But in your life and in mine, little stories often appear. They sometimes get in the middle of things and become inconveniences for us as well.
The woman is a pitiful character. She stands at the edge of the crowd and watches. The first thing we learn about her is that her body is a mess. She carries pain. Her pain comes at us in three ways:
- She’s been bleeding for 12 years—that’s the loss of a lot of blood.
- The lesson indicates that she has “endured much under many doctors. She’s probably spent a lot of her life in clinics and waiting rooms, poked at and questioned by too many medical experts.
- The result of all of this is that she’s spent everything she has—no health insurance, but still she bleeds. Now she’s bloody and she’s broke.
She is making one last effort to save herself. She reaches out to Jesus like pain touching power—saying to herself “if I can touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
This isn’t like a nice or soft or innocuous touch. This is a real touch, taken by an untouchable, and in doing this she shatters the neat division between the sick and the well. Her act of touching Jesus is an act of desperate hope. She is a person who is exhausted and living a forlorn life who is touching a full, powerful life—from a powerless person to the power of Jesus.
And the outcome is all that she expects and hopes for—the bleeding stops and she is healed.
Mark continues this story by saying that Jesus felt this touch, but didn’t know who did the touching—Jesus felt some kind of power had been transferred—had gone out of him. Mark doesn’t say anything about whether Jesus was upset or anxious because of this touch-- only that he wanted to identify the person—he wanted to know who was moved from sickness to health by that touch.
So Jesus asks his disciples, “Who touched me?” And they say to him—“Hey--there’s a big crowd here and how do we know who touched you—it’s not important to find the someone who touched you.” But Jesus is intense—he wants to know what is happening as he feels this power go out from him. He continues to look around, to wonder and to care. He looks over the crowd—but he doesn’t have any idea of who she was.
But she takes the initiative. She tells Jesus who she is and what she has done. She reflects a new kind of courage. Mark tells us that “…knowing what happened to her, the woman came in fear and trembling, fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” It’s an amazing moment of truth. “ By Jesus’ power she knows she has been healed.”
She comes to Jesus in fear and trembling. How odd. Why is that? Did she expect to be scolded and shamed because she was used to being abused and shamed?
But Jesus speaks to her for the first time. This becomes a confrontation between power and pain. He surprises her—he surprises his disciples and the crowd around him. He doesn’t scold or shame her. He models a new way. Jesus is focused upon her—only her—and upon her future. And he does three things:
- He addresses her as “daughter.” He gives her a title of affection. He names her in a way that honors her;
- He celebrates her faith—he says, “Your faith has made you whole.” He doesn’t say anything about him being the person who has healed her. Her faith was in Jesus—but her faith was also in herself—it took courage—she had faith in her capacity to reach out, to touch, to receive, to be changed, to benefit from the touch of power,
- Finally, Jesus says to her “go in peace.” Go with no more bleeding, no more loss of her life, no more manhandling by doctors who couldn’t help her, no more poverty from spending all her money on being cured. She has become a fully liberated character in her life story—healthy and full and joyous.
But I have a question for you. You recognize, don’t you, your own place in this story? We’re all like the hemorrhaging woman. We’re all having some life bleeding out of us. We’re all tired of being taken for granted. We all want to reach out for a touch. We’re all part of the too-busy disciples.
We’re not Jesus, but as baptized Christians we do share in Jesus’ power and in his capacity to heal—to let ourselves be touched so that Jesus’ power can flow into others because of us. We watch because this hurting woman and Jesus—acting for a caring God—provides for us a new shape in human relationships.
It’s a shape that generates new ideas for community and new patterns of social power.
Who would have thought that we would be here so many years later—talking about a feeble life that succeeded? Who would have thought that a story of a pitiful woman would generate a new model of Christian living?
Those of us who trust this story are not people who willingly settle for a world of “haves” and “have nots.” We are not a people who should settle for the usual arrangements of strength and weakness, power and powerlessness.
This story offers to us a different option for living. This story can bring to us a new life which we receive by touching and by sharing power. This story is a new life we can give by being touched. The word for us is “Go in peace, be healed of every disease, and by your faith be made whole.”