September 2011 - Vol. 52

The Woman with the Hemorrage
By Jeanne Kun
If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well. - Mark 5:28
She touched the hem of his garment, she approached him in a spirit of faith, she believed, and she realized that she was cured. . . . So we too, if we wish to be saved, should reach out in faith to touch the garment of Christ. 
- Ambrose of Milan,
Exposition Evangelii sec.
Lucam, VI, 56, 58
Reflecting on the Word
Imagine how discouraged this woman must have felt! For twelve years she had futilely sought a cure for her bleeding disorder, only to be disappointed time and time again (Mark 5:25). She had spent all her money on doctor after doctor, but had only gotten worse (5:26). Yet what tremendous faith she exhibited when she reached out to Jesus in her distress!

Jesus’ healing of the woman with the hemorrhage is one of many instances in which he showed concern for women. In fact, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all relate that this encounter occurred while Jesus was on his way to help Jairus’ daughter, whom he raised from the dead (Matthew 9:18-25; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56). He also healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Mark 1:29-31), showed his compassion for the widow of Nain by restoring her only son to life (Luke 7:11-18), and straightened the bent back of a woman who had suffered from her deformity for eighteen years (13:10-17). He treated the woman caught in adultery with mercy and kindness as he encouraged her to sin no more (John 8:1-11), freed Mary Magdalene from the demonic influences that plagued her (Luke 8:2), and enjoyed deep friendship with Martha and her sister Mary (10:38-42; John 11:1-3; 12:1-3). Women were among Jesus’ most dedicated followers (Luke 8:2-3; Matthew 27:55-56), and it was to them that he first showed himself after the resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-10; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:11-18).

Scripture commentators describe this woman’s physical ailment in various ways.  Whatever its cause, the disorder was chronic—and surely quite unpleasant. Besides the pain and inconvenience the woman suffered from such steady bleeding, she probably experienced weakness, weight loss, and anemia.  No medical treatment relieved her symptoms or cured her.

Much more than this woman’s physical well-being was affected by her condition. According to Mosaic law, a woman was considered “unclean” each month for seven days during the “regular discharge from her body” (Leviticus 15:19). The purpose of this law was not to demean or disparage women; rather, it reflected the high regard the Israelites had for the sacredness of life, and for a woman’s contact with that sacredness in reproduction. But the nature of the ailment of the woman in this gospel scene—a continuous flow of blood—would have rendered her constantly unclean nonetheless: 

If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her impurity. And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening. (Leviticus 15:25-27)
If this woman was relatively young, it’s quite likely that her condition would have made marriage and childbearing impossible. If she was already married and had borne children before the onset of her disorder, its chronic nature would have severely restricted her contact with her husband and family and curtailed her activities. Regardless of her age or marital status, her continual “uncleanness” would have cut her off from her friends, since any contact with her would have made them ritually unclean, too. Moreover, she was isolated from participation in the public worship of God.

This woman “had heard the reports about Jesus” (Mark 5:27). Encouraged by stories of how he had healed so many people of diseases and physical impairments, she dared to hope the same for herself. Her belief in Jesus’ power made her bold—she was determined to reach out to him for help. But because she was legally unclean and embarrassed by her illness, she wanted to slip through the crowd and touch his robe without attracting any attention. Just coming in contact with the fringe or hem of Jesus’ garment—a detail Matthew and Luke tell us (Matthew 9:20; Luke 8:44)— would be enough to heal her, she reasoned with amazing faith.

Later in Mark’s Gospel, we read that “wherever Jesus came, in villages, cities, or country, they laid the sick in the market places, and besought him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well” (Mark 6:56; see also Matthew 14:35-36). It is likely that Jesus, a pious Jew, wore tassels called tzitzi attached to the corners of his robe or cloak, as enjoined by the law: “The LORD said to Moses: ‘. . . Bid [the people of Israel] to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout the generations, and to put upon the tassel of each corner a cord of blue; and it shall be to you a tassel to look upon and remember all the commandments of the LORD’” (Numbers 15:37-39; see also Deuteronomy 22:12). Consequently, the popular belief that such tassels had the power to heal or bring good fortune, especially when worn by holy men, may have influenced this woman’s thinking.

The woman’s hemorrhage ceased when she touched Jesus’ clothing, and she immediately felt that she had been healed (Mark 5:29). She had come up behind Jesus, unseen by him as she stretched her hand out to his robe (5:27). Now her hope had been fulfilled—after so many years of suffering, she was well, her body healthy and free of pain! But when she tried to disappear into the noisy throng unnoticed, Jesus gave her away. 

Jesus was certain that he had not simply been jostled accidentally in the press of the crowd. He’d been touched purposefully by a hand reaching out in eager faith, and he felt energy go out from him (Mark 5:30). When Jesus asked “Who touched me?” (5:31), he wanted to know who had drawn upon his power with such firm confidence in him. 

The woman must have trembled, ashamed to admit that in her uncleanness she had dared to touch the teacher. Yet she was sure of his mercy, for had he not just granted her healing? So falling at his feet, she told “the whole truth” (Mark 5:33). Her story, so long one of repeated disappointments, had culminated in joy and gratitude. She “declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed” (Luke 8:47). In reply, Jesus commended and affirmed her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34).

In summing up the significance of this woman’s encounter with Jesus, biblical scholar George Montague, S.M., noted that the account has much to teach us:

 First, healing is a personal encounter with Jesus. It is not a magical or mechanical event, though physical touch may be involved. The healed person must meet Jesus, even if the meeting takes place after the healing. Second, a public confession of Jesus is part of the healing process. Others may thus come to faith through this woman’s witness. Finally, even though the physical event of her healing has taken place already, Jesus’ word of healing completes the action. He further personalizes it, and teaches that her touch would have been meaningless without faith. (Mark: Good News for Hard Times)

Not only did Jesus restore this woman’s health, he also restored her place in society. When Jesus called the woman forth from the crowd to publicly acknowledge her healing, he established her as clean in the eyes of all. By Jesus’ gracious affirmation of her, she was given full and abundant life.

Excerpted from My Lord and My God: A Scriptural Journey with the Followers of Jesus, by Jeanne Kun (The Word Among Us Press, © 2004).  Used with permission. This book can be ordered online.

Jeanne Kun is President of Bethany Association and a senior woman leader in the Word of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. 
Faith’s Prayer

At times
I have no words
to pray to you.

And then,
simply being in your company,
breathing in the fragrance of your presence 
or stretching out my hand to touch your garment’s hem,
is prayer enough.

– verse by Jeanne Kun

The Scene: Mark 5:24-34

A great crowd followed [Jesus] and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.” 29 And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?”31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, `Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

See also Matthew 9:20-22; Luke 8:43-48

Pondering the Word

1. List all the verbs in this story that describe what the woman with the hemorrhage did and what she experienced. What do they indicate about this woman’s character?

2. What does Mark’s account reveal about Jesus? How would you characterize Jesus’ response to this woman? What does this suggest to you about how he regarded and treated all women?

3. Why do you think Jesus wanted to know who touched him? 

4. Reflect on these other instances in the gospels in which Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well”: Luke 7:36-50, Mark 10:46-52; Luke 17:11-19. What do these scenes indicate about the importance of faith? How did those in need respond to Jesus?

5. Jesus told the woman whom he healed, “Go in peace” (Mark 5:34). In what ways do you think she experienced peace because of this healing? Describe how you think her life changed after she was freed of her long-standing and troubling condition.

6. Read Mark 5:21-24, 35-43, the account about Jairus and his daughter. What similarities do you see in this story and in that about the woman with the hemorrhage? 

Living the Word 

1.  Imagine yourself in this scene with Jesus. What is the one pressing need you would bring to him? How do you imagine him responding to you? 

2. In what ways do you identify with the woman in Mark 5:24-34? Do you have a need that is so long-standing—like the woman’s twelve-year problem—that you feel discouraged and have little hope of any solution? How does this gospel story give you hope?

3. What are some concrete ways that you can reach out and “touch” the garment of Jesus? Are you willing to take a risk, like this woman did, to try something new (perhaps fasting, asking others to pray with you, attending a healing service)?

4. When have you felt Jesus’ power healing you physically or spiritually? What was your reaction to this healing? How did it change your life?

5. Can you think of any situation when you felt that Jesus honored or commended you for putting faith in him? How did you respond?

6. Do you know someone with a chronic illness? What might you do to show them love and compassion?

Rooted in the Word

The Woman with the Hemorrhage: A Portrait of Faith 

The woman who suffered from the bleeding disorder for so many years heard the reports of those who had been healed by Jesus (Mark 5:27), believed them, and cast herself upon his mercy. Faith in Jesus’ compassion and power gave her the courage to approach him with the confident expectation that she would be healed simply by touching his garments.

Sixteen centuries later the great Carmelite reformer St. Teresa of Avila mirrored the faith of this woman of the gospels when she wrote, “God is full of compassion and never fails those who are afflicted and despised, if they trust in him alone.” Writing in a very similar vein, St. Jane de Chantal, founder of the Congregation of the Visitation, encouraged her sisters, “With the confidence of a son, rest in the care and love that divine Providence has for you in all your needs. Look upon Providence as a child does its mother who loves him tenderly. You can be sure that God loves you incomparably more.”

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” the author of Hebrews wrote (11:1). He then describes the faith of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and other heroes. We can add to that list the faith of those in the gospels—like the woman with the hemorrhage, Jairus, the centurion of Capernaum, and Bartimaeus—and the many holy men and women throughout the history of the church, who make up the “great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us (12:1).

Read and prayerfully reflect on these additional Scripture passages that illustrate faith and its fruits and teach us how to grow in faith:

They brought the boy to [Jesus]; and when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has he had this?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse; so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. (Mark 9:20-27)

Jesus answered [his disciples], “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:22-24)

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

In hope [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, “So shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about a hundred years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18-21)

You know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:3-4)

As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:9)

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