not let her do that. He calls her out. At first she quails in her anonymity, trembling in fear, but he is relentless – almost to the point of being harsh. His disciples look at the crowd around and basically say to him, “helloooo, there are a bajillion people around here right now. They ALL touched you!”
Surely he knows who touched him. The One who could see Nathaniel sitting under a tree in his mind’s eye absolutely knows who touched the hem of his robe and was healed. But still, he relentlessly pursues her with his words.
She swallows hard, heart slamming against her ribs. It seems that she cannot remain invisible any longer. She gingerly picks up the end of her frayed dress and kneels in front of him, eyes cast to the ground.
“It was me, Master.” And to her astonishment, she begins to blurt out her entire horrible, unclean story to him, and to the people who listen with mouths agape. Women in the crowd feel their eyes moisten as they imagine her emotional and physical pain, and men in the crowd feel their hearts moved by her persistence. And at the end of it all, Jesus calls her a name.
I wonder if she looks in his eyes at this moment and sees the galaxies swirling in the darkness of them, knowing deep within her that this man is the Word that created her, created everything, then became flesh to make his dwelling among such lowly people as her.
And then he says more.
“You took a risk trusting me.”
She had taken a great risk, hadn’t she? The risk of faith. But which was the deeper risk? Sneaking through the crowd to touch the hem of his robe, or telling her story? Did the greater healing happen when she was anonymously healed, or while she told her story in public, shaking off that veil of invisibility and being fully seen for the first time in years?
Before he leaves, Jesus says one last thing to her, “Now you’re healed and whole. Live well, lived blessed.”
This tenacious, courageous woman plumbed the depths of despair and came out of it healed and whole, because of Jesus. Yes, he healed her physically. But the greater gift was that he gently drew out her battered and bruised soul, clothed it in righteousness, and stood her up in the presence of many witnesses as precious and healed and whole.
I have a friend who has also been laid low in the deepest despair.
When her baby passed away unexpectedly, her world was thrown into chaos. And yet, she can praise Jesus. She has experienced his healing. But for the longest time, she sat quietly in her seat, not sharing her stories of faith with others because she believed she was invisible, that she had nothing to say. No voice.
But then came the day she realized she could no longer go unnoticed. I wonder if she swallowed hard before she sent me her story to publish publicly. I wonder if her heart slammed against her ribs. But she picked up the fragments of her story, wove them together, and presented them to Jesus and to those who would listen.
A year later, I see a different woman. I see a woman boldly sharing her gifts with the church, speaking aloud empowered prayers, and bleeding with compassion for others. Jesus is gently drawing out her soul, clothing it in righteousness, and standing her up in the presence of many witnesses as precious and healed and whole.
He can do it for you as well.
Yes, he can and may heal your physical wounds. But which is the greater healing? Is it in the physical changes?
Or does the greater healing occur during the proclaiming of the faith story, in the stories of Jesus healing us, shaping us?
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May his words to us be the same as to that courageous woman: “Daughter, you took a risk trusting me. Now you’re healed and whole.”
(PS. Want to read my friend’s story of grace amidst profound loss? You can find it here.)