I woke up this morning thinking about this woman. The events that unfolded. These are my thoughts as I unpacked it.
She's heard the stories. Word has spread throughout all Judea. There was the man with the withered hand. The Centurion's servant. The son of the Widow of Nain who was in a coffin being carried out through the gate. She's heard of how he spit in the dirt and gave sight to the blind. She's heard how some friends lowered a paralyzed man through a roof and, after the Healer touched him, he walked out the front door. She's also heard how He fed all those people. How He calmed the wind and the waves with just a word. How he delivered the Demon-possessed man of the Gadarenes. And then just recently, she's heard how He read the prophet Isaiah in the Temple. How the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord was upon Him. She knew the prophecy. He was a healer.
Through no fault of her own, she'd been bleeding for twelve years. We're not sure why but we do know that Leviticus 15 gives strict instructions to anyone like her. She was 'unclean.' Everything that she touched, lied down on, sat on, or wore and everything that touched any of these things that she touched, lied down on, sat on, and wore was unclean. This included people. That meant whoever she touched was unclean. The message given, even the law applied to her, was 'stay away.' You are cast out. And don't even think about setting foot in the temple. Given her condition, she had been excluded from worship, from offering sacrifice, was not allowed in the front door. She could not get access to the priest, and hence, God. There was no atonement. No forgiveness. She didn't shake hands in public. She didn't kiss anyone. Didn't hug anyone. Kept at arms length.
Then there was the issue of constantly having to wear a diaper. Something to soak it up so it didn't trickle down her leg but sometimes it soaked through. Sometimes she left a trail. Her shame had soaked through, too. In the back of her house, where she dried her laundry, she hung the stained rags. Her neighbors couldn't help but notice when they flapped in the breeze.
She'd tried everything. Been to every doctor. Now broke, she'd traveled far and spent every penny. And the problem had not improved. Only gotten worse.
It was commonly understood that either her or her family's sin had brought this curse on her. So she lived under the constant shadow of whispers, Whatever sin she'd committed must have been a whopper. Or, She's paying the penalty. And, Only God knows.
She was a walking, steaming, stench-filled mess.
In many parts of the world today, there is a group of women in most every community where medical care is non-existent that are thrown together like lepers. They are the 'bleeders.' Having been pregnant at one time, their babies got stuck in the birth canal. In most cases the baby died but, live or die, the head lodged against the pelvis tore a hole in the uterus, and following delivery, the hole was never repaired. So, they leak constantly. 'Cursed by God,' they are thrown out of their families. They live in barns. They soak through rags. They eat with the pigs. They drink little thinking it will reduce the flow. The smell precedes them. Follows after. Many commit suicide.
For whatever reason, she was a bleeder.
But news has traveled and even the outcasts have heard the stories of Him.
Something in her stirs. Hope? Desperation? Mixture of both. Being unclean, she can not get to where He is. They won't let her. The law prohibits it. She knows she is not allowed around other people, has been forced to live and sustain herself on the outskirts, and -- if she knows anything at all -- she is certainly not allowed to reach out and touch anyone. Most of all, Him. But, she doesn't care what they think.
She has come to the end of herself.
She doubles her diaper and wraps it about her tightly. She covers her head more so than usual, crowding her eyes and brow, so that she might not be recognized. The crowd passes. He is in the middle. Everyone's attention is on Him. She files in behind. Out of sight. Then, gathering her nerve, she begins picking up her step, working closer. If she is caught, she will be disciplined. Greater shame. Complete and total public embarrassment. Bleeder and believer, she weaves her way through the crowd.
If I can just touch Him, I know I can be made well.
That belief has brought her just a few steps away. The crowd encroaches. She has to elbow her way through. She knows she is in violation. If she's caught... She doesn't want to think about it. A few more steps and there He is. Standing next to him are several men that look like they are from Galilee. The loud, big one must be Cephas. She's heard of him, too. The crowd shoves, and pushes and tightens and she is losing sight of Jesus. Finally, in desperation, she lunges through, extends her reach and grasps his garment. His prayer shawl. His shirt. She clings. Holds tightly. He feels the tug. Feels the power leave.
She feels it enter.
Mark and Luke say, "Immediately." Or, "straightaway." Matthew says, "from that hour." Right then and there, she is healed and she knows it. Twelve years of pain and shame and anger and exasperation begin working their way out her soul. The tears begin to fall. She tries to back away. To escape. She is trembling. She is shattered. And she is now whole. Her knees buckle.
Jesus pauses. Stops. She is fearful of what He might say next. Then He says it. Who just touched me? She is discovered. Found out. More shame. Cast further out. Will they stone her for so great a violation? Jesus raises His voice. Who touched me?
His friends, led by Peter, say, Master, all these people? Everybody is touching you.
Jesus shakes his head. They don't get it. Somebody touched Him with intention and He wants her brought before Him. Why? Because He fashioned her. Knit her together. He's known her pain. Has suffered with her. He saw her coming through the crowd. He knows she's been weakened by twelve years of chronic anemia so He slowed so she could reach out and touch Him. He's not finished with her.
He lifts a hand. Somebody touched me with intention. Power left my body.
Everybody, all those big men, begin looking for the perpetrator in the crowd. The thief.
Trembling, having lost total control of her emotions, pleading on the inside that God would either have mercy on her in this moment or just strike her down, she falls on her knees. Telling the truth, she spills it. Lays it out there for the whole world to hear.
HERE IS MY SHAME!
She soaks the earth with her tears. Her cries echo off the stone city walls. She is a woman undone. Laid bare. We know this because Matthew, Mark and Luke -- the Physician -- give her space in their gospels. She fills the pages of three eye witnesses. They saw it.
Jesus, who knows her name, steps forward. He is so glad to see her. He has missed her and He has been looking forward to this moment for a long time. He chose this road because He knew is wound near her house. Because while her body is battered and torn, it's her heart that is broken. In this moment, Jesus has already healed her body. "The fountain of her blood was already dried up." He is calling her forward because He is about to heal her heart. Then, of all the words He could have spoken, He says the one singular word she needs to hear.
The word echoes inside her. Dancing around her insides like a pinball until it comes to rest in that place in her gut. Where her soul lives. Down where her hope is buried.
Scripture doesn't say it but I think Jesus reaches out and lifts her. Raises her up in front of every one else. Welcomes this daughter back into the family. And then just so everybody knows and to insure that there's no doubt, no question, he says, Your faith has healed you.
Somewhere in there it hits her. I am healed. It's over. I am what I once was. I am a child of God!
Think about the woman after the meeting in the street. When she walks in her front door. Of course she ripped off that diaper. She tore down the laundry line. Burned the whole lot of them. I wouldn't be surprised if she screamed at the top of her lungs, HE CALLED ME 'DAUGHTER!'
When I get to heaven, I want to find this woman and hug her neck. Her story knocks a few things loose in me and I want to thank her. I want to thank her for her gumption. For her faith out of which she elbowed her way through a crowd that didn't want her. For despising her own shame. For, when all seemed lost, she reached out her hand and cried out to Jesus. Why, of all the Saints in scripture, do I want to find this one?
Because we're all bleeders. You, me, that person over there. All of us. We are draped in shame, bleeding out and, yes, our bodies need healing, but it is our hearts that are broken and we are in need of hearing one singular word.
Somedays, I find myself at the end of myself. As Isaiah says, my 'filthy rags' hanging in the back yard and blowing in the wind. I am bleeding and I am broken and I am getting worse.
But I've heard the stories and He is passing by. I bathe quickly, wrap on a diaper. Elbow my way through. Cling to his shirttail. Plead to God to have mercy.
And then He calls me forth, saying the thing I need to hear. Son. Charles. I've missed you. I was hoping you'd find me today. I'm so glad to see you... It's around here that Jesus hugs my neck and I weep on His.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we would be called children of God. For that is what we are!
That is what we are!
We are not disqualified by a decade of shame and pain. By non-stop blood. By stench and smell and filthy rags. We are not too dirty. Not too far gone. We, each of us, and yes -- that includes you -- are welcomed in. Lifted up. Healed. Forever. From this very hour.
Here He comes now. Just passing by. He's is slowing. Just for us. Chose this route because He knew He'd pass by you. The multitude is with him but there's a break in the crowd. Go! Forget the diaper. You don't need it. You're done with diapers. Run fast. Don't worry what anyone else thinks. Throw elbows. Lunge. Reach out.
Now, just listen.