“A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes.’ ‘You see the people crowding against you,’ his disciples answered, ‘and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me.’ But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your sufferings.’” Mark 5:24b-34
Unclean. . .outcast. . .pariah. . .outsider. . .sinner. . .desperate! These words defined her, they echoed in her head day in and day out. For twelve long years she had suffered under the weight of these words hurled at her in derision and contempt whenever she dared leave the security of her home, the once beloved place that was now her prison and would soon be her tomb. The words hurt far more than the stones thrown to accompany the insults, shredding her dignity, tearing her heart to pieces. She was set apart in her misery.
The Leviticus laws were well known to her, and she had followed them as closely as she could all her life. She knew she was not permitted to enter the temple or participate in the ritual of her faith until at least seven days after her bleeding had ended. She understood that this law was part of the Almighty’s decrees for holiness for His chosen people. But her bleeding never stopped. The rites and ceremonies of her faith that had always comforted her were now denied when she desperately needed them. The loss of hope was the pain she couldn’t bear.
In the beginning, there had been hope. Her husband had been a wealthy man and encouraged her to seek the best medical advice available. Physician after physician was consulted, herbs and potions and treatments prescribed and followed. The humiliation of the examinations and painful courses of treatment were endured in a vain hope that dwindled with each shekel spent. And still the bleeding continued. Desperation replaced expectation. And still the bleeding continued.
Now the money was gone, along with her family. They could no longer endure the guilt by association, the label of “unclean” that clung to them. The physicians were gone too. They left as soon as there was no more money to pay them, their promised cures a mirage in the desert of her life. There was nothing they could do for her. She was incurable. Alone, she sat in the dark, unable to bear the false optimism the light brought with it. Her spirit wasted away with her body, and she lay on her cot waiting to die, willing the suffering to end. Until the noise from the crowds outside her door could no longer be ignored.
Even in her isolation, she had heard murmurings of this Jesus of Nazareth. All Jerusalem was talking about him, and the opinions drifted through her shuttered window like fine dust. Some said he was the Messiah; others claimed he was from Satan. No one could deny his miracles. She heard that he healed lepers, cast out demons, gave sight to the blind and made the lame whole. All this came back to her as the crowd grew outside her door, and she couldn’t help but wonder if Jesus could heal someone like her, an outcast and sinner so vile. In spite of herself, a tiny spark of hope was ignited, and it was enough to dare her to action. The risk was great. By venturing outside her door, weak in body and spirit, she risked death by stoning. She should have been outside the walls of the city. To touch anyone in the crowd would render them unclean. How could she dare do this? And yet, how could she not?
She was desperate. She had exhausted everything. Jesus was her last hope. And so she dared, thinking in her feverish mind, that if she could just touch the very hem of his cloak she would surely be healed. She covered herself from head to toe and waited just inside the door for him to pass. Then, throwing all caution aside, she boldly pushed her way through the press of bodies all around her until she could gently reach out with her fingertips and graze the coarse linen of his garment.
In that instant, the miracle she sought became reality. The bleeding stopped and she felt the strength flow through her body. In that instant, she was aware that the crowd was not longer moving. Jesus had stopped, turned, and was looking into the faces of the people pressed around him. He had felt her touch! She was so careful! It was just the lightest of contacts and there were bodies all around him as he walked. How could he know? But he did, and he was looking for her. She was exposed now for all to see, her sin no longer hidden from view.
Ashamed and fearful, she fell at his feet and with trembling tears, she confessed. She was a sinner, an outcast, unclean, a pariah, and in her desperation, she had dared to touch the Holy of Holies. Cowering, she waited for his angry rebuke and the stones of penalty that would seal her fate. Instead, she heard his gentle voice speak the sweetest words she would ever hear, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.”
For twelve years this woman was defined by the words hurled at her. She absorbed them into the marrow of her being: outcast. . .unclean. . .pariah. . .sinner. . .desperate. But in that one moment of her greatest desperation, when there was truly nothing left for her, when all her hope centered on simply touching the very edges of the Master’s clothing, the definition of her life changed forever in one simple word – “daughter.” In the beauty of that word, the tenderness of the Father washed over her as the depth of longing in her heart was fulfilled. She was no longer an outcast, and exile, unclean, a sinner. No longer was she set apart in her misery. With one touch she went from desperation to devotion, set apart in wholeness and in holiness, a daughter of the King.
Too often I have let the words of the enemy define me and isolate me. Help me today, Lord, to reach out in desperation to You and to hear You speak gentle truth into my soul, calling me Your daughter. Grant me faith to believe I am who You say I am and to walk forward in freedom.