Luke 8:40-56 (CEV)
40 Everyone had been waiting for Jesus, and when he came back, a crowd was there to welcome him. 41 Just then the man in charge of the Jewish meeting place came and knelt down in front of Jesus. His name was Jairus, and he begged Jesus to come to his home 42 because his twelve-year-old child was dying. She was his only daughter.
While Jesus was on his way, people were crowding all around him. 43 In the crowd was a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had spent everything she had on doctors, but none of them could make her well.
44 As soon as she came up behind Jesus and barely touched his clothes, her bleeding stopped.
45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.
While everyone was denying it, Peter said, “Master, people are crowding all around and pushing you from every side.”
46 But Jesus answered, “Someone touched me, because I felt power going out from me.” 47 The woman knew that she could not hide, so she came trembling and knelt down in front of Jesus. She told everyone why she had touched him and that she had been healed right away.
48 Jesus said to the woman, “You are now well because of your faith. May God give you peace!”
49 While Jesus was speaking, someone came from Jairus’ home and said, “Your daughter has died! Why bother the teacher anymore?”
50 When Jesus heard this, he told Jairus, “Don’t worry! Have faith, and your daughter will get well.”
51 Jesus went into the house, but he did not let anyone else go with him, except Peter, John, James, and the girl’s father and mother. 52 Everyone was crying and weeping for the girl. But Jesus said, “The child isn’t dead. She is just asleep.”53 The people laughed at him because they knew she was dead.
54 Jesus took hold of the girl’s hand and said, “Child, get up!” 55 She came back to life and got right up. Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were surprised, but Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.
The Rules Just Changed
Being a doula, I am fascinated by childbirth. How it works and how it doesn’t work – both past and present, in Canada and around the world. So it’s not surprising that I picked up a book about a hospital in Ethiopia that treats women with birth injuries.
That was a few years ago, but when I came back to this story, the details I had read came back to mind. Since it doesn’t tell us why she was bleeding, I went and did some research, and what I discovered was that there were only two medical reasons (that I could find) for why a woman might bleed continuously like this. One was that she had cancer, but the untreated life expectancy by the time it got this bad was months, not years.
The other was a fistula.
After severe or failed childbirth, women may develop something called a fistula. It is usually caused by prolonged, obstructed labour, without timely medical intervention. The sustained pressure of the baby’s head on the mother’s pelvic bone damages soft tissues, creating a hole – or fistula – between the vagina and the bladder and/or rectum. This causes a constant leaking of urine, feces and blood, which in turn cause severe burn wounds (from the acid in the urine) on the legs, nerve damage that can affect mobility, dehydration, infections, etc. A childbirth bad enough to produce a fistula does not produce a live baby, and most women in this condition are never able to conceive again. The woman is therefore a social pariah due to her smell, inability to work, and inability to bear children.
All of my rambling thoughts aside, this is what I do know. According to Leviticus 15,
‘anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. Whoever touches her bed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whoever touches anything she sits on must wash his clothes and bathe with water and he will be unclean till evening. …If a man lies with her and her monthly flow touches him, he will be unclean for seven days; any bed he lies on will be unclean. When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period, or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period…’
These are the rules that this woman lives under. No child to hold. No husband to be held by. No human touch, possibly at all, for twelve years!
And in a world where touching another human was out of the question, this woman somehow summons up the courage to reach out and touch Jesus.
What did this woman hear or sense or experience from Jesus that gave her the courage to take this risk?
According to the rules, she had done something shameful to deserve her condition.
According to the rules, nothing could possibly take that shame away, much less make her whole.
According to the rules, touching her should have made Jesus unclean.
Yet here they stand in the middle of a crowd of people.
There is no scolding, no indictment, no indication whatsoever that Jesus is made unclean in the process.
There is only Jesus’ compassionate gaze as he comes to rest on this woman with enough courage and faith to reach out and touch him and find herself whole.
- Take some time to think about this woman’s life. What do you think it was like? What do you think her days looked like? What do you think her nights were like?
- Given what you’ve learned about Jesus so far, what do you think Jesus did or said to give this woman the courage to be able to approach him like this? Or do you think she simply had nothing left to lose?
- Do you have any experience with messages about ‘cleanliness’ or ‘purity’?
- In Jesus’ day, a ‘clean’ person that touched a ‘dirty’ person or thing became contaminated. ‘Dirtyness’ could be passed on, but ‘cleanliness’ was always at risk of being lost.
- How does Jesus’ response affect how you understand the concepts of ‘cleanliness’ or ‘purity’?