A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding, having spent everything she had on doctors, and she could find no cure. Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.
Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”
But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.”
When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” Luke 8:42-47 NLT
Hidden. That one word describes this woman’s problem, and in a sense describes her. She had a problem that she hid from the world, and so in a sense, she was hiding her true self. Vaginal bleeding was not a subject that people talked about openly in that culture and age. Furthermore, when a woman was bleeding she was regarded as ceremonially unclean, and so therefore could not engage in the normal religious activities that were an integral part of the society and culture. If she was bleeding continuously, she could never engage in such activities. Twelve years is a long time to be on the outside of the normal social life of the community. It is a long time to be regarded as unclean. It is a long time to be avoided by others, for according to the rules of Leviticus, any person who touched her would also be regarded as unclean (Leviticus 15).
So this woman was an outsider. She was likely unmarried, since a man would not want a woman who he could not touch. If she had been married then she may have been abandoned. I like to think she had a husband who loved her and who stood by her side regardless of her awful affliction. But I know that may be wishful thinking. The likelihood is, therefore, that this woman was lonely, poor, and depressed. Not to mention very tired. She must have felt that God had abandoned her.
But she had heard about Jesus, the healer. Perhaps she had seen what he was doing with her own eyes. Perhaps someone had told her about the miracles he was performing. And for some reason faith grew within her. It is hard to imagine why. After all, she had spent everything she had on doctors, and they had not helped her. She could be forgiven for thinking she was a hopeless case. But something about Jesus sparked hope in her, and her hope grew to faith.
There was one problem. Jesus was a rabbi, a holy man. Some were saying that he was the Son of God, but she hardly knew what that meant. Whatever, she knew the rules: her affliction made her ceremonially unclean. How could she expect a rabbi to touch her? If she walked up to him and begged him for healing, as she had seen other people do, he might ask her what the problem was. There was always a crowd around him. She would be forced to reveal her uncleanness to everyone and she wasn’t sure she could cope with the embarrassment. And she was not quite sure how Jesus would respond.
She was worried for him too. She didn’t want his reputation to be tarnished. She feared what people would think and say about Jesus if he did indeed touch her, and heal her. Would they shun him for touching her, when they realized his compassion had made him ceremonially unclean? Would they be angry at her for spoiling it for everyone else?
But she longed for his touch. She had not been touched by anyone for years. She believed his touch might heal her, might free her from her prison of loneliness. She suspected that the power that was in him could heal her, even if he was not conscious of it. So she came up with a plan. “Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped.”
Of course her plan misfired somewhat. Jesus knew, immediately, that the touch he had experienced from this woman was intentional, not accidental. He stopped and turned and sough her out. Suddenly all the attention was on her, and her problem, much to her distress. Jesus could have said nothing. He could have kept that knowledge to himself, knowing that confronting her would bring embarrassment. But he didn’t. He called her out. Why?
Jesus knew the rules too. He had read Leviticus, had it taught to him from childhood. He wanted people to know that sometimes rules had to take second place to mercy, that there was no medical problem that would prevent him reaching out and touching a person who was suffering. He wanted people to know that sickness would never be a barrier between people and God. He wanted people to know that even things that had always been thought to make a person unclean were not a barrier to them receiving his healing touch. Jesus was not afraid of menstrual blood, any more than he was afraid of leprosy or any of the multitude of other illnesses that could make a person unclean. His touch neutralised the power of such things to separate a person from God.
I think Jesus was making another important point too, that women, in a society that regarded them as second class citizens, were equal to men, regardless of gynaecological realities. He loved them and valued them as much, not less, not more. He did not differentiate between them in the way that society did. He made a point of affirming this woman’s faith, in contrast to the somewhat disparaging remarks he had made about his own (male) disciples’ lack of faith just a short time before (during the storm on the lake). Jesus was setting an example, showing us the divine order of things, an order that humanity has so often forgotten, both then and now.
The faith of women is a strong theme in this chapter of Luke’s book. Though Jesus had chosen his “apostles” from among men, Luke is careful to point out that Jesus had female followers too. These were women from the extremes of life: from a young Mary Magdalene, previously demon possessed but liberated by Jesus, to a scorned prostitute whose life was transformed by Jesus’ acceptance and forgiveness, to a group of wealthy older women from the higher social classes who gave generously of their time and money. Then there was this woman, ostracised for years because of her chronic gynaecological problems, and a twelve year old girl, dearly loved but deathly sick, restored to life even as death had its claws in her.
The men in the chapter, apart perhaps from Jairus, do not come up as beacons of faith. The disciples, caught in a storm on the lake, were characterized by fear, not faith. The Pharisees, in their self righteousness smugness, were shamed by a sinful woman’s devotion.
The woman of this story could not stay hidden, and she could not hide her problem. In a sense she is no different to all of us. We go to great lengths to hide our problems, our sins, from the world, afraid that we will be ostracised or judged by our communities. None of us want our sins, our failures, our dirty little secrets, to be made public for the world to see. We are expert at hiding our bad side and only presenting the scrubbed up, squeaky clean version of us to the world.
But when we come to Jesus we cannot stay hidden. We are forced to confess our failures, our sins, as much to ourselves as to Jesus. We are set free, released, healed, and we can go on our way rejoicing. But acknowledging what we really are, who we really are, is important if we are to grow and develop into the people he wants us to be.