One of my favorite things about scripture is the way it all connects like threads of a tapestry. While many verses and passages hold power all on their own, often times when they are read and considered in the light of a larger story, the insight and effect are remarkable.
In all but one of the gospels, there is a story that exemplifies this perfectly. It’s found in Matthew and Luke, however, the most comprehensive account is in Mark 5:25-34.
“And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling 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 disease.”
To understand the extraordinary impact and significance of this exchange between the woman and Jesus, we need some background information. First of all, by reading previous chapters, we can conclude that the healing takes place in Capernaum, a small city on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was a Hebrew fishing village with a population of about 1500. Given this information, it’s safe to say that the woman in the story was Jewish.
Next, let’s jump over to Leviticus 15. That particular chapter outlines a long list of rules and regulations regarding bodily discharge. The second half of the chapter is specific to women with a discharge of blood.
In a nutshell, anything she sat on was unclean. Anything she laid on was unclean. Anyone who touched her bed or anything she sat on was unclean. Anyone who touched her was unclean.
Since she lived in a Jewish community, those rules would have been strictly followed. That means that anyone that touched this woman over the previous 12 years was unclean. I imagine at first those around her, her friends and family, were willing to jump through the hoops of washing clothes and bathing. But I wonder if that got old quickly. After months and years, did they tire of the work necessary to live with her, eat with her, sit with her, and touch her. I have to believe she spent much of her time alone.
Twelve years of sleeping alone. Twelve years of eating alone. Twelve years with little to no community. Twelve years with little to no human touch. I can’t imagine that. I can’t imagine the stigma, the isolation, the loneliness that her ailment must have caused. Quite honestly, the physical component of her illness was probably the least of her pain.
Now, let’s jump back to her encounter with Jesus. For starters, it’s impossible for us to comprehend the enormous risk she took in being out in public. Mark 5:31 tells us that the crowd was pressing around Jesus, so it seems highly unlikely that this woman remained untouched among the throngs. And everyone that touched her would’ve been unclean. In a town as small as Capernaum it must’ve been difficult to remain undetected.
And what about Jesus? Did she realize that she risked making him unclean as well? Did she comprehend what she might be causing?
I’m not sure she cared. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Those measures are miraculously rewarded. They are, in fact, rewarded tenfold. In his mercy and compassion, Jesus heals her.
Except that’s only the beginning. A quick read of the story leaves us relieved and satisfied that the woman has been cured. That her bleeding has stopped. But if we’re not careful, we’ll miss the beautiful collateral healing that occurred.
With five simple words, “…be healed of your disease”, Jesus not only restored her body but he redeemed her dignity as well. The bleeding stopped and so did the isolation. Her illness retreated and along with it went the shame, the loneliness, the taboo. Suddenly, she could be touched. Instantly, she could be held. Finally, she could be loved.
If we could talk to her, and someday we will, I’d like to ask her which was more powerful: the physical healing or the emotional one? If she’s anything like me it would be the latter. After 12 years of being relationally and communally ostracized, the elation must have been palpable.
I wish I could’ve been in Capernaum that day. I wish I could have seen the woman’s face as the reality set in. I would’ve liked to see her eyes fill with joyful tears as she realized the full impact of what Jesus did for her. And I would have relished the opportunity to celebrate the collateral healing she so desperately needed but perhaps never expected.
This, my dear friends, is one of the most wondrous and remarkable things about surrendering to Jesus. The collateral healing. The healing beyond the immediate. The restoration of our hearts. In desperation we bring him our sickness, our brokenness, our very worst. We beg him to heal us. But divinely, Jesus wants so much more for us. He may heal the physical. He may heal our marriages or restore broken relationships. He may relieve us of pain. However, if we let him, he will do exponentially more. He will heal our deepest wounds and satisfy our greatest needs. Our need for rest. Our need for peace. Our need for love. Our need for him.
“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”