Can our experience of the sorrow caused by necessary social distancing help us identify with the pain and isolation of the woman Jesus healed from bleeding?
Mark 5:24-29, NIV
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.–Mark 5:24-29, NIV
I wonder if she was lonely?
Many of us know the pain of feeling excluded. When I think about the woman in this story, I am struck by how sad and lonely she must have been. Mark tells us that she had been sick and suffering for twelve years. She was desperate to find a cure and spent all the money that she had on visiting doctors and specialists. No one could help her.
This woman’s illness is particularly tragic because it made her ritually unclean. Under the law, anyone who was bleeding was considered unclean. People who were ritually unclean were not permitted to enter the synagogue or the temple. They also had to be very careful not to touch other people because anyone they touched would also become unclean.
Everyone became ritually unclean sometimes. A person was considered ritually unclean after giving birth, touching a dead body, or after having marital relations. Usually ritual uncleanness could be resolved by taking a cleansing bath and waiting the appropriate period of time. It was simply a minor inconvenience for most people.
But this woman was ritually unclean for twelve years! That is more than a decade of isolation! She would have had to live on the fringes of society, a social outcast and alienated from everyone she loved, for twelve long and lonely years.
What must that have been like for her? Do you think she had a child she could not hold or a parent she was unable to hug? I wonder if she longed to braid her sister’s hair or hold a loved one’s hand. During this pandemic the entire world has been forced to experience the pain of social distancing to keep one another safe and clean from germs. I know how much I miss shaking hands with parishioners or hugging my friends and it has only been a year. I can only imagine how this woman must have felt after twelve years of isolation.
I also wonder if she was ashamed and embarrassed. Perhaps she had grown accustomed to feeling like a burden. Maybe she was used to looking at the ground and avoiding eye contact. She did not go boldly before Jesus and beg for healing like Jairus, the respected religious leader, did on behalf of his daughter. Instead, she snuck up behind Christ and touched his cloak.
It was an act of desperation.
It was a leap of faith—and in the end, Jesus tells the woman that it was this faith that saved her.
The difference between a “cure” and “salvation.”
When Jesus healed the woman who had been afflicted by bleeding for twelve years, he offered her more than just a physical cure: He restored her to her to her place in the community. Jesus emphasizes God’s love for this woman by the way he speaks to her. He does not angrily insult her for sneaking up behind him and he does not chastise her for making him ritually unclean. Instead, he shows her love and compassion. He calls her daughter. His language demonstrates that she is welcome in the family of God. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering (Mark 5:34, NIV).”
On this special day, this woman received more than just a cure for her physical ailment. I’m sure that she was very grateful to be physically cured, but perhaps even more precious was the fact that her cure also included healing and restoration.
She comes to Jesus desperate for a cure—but she gets something even better. She gets salvation, restoration, and true healing.
In the English translation, Jesus tells the woman, “Your faith has healed you (Mark 5:34).” But what we don’t realize is that the Greek word that is used here has a deeper meaning than just physical healing. The Greek term that Christ uses is also the term for salvation or save. Jesus’s statement to this woman could also be translated as, “Your faith has saved you.”
As Christians, we know that we are saved by faith. Salvation is a free gift that God gives to us. There is nothing we can do to earn this gift. It can not be purchased at any price other than with the blood of Christ. The woman in this story spent all of her earthly money in search of a cure, but in the end, she was given something even better for free. Christ healed her and set her free. He restored her to her community and made a statement for all the crowd to hear that this woman was welcome in the family of God.
Why does it matter? A brief personal testimony
As a person with a disability, I always wrestle with the stories about Jesus providing miraculous healing for those in need. I have prayed endlessly throughout my life for God to heal my eyes. Like the woman in this story, my family and I have spent exorbitant amounts of money so that I can see some of the best eye specialists in the world at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia.
Growing up, the worst part of my disability wasn’t my poor eyesight. Instead, the most painful aspect of visual impairment was that it excluded me from my peers. Eventually, I attended a camp for the blind sponsored by the Lions Club where I met one of my best friends. It served as a gateway for me to find community and feel included.
As an adult, I have found that same sense of warmth and wholeness with my church family. Although I pray every day for healing, I have come to the point in my life where I accept that it is highly unlikely God will ever miraculously restore my damaged vision. Despite this fact, I have been blessed with a happy and fulfilling life. I love my husband, our fur babies, and the two churches that I serve.
My story is not unique. It is a common experience. There are many people in this world with all types of disabilities or other health concerns. There are countless people out there searching for some type of cure. My concern with texts like this one is that people will hear this story on a Sunday morning and think, “Why has God not healed me of my own affliction? Is it because I don’t have enough faith?”
I believe in miracles, but I also believe that our time is not God’s time. Healing rarely looks how we expect it to appear. For example, when Mark tells this story, he embeds it within the story of Jairus the synagogue leader. His daughter also received a miraculous healing from Christ—but he did not expect her to physically die first before being brought back to life by Jesus (The entire lectionary text suggested for this week is Mark 5:21-43)..
Furthermore, there is also a difference between a cure and true healing. A cure is something that happens only in the physical body. Some lucky people are perfectly healthy and don’t need a cure, but despite this fact, we ALL need some form of healing. Although not everyone needs a cure, everyone DOES need to be saved. None of us can heal our hearts and save ourselves.
True healing—especially in the ancient sense of the word as it is used in this text—is linked to restoration, wholeness, and salvation. The woman who snuck up behind Jesus and desperately reached for his cloak was searching for a simple cure. Instead, Christ granted her the gift of salvation.
True healing, wholeness, salvation, and restoration come from Christ.
My prayer for all us this summer (and always) is that we allow ourselves to be inspired by the story of this woman. During the most desperate times in our lives, may we take a leap of faith. I pray that the Holy Spirit will help us all to be brave and faithful enough to reach out and touch Christ’s cloak. May we reach out our hands and grasp true salvation.
Until Next Week,
About the author: Rev. Rebecca L. Holland is the author of Through My Good Eye: A Memoir in Verse and The United Methodist Church and Disability. Her latest book, Hope for the Broken: Using Writing to Find God’s Grace is now available from Touch Point Press!
More about the “His Encouragement” Series
This post is part of the series, “His Encouragement: Thursday Thoughts to Strengthen Your Soul.”
Now, it’s your turn! What Scripture verse is inspiring you this week? Let me know in the comments below! I’m excited to join with a group of blogging friends in order to offer you a weekly devotional which will be posted every Thursday.
Please be sure to check out the other great bloggers involved in the His Encouragement weekly series!
Trisha @ Joy of Reading
Nicole @ Christian Fiction Girl
Jacquelyn @ A Heavenly Home
Jessica @ A Baker’s Perspective
Becca @ The Becca Files
Jenny @ Author Jenny Lynn
Gina @ Stories By Gina
Andi @ Radiant Light
Leslie @ Words of Hope
Claudia @ By Claudia Mose