In the past there were no private insurance policies, hospitals, and state-funded medical help. Sickness and poverty followed each other in a downward spiral from which no return was possible.
The story of the woman with a haemorrhage of blood happens right in the middle of another story – the story of Jairus, a ‘leader of the local synagogue’ (Luke 8:41). Jairus comes to Jesus with the request for healing of his sick daughter. The interruption caused by the suffering woman’s healing must have been frustrating for Jairus, but no mention is made of any word of complaint at the delay. Notice that the daughter is 12 years old, the same period of time the woman has been suffering from bleeding.
The woman was ceremonially unclean (Lev 15:19). Anything she touches or sits on becomes unclean, and others avoid contact with her since touching her would make them unclean (Lev 15:25–27).
She probably was not married; if she is married, sexual union is forbidden to her and her husband (Lev 20:18). Worst of all, she is prohibited from entering the temple to worship with God’s people (Lev 15:31–33). She is cut off from everyone; she is lonely, poor and suffering.
She had spent all her financial resources on doctors, was probably given some painful treatments, but all these just made her condition even worse.
Blood is the seed of life (Lev 17:11); this woman has experienced her life draining away, with the weakness and fatigue that usually accompany chronic bleeding.
But what she has heard about Jesus has stirred her to faith, despite all her disappointments over the years. She comes forward, she pushes in, she shows determination.
When the distressed woman touched Jesus’ robe, the bleeding ceased immediately. Then, Jesus raised the question of the identity of the woman: “Who touched me?” (Luke 8:45). There was something different about this touch; it was filled with faith and it was deliberate: “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me” (8:46).
The act was a very simple one, but it produced great results. The relief that many doctors had failed to give in twelve years was obtained in a moment.
She was unclean, but it is impossible to make Jesus unclean; rather, his touch makes the unclean clean. The woman’s faith has opened her to receive not only physical healing but also the ultimate salvation of body and soul that it prefigures.
‘There is a scene in the story of the woman with the haemorrhage that we miss too easily: the interaction between Jesus and the woman AFTER she has touched his clothing and he has felt his power go out of him. We move quickly over this part of the story because our attention rests on the first healing, the woman’s immediate cure.
But what happens in the interchange between Jesus and the woman afterwards is equally important, a second healing, one contained in an invitation to find her voice and her proclaim her faith and share her story.
The change the woman experiences is more than the physical healing of the body, the change involves who she is. The action of touching Jesus has brought her into relationship. She is no longer able to hide in the darkness; she is now standing in the light and everyone can see her. But Jesus does not expose her against her will; she is the one who must come forward or remain in the crowd, she has a choice to remain silent and invisible, or to speak.
She comes forward and tells the whole truth, or as some versions say, the whole story.
It is a single verse and yet it conveys a series of transformations in the woman; healing comes as we give them voice, as we narrate our stories. She thought she could melt back into crowd, she thought she could keep the experience private. But her situation in relation to herself, to Jesus, and her word has changed for ever. She is no longer invisible, she has a voice and Jesus wants her to come forward and speak. Jesus values her story and he gives her space to share it.
Coming forward is an act of great courage. She is disoriented and maybe afraid, she has broken the law, and violated social norms. The doors to others and to Jesus were shut to her for such a long time; she forced it open. She reached out for something people told her cannot be hers. But the same courage that brought her to Jesus in the first place propelled her forward now. The woman gives voice to her faith by sharing her story. The woman has moved from the margin to become a public evangelist of the good news of healing. She resisted death, she resisted illness, she resisted peoples’ opinion of her, she comes forward.
Only then, after the woman has come forward and narrated her story, does Jesus say to her “Daughter, your faith has made you well, go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:34, Luke 8:48), (adapted from Finding Our Voices by Patricia O’Connell Killen)