Risk and Restoration
For a long time I supposed that the story about the woman healed of hemorrhaging (Mark 5:24–34) was a simple case of a shy individual trying to avoid the first-century equivalent of tabloid publicity. Why else would she approach everything so stealthily? I figured she just didn’t want her picture sharing the same front page with accounts of reputed Big Foot sightings on the outskirts of Jericho.
I also theorized that she was reluctant to pester a busy celebrity like Jesus. I could understand that. I’m a little backward around big-name people myself. If I were in a public gathering and saw persons of note (like Ryne Sandberg, a Hall of Famer who used to play second base for the Chicago Cubs, or Bill Gaither, who sometimes plays second fiddle to Gloria—just kidding, Bill), I’d automatically assume they wouldn’t want to be bothered by some obscure schmo like me.
I eventually discovered, however, that timidity probably had little to do with the manner in which this woman approached the Lord. She didn’t “sneak up” on Jesus out of choice; she sought to remain undetected out of apparent necessity.
Remember, this individual had suffered from chronic bleeding for twelve years (a span equivalent to six terms in congress or the perceived duration of many of my sermons). Because of her condition she was considered ceremonially unclean, literally untouchable. She had every reason to believe that a respectable Jew would respond to her approach as a honey-coated sunbather might respond to an oncoming swarm of killer bees.
That put Jesus’ reaction to this encounter in a whole new light for me. Before, I must admit to feeling just a tinsy bit annoyed that the Lord failed to honor this lady’s desire for anonymity.
Then it hit me. Perhaps Jesus was not trying to embarrass the woman; maybe he was shaming those who had shunned her. In essence his actions could have been saying: “For twelve long years you kept this suffering child of God at arm’s length. Heartless, letter-of-the-law fools! As has just been demonstrated, a simple touch would not have defiled you, but it might have contributed to her comfort and healing.”
A great many people are marginalized in our society and by our churches for one reason or another. Perhaps they have pasts that shock us. Maybe they suffer from addictions, physical diseases, or emotional maladies we believe that faithful, godly people never develop or grapple with. If Jesus’ example teaches us anything, it is this: Contamination is more likely to come from inner attitudes than from external threats. To restore human lives, Christians must risk human contact.
The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Church of God Ministries or, at points, even the writer, but are written with tongue firmly planted in cheek to hopefully provoke a leavening bit of laughter and a smidgen of thought.