She was very sick, of this there can be no doubt. While there’s some debate as to the diagnosis she would receive today, it’s clear that her prolonged symptoms (Mark says she’d been sick for twelve years) resembled long (perhaps even unending) heavy periods.
In addition to her illness’ tremendous physical toll, it also left her financially broken.
She had endured much under many physicians, and spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.When she learned that Jesus was passing through her town, however, the woman saw her last chance at a good life.
She said to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
Mark goes on to describe a chaotic scene. One imagines a crowd moving down the street. We see pious townsfolk, skeptical onlookers, curious children, attentive disciples, and, at the center of it all, Jesus.
Making her way through the press, we also see our woman. We see her weakened body summoning the strength to navigate her way through the crowd. We see her drawing near to Jesus, reaching out a hand to touch him, and….
Two amazing things seemed to happen in an instance.
Mark’s characteristically breathless style serves the moment well.
Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”The question was absurd on its face.
“You see the crowd pressing in on you,” said the disciples, “how can you say, “Who touched me?”
Then Jesus did something that’s really quite striking. Mark says Jesus “looked around to see who had done it.”
Can you see him scanning the crowd—moving from face to face? I think this is an incredible scene.
But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.Now if you’re wondering why someone who had just been healed of a depilating illness is acting as if she had just been caught in the act of committing some horrible offense, well, the truth is that that’s exactly what she had done.
You see, in addition to leaving her physically and financially broken, the bloody nature of the woman’s illness rendered her ritually unclean, as well. And anything or anyone that she touched was made unclean, too.
The woman shouldn’t have been anywhere near that crowd or Jesus and it seemed that the high cost of the healing virtue she stole was his defilement.
But it wasn’t so.
Jesus wasn’t interested in bringing his offender to account.
Jesus wanted to proclaim, for all to hear, the deliverance of God’s beloved child kneeling at his feet.
“Daughter,” he said, “your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
In the reading and retelling of this story my mind dwells upon the matter of the woman’s would be offense. By the prevailing wisdom and social mores of her culture, indeed by the very Law of God, she did act recklessly. She made Jesus unclean, but it was as if he took on or swallowed up her uncleanliness in order to set her free and make her whole again.
In this way, the story of the woman who used to have an issue of blood brings to life one of the early Church’s central teachings about Jesus—that he lifted from human hearts the heavy burden of sin, alienation, and brokenness so that we might have release and be made whole again.
At first glance, it seemed that this sick woman was acting recklessly, but her actions pale in comparison to the scandalously reckless love of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.
This, I think, is a message Saint Paul, in particular, picked up as a clarion call for Christians to experience new life in Jesus Christ—a life in which old divisions and destructive habits fell to the wayside and forgiveness, reconciliation, and God’s peace triumphed.
At first glance, Paul said some truly terrible things about Jesus.
“By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin,” wrote Paul to the Church in Rome, “[God] condemned sin in the flesh.”
Paul invited the Galatians to rejoice because “Christ redeemed us from the curse of [relying on our own works to set us right with God] by becoming a curse for us.”
And in the passage that I find most enlightening for helping us to understand the Gospel text before us this morning, Paul told the Corinthians, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Jesus was sent in the likeness of sin.
Jesus became a curse.
Jesus became sin.
At first glance, Paul said some truly terrible things about Jesus, but, in reality, these bold statements point to the almighty power of God working for the deliverance and salvation of sinners like us.
And can’t we say, as well, that Jesus became racism, and homophobia, and elitism, and arrogance, and hate in order to conquer these forces and set us free to love one another in his name?
Saint Mark seems very clear about this. Jesus became unclean so that everyone with eyes to see would know that it was no longer acceptable to hold the woman kneeling before him at a distance because she was healed, restored, and one of God’s own beloved children.
In stealing a touch, she had revealed the breadth and warmth of God’s embrace.
Saint Paul is clear, too; his words to the Corinthians reading like a meditation on the woman’s story.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.From the old point of view—an egotistical and self-righteous point of view—what does someone else’s experience of injustice, or suffering, or plight, or burden mean to me?
What does an encounter between a poor sick woman and sullied rabbi mean to us?
Thank God Christ sets us free from the limitations of such a vantage point.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!After the pain, after resolving to go to Jesus, after the press of the crowd, the outstretched hand, the startling discovery of what she had done, and her honest confession, our woman heard Good News that was better than her wildest dreams.
“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
The Gospel brings to us the same message today, if we would receive it.
It is the news that prayers whispered in a weakened voice and feeble steps to reach Jesus are not in vain.
It is the news that there is, in his presence, forgiveness, mercy, and healing for us; enough forgiveness, mercy, and healing to make all things new.
And it is the Good News of New Creation.
No longer bound by sin, we are set free to bear witness to this Good News through the lives we live—lives shaped by peace and reconciliation—lives that look a whole lot like Jesus’s own. Indeed, lives that would reveal his likeness in us for “we are [his] ambassadors,” according to Paul, Christ’s representatives in the world.
At first glance, it seemed that the woman with an issue of blood was acting recklessly, but her actions pale in comparison to the scandalously reckless love of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.
Go, and may your life bear witness to this love and this Christ.
Thanks be to God for this Good News. Amen.