A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” Mark 5.24-30.
As someone who loves to engage in healing ministry and who firmly believes that Jesus can and will still heal people today, I always find this episode of the woman with her menstrual disorder both illuminating and challenging.
This morning, I am struck once again by her utter conviction: “I will be healed.” Grammatically, the term used is sōthēsomai which is the future, passive, indicative, first person singular of the verb sōzō – to save or to heal. It is not subjunctive. Linguistically, the indicative mood deals with reality while the subjunctive deals with mere possibility. This woman is not thinking in the subjunctive. Her faith has moved her way beyond mere possibilities to absolute certainty. There is no “may” about it. She knows without any shadow of a doubt that if she can only get close enough to touch even the border of this man’s garments, she will be healed.
And what can I deduce from that? Well, several things.
Firstly, that this woman entertained no notion that her illness might be a God-given thing. So many times one hears people talk about their illness as a “cross” which they have been given to carry. That is a complete distortion of the text in which Jesus talks about the necessity for anyone who wants to be his disciple to take up their cross and follow him (Matthew 16.24.) He is talking there about commitment even unto death – not about embracing cancer or blindness as a gift from God. This woman knew that God gives only good gifts to his children (Matthew 7.11.)
Secondly, that this woman held no truck with the idea so prevalent among many today that her illness was something designed to make her a better person. “It’s been sent to try me,” I hear people say, referring to whatever it is that ails them. Now it is true, of course, that (as Paul puts it) “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5.3-4) but there is nothing in that text to suggest that the suffering he refers to is illness or disease. Paul has in mind persecution, discrimination, rejection … not rheumatoid arthritis.
Thirdly, that this woman did not buy into the belief, widely held in her day, that her disease was a punishment for her own sins or those of her ancestors. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” the disciples once asked Jesus (John 9.2). “Neither,” was his unequivocal reply. It is true, of course, that diseases of various kinds may be acquired as a consequence of “sin.” Excessive consumption of alcohol may lead to cirrhosis of the liver, for example. But does that mean that, because we have a disease through our own fault we will “just have to live with it?” It is clear that no such considerations ever troubled this woman.
Indeed, it is clear that she held but two truths in her heart and allowed them to override all other considerations.
The first truth was that the Lord that she both believed in and belonged to was a Lord “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103.3.) In her book, God was in the business of putting wrong things right. She didn’t need to say “If it be thy will”: she knew that healing was his will. “I am the Lord who heals you” he had once declared to her forbears (Exodus 15.26) and that was a promise she was holding fast to.
The second truth was that “the Lord who heals you” was – in some way that she didn’t even begin to understand – actually present there and then, in Capernaum. He was there in the person of this rabbi called Jesus who, as she elbowed her way through the crowd not caring how many toes she trod upon, was now almost within touching distance. And, as she took another step, her hand went out …
“Who touched my clothes?” asked Jesus. The disciples laughed. What a silly question! Scores of people had touched his clothes. Ah yes; but only one person had touched his clothes in the faith that she would be healed by doing so.
Isn’t that the kind of faith we should encourage rather than discourage in ourselves and others? So often, it seems, we offer healing with one hand then, with the other, undermine the very faith that would enable the healing to come about. I can imagine what might have happened if the usual kind of church healing team had intercepted this woman before she managed to get to Jesus herself. “It may be that there is some deeper need in your life that the Lord will want to deal with first,” she might have been told. “Don’t expect too much. Not all healing is immediate; so when you go home after we’ve laid hands on you, keep trusting and looking to the Lord. The healing may happen over time.” Would she, I wonder, ever have been healed at all?