The story of the woman with the issue of blood in Mark 5:21-34 has always been one that has stuck out to me in the Bible. It is a stunning encounter with the compassionate heart of Jesus, where we see Him heal a woman who would have been despised and rejected by those around her. It is particularly impactful because so many aspects of the story beautifully display the love and grace of the Gospel.
God has equal time and power for all.
The story occurs as an interruption to the narrative of Jairus and his sick daughter. As Jesus walked to their house to heal the child, the woman with the issue of blood pushed close to Him through the crowd, touched the hem of His garment and was immediately healed. We can imagine, that as this healing took place, Jairus was peppering for Jesus to hurry up, so He could come and heal his daughter. Jesus, however, took time with this woman, even while Jairus’s daughter's life was hanging in the balance. Jesus’ unhurried approach here clearly showed that God has equal time and equal power for all. No one is more important to Him than anyone else.
It is interesting that these two stories are intertwined in the Bible. There are certain striking similarities that show the author’s purpose in using the form of the dual narrative. For example, Jairus’s daughter was 12 years old, and the woman with the issue of blood had suffered for 12 years. Both parties were desperate for healing. However, while these similarities exist, there are also some stark contrasts between the two protagonists. Jairus was the leader of the synagogue, a well known and respected man. He acted as a powerful advocate for his daughter by coming to plead with Jesus for her life. In contrast to this, the woman with the issue of blood’s circumstances were very different; she had nobody to advocate for her. She was considered unclean due to her condition. No one could ever touch her, never mind plead for her publicly. She had to fight for herself for 12 years. She had subjected herself to painful and humiliating procedures with many doctors, yet she had only grown worse. I can just imagine the kinds of procedures she must have undergone in the medical practices of her time. Her humiliation, rejection and degradation must have been completely devastating. Thank God that somewhere in her broken life, a glimmer of hope still flickered. That on the day Jesus passed through her town, she mustered the remains of her strength and went out to touch Jesus all by herself. The beauty of this story, and in the story of the Gospel, is that Jesus wills that no one should perish, but that all should come to eternal life. Here, Jesus stopped in the middle of a life-saving mission for an important man’s daughter and healed an unknown, nameless, rejected and unclean woman. He healed, not only her physical ailment, but He also accepted her in a way she had never even dreamed of, by calling her daughter.
The love of God stretches infinitely; it reaches into the hearts and lives of every person, despite their social status, nationality, income, gender, renown or lack thereof. This is the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.
She didn’t know her full need, but Jesus did.
Imagine for a moment what kind of life the woman with the issue of blood must have lived. According to Jewish law, every woman is considered unclean during the period of her menstruation. This means that no one can touch them, because they would then also be made unclean. If the menstruating woman sat on a chair, it became unclean and nobody else could sit on it as they would then become unclean….. and so on. This poor woman had a perpetual menstrual flow and so was perpetually unclean. Therefore, she would have likely lived separate from everyone. She could be touched by no one. If she was a young woman when she contracted this condition, she would never have been able to be married or have a family. If it happened later in her life, after she had a family, she would never have been able to touch her children, never hug them or comfort them in her arms, or even hold their little hands. This condition had ruined her life, and she was desperate to be healed from it. So desperate was she, that on hearing of Jesus’ healing power and His presence in her vicinity; she risked everything to go and touch Him. She would have had to cover her face and sneak out of her house. When she entered the crowd, she made everyone she touched unclean. Had she been found out, she could have been stoned. But still, she pressed on and pressed in through the crowd, nearer and nearer to Jesus. There is no doubt that her faith was flawed; it was superstitious in its nature. She just wanted to touch the hem of His garment. She had likely heard that some people believed Jesus to be the Messiah. There was a widely held belief, at the time, that if one touched a tassel on the Messiah’s garment, that person would be healed. Desperately holding onto this belief, the woman kept pressing in until she touched the clothes of Jesus.
Immediately, she was healed.
This was all her dreams come true! All the suffering, all the doctors, all the years of isolation, rejection and pain, came to an end in the moment of her healing. As soon as she received healing for her greatest need, she turned to flee for home. She intended to steal her healing from Jesus and leave in obscurity, but Jesus had a different plan. Jesus understood her true need in a way she didn’t even comprehend herself. And so, He called her out of the crowd, saying, “Who touched me?” Why didn’t she just keep running? Why did she stop and come back? Well, because it is hard to run when the voice of God is calling you. The same voice that called Lazarus out of the grave called to this unknown, desperate woman, and at the sound of Jesus’ voice, she fell at His feet, trembling in fear and told Him the whole truth. After she did this, Jesus did something unheard of and wonderful. He reached down and touched her. The most pure righteous and clean Savior touched the unclean woman and called her daughter. The word “daughter” that Jesus used here, is a term of the most intimate endearment. It is a term you would never use with a stranger. He used it nowhere else in the Gospels. Jesus adopted this nameless woman into His family; He touched her uncleanness and called her precious daughter, and He told her to go in peace. When something dirty is touched by something clean, the clean thing becomes dirty. If you clean your car with a white rag, that rag will soon be black. Jesus took our “uncleanness.” He took it to the cross with Him. He became the dirty rag, which washed us clean, and just like the woman in this story, He accepted us into His family. While she had desperately wanted healing and had thought that was her greatest need, Jesus knew the true needs of her life.
He gave her public acceptance, healing and peace. He called her daughter. Here again the Gospel is seen in all its beauty.
This story shows us that God knows our needs better than we do.
Though we may come to Him imperfectly, as this woman did, not truly seeking to know Him more, but to steal an answer to prayer. He is still willing to accept us. Augustine writes, “Flesh presses, faith touches. He can always distinguish between the jostle of a curious mob and the agonized touch of a needy soul.” If your need is great enough to make you sincerely and desperately turn to God, if you, like this woman, will risk all just to reach out to touch Jesus, He will meet your needs and more. He will be your Savior.