Today I want to look at a familiar story. It's found in Matthew 9, Mark 5, and Luke 8. The Mark version has the most details, so we'll go with that one.
25 Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, 26 and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. 28 For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”
29 Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. 30 And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?”
31 But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”
32 And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. 33 But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came 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 affliction.”
I have most often heard this story from the context of imagining the physical pain and suffering the woman must have been going through as she suffered with the "flow of blood for twelve years." That is surely monumental, but I want to focus on today is the social stigma and the isolation she would have faced under the Mosaic law.
In Leviticus we see the rules for when a woman is unclean because of blood. There are rules for the standard menstrual cycle which render her unclean for seven days. However,
25 ‘If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, other than at the time of her customary impurity, or if it runs beyond her usual time of impurity, all the days of her unclean discharge shall be as the days of her customary impurity. She shall be unclean. 26 Every bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and whatever she sits on shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. 27 Whoever touches those things shall be unclean; he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.28 ‘But if she is cleansed of her discharge, then she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. 29 And on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and bring them to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 30 Then the priest shall offer the one as a sin offering and the other asa burnt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for her before the Lord for the discharge of her uncleanness.Leviticus 15:25-30
This woman we see in the gospels has been unclean for twelve years. Continuously. For twelve years she has been vigilant about where she slept and where she sat. She has not been allowed to touch anyone without making that person unclean for the day.
Twelve Years. I can't even fathom that.
Twelve years ago it was the year 2000. I don't know how many chairs I've sat on, beds I've slept on, or people I've touched in those years. This woman knew. She could likely count on one hand the number of people who she had (accidentally?) touched. She knew right where the chairs and the beds were that were hers alone. Did anyone else ever willingly let themselves be unclean for just a day in order that she might feel the comfort of a hand on hers or even a hug? Did anyone speak to her?
This woman, desperate for touch, desperate for a life that didn't involve not only the physically draining illness but a life that was free from the religious and social stigma.She sought medical help - she spent all she had until not only was she sick and ostracized, but she was destitute and impoverished.
Then she heard of Jesus. She heard of his miracles and his message. She heard enough about this Rabbi, this Jewish teacher, to know that he would not recoil when a woman who could make him impure would touch him. Her faith was evident to Jesus. His power flowed from him to her. He could have simply kept walking and it would've been a secret healing - only he and this woman knowing of her joy and peace. But he turned around in the crowd and pointed her out in front of his disciples and the others.
This woman who was most likely shunned and avoided for her impurity was center stage for this moment. Jesus said to her "you are healed" and the message to the crowds was "I make things new, and pure, and clean. I release you from the bondage of the law."
I wonder at the week after this for the woman. She had to wait seven days to offer the sacrifice before she could officially be considered clean. Did she wake each morning and check to be sure that she was still healed? Did she grow anxious on day six? Her promise so close and yet the twelve years of isolation closer still. Or, was the absence of her disease enough to keep that faith strong, eagerly waiting for that seventh day when she would finally be free of the law. Eager to fully claim the freedom of Jesus Christ.
What a blessing it is to not have a seven day waiting period in between believing in the power of Jesus Christ and fully living in his freedom.
This is part of an ongoing series on Women and Female Imagery in the Bible. Click the "FeminineFridays" tag for more!