I love this story. I love this woman and I love her story. She’s desperately sick and almost at the end of her rope. She’s also strong and gutsy and I love her for that. Jesus heals her and calls her his daughter and I love him for that. And I love it that Luke tells us her story. It’s a short story and it’s wedged in between another longer one, and we don’t know very much about this woman at all. Mostly what we know about her we have to get by reading between the lines and remembering our Jewish History a bit.
We know that she had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. Now I checked with a doctor about this, and I learned that if a person has been losing blood for that many years she would likely have been anemic, and very weak, and very tired. She’d want to sleep all the time and would have had no energy. Her skin would have been very pale and her hair would have been quite dry. She must have had the energy to get up out of her bed once in a while and she had consulted a whole raft of various doctors during those twelve years, but none of them had been able to cure her. Though they had taken all her money. Which would have been difficult and discouraging enough, and maybe if you suffer from a chronic illness you can sympathize with her.
But there’s more. This woman is presumably a Jew. And she’s bound by the Jewish laws, which are full of restrictions for people who are bleeding. You might remember this. People who are bleeding are considered unclean, and they can’t associate with others. They are unclean, anything they touch is unclean, and anybody who touches them is also unclean. And there are long rituals that somebody has to go through to make themselves clean again once they have touched something that’s unclean. So nobody wanted to get near her, or touch her, and in fact they were forbidden to. Her clothing was unclean, her blankets were unclean, her dishes and cups and bowls were unclean. She was that word we hear and that we hate. She was an “outcast.” I can’t imagine how she managed to buy her groceries because she couldn't mingle with other people in the market. Once she got them I don’t know how she had the energy to cook them. I don’t know how she managed to get water from the village well with all the other women because she would have contaminated all the water and all the pails and all the other people there. And I don’t know where or how she managed to live – certainly not with her family. She couldn’t spend time with her children. She couldn’t play with her grandchildren. She couldn’t walk through the streets and she couldn’t worship in the synagogue with all the others. I can’t imagine that she had any friends. She couldn’t work, and she had spent all her money on doctors, so I don’t know how she managed to survive. For twelve lonely, exhausted, depressing, hopeless years.
And then one day she heard about Jesus. Who healed people. Everybody was hearing about Jesus, and everybody was drawn to him wherever he went. Huge crowds appeared wherever he was, and many, many people were being cured by him.
So this weak, exhausted, anemic, barely able to get out of bed woman sees a glimmer of hope. She learns that Jesus is about to come to her village. And she somehow got herself to the place where he was. She dared to show her pale face and her dry hair and her weakened body in public, knowing that people would know who she was and avoid her. Would clear a path in front of her. She even dared to push through the crowd and approach Jesus. And she dared to touch his clothing. She just wanted to touch his clothing. She risked making him unclean also, which of course was against every law in the Book. She gathered up all her guts and she touched Jesus’ clothing and he healed her. He felt the power go out of his body into hers and she was healed. He spoke to her very briefly. The whole interchange may have lasted a minute or so.
But there’s more. What Jesus said to her was powerful. He called her “daughter.” It was probably the kindest, most affectionate word anybody had said to her in twelve whole years. We would have expected that he would have lashed out at her in anger, for contaminating him and all the people in the crowd – for touching his clothing and brushing up against all of them. That’s what we might have expected. But he doesn't lash out at her.
He heals her and tells her that her faith has made her well. And the next thing we know, he turns his back and goes on down the road to heal a little sick girl who had already died. And she disappears in the crowd again.
But in that minute or so, her life was changed. Jesus’ power has flowed into her. She’s no longer bleeding and she’s no longer anemic and exhausted and pale. Her energy is restored, and her health is given back to her. Jesus gave her back her health.
He also gave her back her life. She’s no longer unclean. Now she’s free to go to the market and the well and move about with other people and greet them on the streets, and go into their homes and eat with them. She’s free to have friends again and see her family, and worship with the others. She’s no longer an outcast. Now she’s a daughter. She’s a precious, beautiful well-loved daughter. She has a future. All because of the power of Jesus’ healing and his gracious words to her.
Now I have been your temporary, part-time pastor for about three months. In that time I have spoken with almost all of you in small groups and privately around the table in the pastor’s office. We have drunk coffee together and I have heard your stories. I have heard your deep commitment to God through this church. I have read reports of the money you give to mission – local mission and also global mission. I have been given the reports of every week of the checks you have written for the ministries of this church – not your individual names, but the totals of the checks. I have witnessed how you volunteer in all the places with all the people Jesus loves most. I have heard about the hours and hours of time you have given to this church, in the past and now, and how many, many of you have stepped in to fill some gaps. I have heard your generosity and I have witnessed your gracious, warm hearted spirits. And I also sense that you are a little tired.
I have sat with many of you and I have heard what’s happening in your families and at your jobs. I know about some of your health issues and I know what you worry about. I know that some of you are grieving and I know that the weather has been too cold and too dark and too icy for too long. I don’t know the scout families here today, but I know something about the lives of families with young children and I can guess that you are a little tired yourselves. And all of us may be a little like that weary woman who wanted to touch Jesus and feel his power.
So in these next moments of silence, reach out to Jesus. Let the power of Jesus touch you where it needs to. Tell him about the old memories that still hurt. Talk about the ways you have failed and the regrets you have. Talk over the pain in your marriage and your concerns about your children. Tell Jesus about the troubles at your job. Let him know what you’re ashamed of. Let him know how tired you are and how lonely you are and how you grieve.
And then hear as Jesus calls you “daughter” or “son” and feel the power of Jesus’ healing in your life.