If and when someone asks me what my favorite bible story is I tell them it is the story of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. This amazing event in history is significant enough to be recored in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). This particular event in Jesus’ ministry has so many things we can learn from just eleven short verses. But before I get into it let’s read through Marks account of the story to get a cursory view what actually happened.
Mark 5:29-34 (NASB)
24 And He went off with him (Jairus); and a large crowd was following Him (Jesus) and pressing in on Him. [emphasis mine]
25 A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years,
26 and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse—
27 after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak.
28 For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.”
29 Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
30 Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?”
31 And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me? ’”
32 And He looked around to see the woman who had done this.
33 But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth.
34 And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”
Though it is not stated explicitly, it is very likely that her problem was a hemorrhage from her womb. Such a problem, according to Old Testament law, renders a woman unclean, and anyone or anything she touches is likewise religiously contaminated (Lev 15:25–30). There is elaborate discussion of this sort of condition and possible treatment in the Jewish Talmud, the collection of ancient rabbinic teaching. Also, the woman likely knew or at least spoke directly to Mark because he specifically understood and recorded her thought process stated in verse 28, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” This was more than a mere telling of a story he heard, but he had an intimate understanding of where this woman’s thought and faith was routed. Mark understood this was important.
So let us join Mark and closely examine this woman and try to better comprehend her plight and her struggles. I have broken the discussion into physical, mental, financial, social, emotional and spiritual considerations.
Physical – Verse 25 states the woman was hemorrhaging for 12 long years. As mentioned above, it is very likely that her problem was a hemorrhage from her womb. In her day vitamin and mineral supplements were not dispensed at a local drugstore on the corner. Surgery procedures available today to correct such a condition were of course not available to her. Her options were few. Most likely and minimally her symptoms would include anemia, tiredness, pale skin, weakness, fatigue, not to mention pain. For a case lasting 12 years her anemia was most likely moderate to severe that could cause shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, lightheadedness and headaches.
Not only had the doctors not helped her, but her condition had worsened because none of the treatments brought her any relief, let alone a cure. In short, this woman was literally in a “world of hurt” and for a very long time. Being ill for such a long time can and will have both physical and mental longterm consequences. Let’s look at the potential mental and psychological consequences of pain that would most likely accompany her condition.
Mental — One could assume her condition was accompanied by some level of chronic discomfort or pain. An article from the Journal of Neruoscience, February 2008, was titled “Chronic Pain Harms the Brain.” The paper’s summary stated, “People with unrelenting pain are often depressed and anxious. Researchers have identified a clue that may explain how suffering long-term pain could trigger other pain-related symptoms. Researchers found that in people with chronic pain, a front region of the cortex associated with emotion fails to deactivate when it should. It’s stuck on full throttle, wearing out neurons and altering their connections. People with unrelenting pain don’t only suffer from the non-stop sensation pain, they also have trouble sleeping, anxious and even have difficulty making simple decisions.” Research has shown that chronic pain carries with a plethora of baggage including brain damage, loss of gray matter, memory loss, depression as stated above, and this is the short list.
Many of us have experienced those times where we simply don’t feel well, are down and just don’t want to get out of bed or deal with others. For this poor soul, simply getting up in the morning to live her daily life would have been an extreme challenge for her let alone trying to navigate though the pushing and shoving crowd that would be part of dealing with being around Jesus on that day.
Financial Destitution— We don’t know much about this woman regarding whether or not she was married or anything about her extended family or their ability to support her. What scripture does tell us is that she was flat broke, as she “had spent all that she had.” Most of us know what financial stress can do to one’s physical and mental health. I don’t have to wonder how she felt after spending all her money and getting no relief – frustration upon frustration and with no relief.
Before we go any further, read in Leviticus 15:19-33 and see what Jewish law says about her condition and how to deal with it.
Leviticus 15:22-31 (NASB)
19 When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening.
20 Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean.
21 Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening.
22 Whoever touches any thing on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening.
23 Whether it be on the bed or on the thing on which she is sitting, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening.
24 If a man actually lies with her so that her menstrual impurity is on him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.
25 Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean.
26 Any bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her like her bed at menstruation; and every thing on which she sits shall be unclean, like her uncleanness at that time.
27 Likewise, whoever touches them shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening.
28 When she becomes clean from her discharge, she shall count off for herself seven days; and afterward she will be clean.
29 Then on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons and bring them in to the priest, to the doorway of the tent of meeting.
30 The priest shall offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. So the priest shall make atonement on her behalf before the Lord because of her impure discharge.
31 “Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them.”
Social Isolation— This poor woman might as well have had leprosy. Because of her “discharge,” by Jewish law she was considered ceremonially “unclean.” To make things worse, anyone in the crowd that day who touched her would also be deemed unclean if they knew they had come in contact with her. Look at the words I highlighted in bold, “anyone,” “anything,” “any” and “whoever.” This pretty much includes everything!
How could she, or anyone else, have a healthy self-image knowing that anyone or anything she touched was doomed to also be unclean? Prepare a meal for a love-one or a friend – absolutely not. Sit with someone on the couch to converse – nope. Ride to the market with a friend – no way. Her lifestyle could be summed up in two words – isolated and alone.
Consider the risk she took even being in public. It took great courage for her to overcome the fear of someone potentially recognizing her and publicly “calling her out.” Add his thought that many in her day would have already scoffed at her considering her cursed by G_d if she had no children because of her condition.
Hopefully you are connecting with the picture this woman lived in total isolation as an outcast. Sadly, her closest and maybe only friend was her pain.
Emotionally Starved — For this woman a simple touch of kind reassurance or a handshake of friendship was entirely out of the question. No one could or would touch her to comfort her, without having to go though the cleansing process and making a sacrifice at the temple for simply touching her. If she were married, this meant they could not enjoy life as a typical husband and wife would. Walking hand in hand was simply out of the question; forget about kissing or anything more. I know my day is not complete without kissing, holding or touching my wife. This woman enjoyed little to no physical contact in any loving context.
Spiritual Depravation—Let’s not forget, this woman was not be allowed to enter the meeting place at the temple. She was denied access to any worship facility of the day. Yet, I’m sure she pleaded and prayed to G_d those twelve long years to heal her, but she was not allowed to do so in public worship with others to support and encourage her. G_d precisely described how He was to be approached and worshipped. No one who was unclean or unholy was to approach Him. With all her other deprivations, this particular hurt was probably her greatest, and why she was able muster the courage to be in the crowd that day. She had nothing else to loose.
Can you imagine or feel how her heart must have hurt?
So she took action and I imagine it took the last bit of strength and courage mixed with a tremendous amount of hope and faith to stretch out her weakened tired arm to touch the hem of The One who brought her into this world (John 1:3). Instead of being paralyzed by anger and bitterness, this amazing woman instead chose action, faith and hope — one single simple hope upon which everything else in her life depended. Despite all that had happened to her, this woman demonstrated great faith. How she got it and held on to it is beyond me, but her faith is what made the difference in receiving the blessing of healing.
At that moment when the tip of her finger touched the hem of His garment, she experience G_d’s power course through her body though His son Jesus the Christ. She felt what it is like to be blessed by the creator of the universe in all ways she hoped. Such energy. Such power. Yet, her first response to her blessing was fear when Jesus asked who touched me.
Remember, at that moment she was still ceremoniously unclean and unacceptable as far as the law and any good Jew who attempted to uphold the law was concerned. All eyes were now on her and with no place to hide. Try for a moment to imagine what was racing through her mind. Fear. Fear like she had not experienced before. Now the Lord of Lords and the King of King was asking, “Who touched me.” Scripture says, “She trembled and fell down before Him.” Fear on top of everything else she endured. What next? I bet she wondered, “How could thing possibly get any worse?”
Then it happened. Fearfully she confessed she touched Him. Then that great moment of relief washed over her like the cool water of a brook on a hot summer day. It was the pinnacle moment of relief and acceptance she hungered for the last twelve years when she heard that special word, “Daughter.” A familial term expressing love, affection, acceptance and a sense of belonging. From the very lips of creator of the universe, the king of all kings, the Lord of lord came a gentle word, “Daughter.”
Can you imagine the surge of relief mixed with awe and amazement she must have felt?
Immediately Jesus publicly and kindly acknowledged the testimony of her faith in front of the masses declaring it was her faith in Him that healed her. “Go in peace.” She was not only healed and free from Levitical law, but she could live with that one critical ingredient missing from her life for the last 12 years – Peace.
How she must have danced through the streets on her way home. She could now be held in loving arm instead of longing for touch. She could develop friendships where there was isolation and worship with the community instead of looking in from the outside. She could partake in the Jewish feasts and join in celebrations instead of hungering for companionship. But most important of all she now has shared G_d’s greatness with you and me.
I encourage you to take a moment and try to imaging the kinds of changes she was freely able to experience and share. Try to mentally walk in her shoes on the way home. Now ask yourself, in what ways has G_d blessed me and how do I or should I react? Are my blessings and my attitude towards those blessings allowing me to reflect G_d’s greatness? In what ways can I be a blessing to others?
Please share your thoughts.
© David Hall, 2015