And as Jesus returned, the multitude welcomed Him, for they had all been waiting for Him. And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was an official of the synagogue; and he fell at Jesus’ feet, and began to entreat Him to come to his house; for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, and she was dying. But as He went, the multitudes were pressing against Him. And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him, and touched the fringe of His cloak; and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?” And while they were all denying it, Peter said, “Master, the multitudes are crowding and pressing upon You.” But Jesus said, “Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me.” And when the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” — Luke 8:40-48
It’s hard to imagine the fear that must have clawed at her. What if she was wrong about him, and… he saw her do what she hoped to do. Surely he would be furious.
She had been singled out, shamed and embarrassed by others for many years. That was hardly new, but the familiarity did nothing to lessen the pain of exclusion and repulsion; and the thought of his finger angrily pointing her out — with so many people watching — was terrifying to her. The anxiety must have added its own nausea to the discomfort that had been with her for twelve years. But her desire to be without shame and whole was greater than her fears about the eyes and thoughts of her neighbors and friends. She covered her head, shut the door behind her and made her way towards the crowds.
She was right to be concerned. Since the time of Moses, Israel’s God had protected his people from his wrath by erecting a series of ceremonial walls and fences. The law graciously made known what was and was not allowed into his presence. Only the clean, perfect and pure could be admitted. The others….well, they had best keep a distance.
Impurity was everywhere, and its influence and strength seemed unassailable. How could it be any other way? Toss a white linen into a puddle of mud and which wins out: dirtiness or cleanliness? Lay a rotting carcass on a kitchen table and which extends it foothold in the world: purity or corruption? The answer is obvious- the linen becomes soiled and the tabletop nasty.
It’s a rule of creation as radical as gravity, itself. And God’s law took this into account: Touch an unclean thing, and you become unclean. Handle impurity, and you became impure. Simple. Clear. Common sense, really.
The woman in the story was unclean. The constant vaginal bleeding made her so.
Again, common sense, but lest there was any doubt — God had said as much.
But she hoped, none the less. She found him surrounded by those who belonged- those whose touch would go unnoticed by the priests and guardians. She reached out an unclean hand and touched his garment. Impurity soiling purity, and… he stopped.
Something counterintuitive and unimaginable, like fish multiplying endlessly or waves parting at the touch of priest’s feet, had taken place: The linen had touched the mud and the mud had been transformed. The putrid flesh that had been laid on the clean table had itself become an extravagant feast.
Our God is not a god of common sense. He recreates a world of Carnival — a world turned on its head. In his kingdom the last is first, weakness conquers strength and impurity is overrun by purity and wholeness.
Perhaps many saw only a sick woman, made well. But for those with eyes to see, all of creation had shifted and run backwards. Quietly, almost passively our Lord had tipped his hand and shown what he and his Father were up to.
How the kingdom of hell and death must have staggered and backed away. I can imagine demonic chests and bellies in the crowd being sucked in to avoid contact with this man and now… this woman; for who knew how far this influence ran.
Purity had become the contagion.
Pain, guilt and shame were no longer reasons to hide from God. He swallowed up each for this precious woman and gave her his own life.
His Kingdom still runs wildly backwards, but he must be sought. He must be touched. He has told us where he can be found- with his people, in his word and sacraments. He’s waiting to turn and smile at our fearful effort. Life, inclusion and wholeness are still offered there, waiting to pass from holy to filthy hand.
Phil James is the father of six and husband to Sandi. A repenting TR, he currently worships at Anglican Church of the Redeemer in Chattanooga, Tennessee (www.acotr.com). He enjoys Feta cheese, reading, winemaking, and blogging at Dappled Thoughts (www.dappledthoughts.blogspot.com). Currently, he’s also on a Terrence Fischer movie kick. He misses Theologia’s Forums and Jonny Quest reruns on the Boomerang Channel.
Prayer for his family (five daughters!) and for wisdom as he tries to figure out what the gospel has to say to business (especially employee/employer relationships) is greatly coveted.