Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
TEXT: Mark 5:21-43
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” (Mark 5:25-28)
She had plenty of reasons to be afraid. She wasn’t supposed to be there, but she was desperate: desperate for help, desperate for healing. She wasn’t supposed to be there in the crowd, sneaking through, trying to touch just the hem of Jesus’ cloak. Surely if she could touch even that, she would be healed. Surely.
But she was not supposed to be there—and if she got found out, she’d be in trouble. Culture and custom said she wasn’t supposed to be there. Social courtesy said she wasn’t supposed to be there. The Law said she wasn’t supposed to be there. The Law—in Leviticus, chapter 15—said: “If a woman has a flow of blood, she remains unclean as long as the flow continues, and for seven days after it stops. Anyone who touches her is unclean until evening. Anyone who touches anything she has touched will be unclean until evening.”*
She has been bleeding for twelve years. She has been ritually unclean for twelve years. For twelve years, anyone she touches has been rendered ritually unclean until evening. If she touches someone, they are prohibited from having social contact with anyone else for the rest of the day. For twelve years, she has been persona non grata. For twelve years, she has been expected to avoid contact with the rest of society. She was not supposed to be out in public, pushing her way through a crowd, trying to touch Jesus—or even the hem of his garment.
Yes, she had plenty of reasons to be afraid, and plenty of people to be afraid of—including Jesus, when she made him unclean!
How many of us, I wonder, are just like her—sneaking around with our heads down, afraid of being recognized? Desperately hiding the truth about ourselves, for fear of being shunned and isolated? For fear of being looked down upon, or judged? How many of us, I wonder, are just like her—desperate to find some cure, some relief, some acceptance … but terrified of what it might take to grab hold of it?
She pushed her way through the crowd—face hidden, anonymous, risking everything. It was only a fleeting opportunity, after all. Jesus was in a hurry. This was no time to interrupt him; he was on a mission of mercy, dealing with an urgent matter.
A little girl was dying. There was not a moment to lose.
This little girl, you see … She was twelve years old.
For twelve years, she had been healthy and happy. For twelve years, she had grown up as the precious daughter of one of the most important men in the town. For twelve years, she had had everything—but now her life was hanging by a thread. This was no time to interrupt Jesus. He had more important business to attend to. He had a little girl’s life to save.
“If I can just touch the edge of his garment as he hurries past—surely, that will be enough. Surely, that will make me better.”
So she did it. She pushed through the crowd and touched his garment as he hurried by—and immediately, she felt the bleeding stop! She had been right. She was healed. The disease was gone. No more feeling anemic and lethargic—no more hiding in the shadows, avoiding everyone.
She pulled the veil around her face and slipped back into the crowd. She had what she’d come for, and she was off. No harm done. No one had recognized her. No one knew who it was that had touched them in the crowd. She would just melt back into the crowd and slip off home.
“Who touched my clothes?”
Jesus has stopped. Like an ambulance driver screeching to a halt on the way to an emergency, Jesus has stopped.
“Who touched me?”
Jairus is pulling on his arm: “Who cares who touched you? Come and save my daughter! Quickly, before it’s too late.”
“Who touched me?”
She froze in fear. She’d been found out. She was busted.
She meant no harm, but she had been desperate. She’d been careful not to interrupt, not to get in the way … but now, she was going to be exposed. Now the jig was up.
She had plenty of reasons to be afraid. She was not supposed to be there. Trembling, she fell to her knees at Jesus’ feet, and admitted what she’d done. She knew she was in for it, but there was nowhere to hide. He knew. Somehow, he knew.
Then Jesus reached out his hand: “Daughter, you took a risk of faith—and it has paid off for you. Welcome back to society. Shalom! May peace, health and happiness be yours, and may your illness be gone for good.”
She has not been condemned, after all. Instead, she has been touched by one who knew why she was supposed to be untouchable. She has been lifted to her feet and embraced. She has been commended in public, and given the Lord’s blessing. She has been offered healing beyond her wildest dreams: social healing; emotional healing; public acceptance.
How often, I wonder, are we just like her?
How often can we not see beyond the little bit of something that we hope will make life more bearable? How often are we only too willing to settle for symptomatic relief, and then slip back into the crowd without daring to imagine what more there might be? How often do we look for nothing more than that? Nothing more than that, from Jesus—and from his body, the church? A little bit of something to make us feel a bit better. A little touch to get us through the week. How often do we think that we’re not worth anything more than that?
Surely God has got more important things to do—more important people to attend to. Surely there is a twelve-year-old somewhere—dying of hunger or disease—who warrants God’s attention much more than we do. Who are we to expect Jesus to stop and take notice? So we just push through the crowd for a little touch to make life bearable … and then slip off again—unnoticed, unimportant, unchallenged, unblessed—anonymous, and still tightly bound by fear and shame and loneliness.
Jesus, however, thinks you are worth more than that. You see, to him, nothing is more important than you are. There is nothing else that matters so much that Jesus would pass you by and leave you to fend for yourself. Jesus is not content to see you just get a little touch to make you feel better, temporarily.
No. He wants to see you healthy and whole, strong and confident, accepted and loved. He wants to do more than just close your wounds and stop the bleeding; he wants to lead you into a wholeness you could never have imagined—a fullness of life beyond your wildest dreams.
And if you slip off into the crowd, Jesus will be left standing there, still asking: “Who touched me?” Because he believes you are worth waiting for. Because he has so much more that he wants to give you. Because he wants you to follow him, to dance with him, to learn from him, to share life and love and joy and suffering with him.
He wants you to lay aside your fears and your shame and your isolation—to lay aside the only self you have ever known, and follow him into the wide-open spaces of God’s love and mercy.
But, be assured of this: Christ will not force you.
When the bread is broken and the cup of blessing is shared, you can reach out your hand and touch him. And then, if you want to, you can slip back into the crowd—strengthened, perhaps, to get through another week … but without ever finding out what Jesus might be offering you.
And if you do that, you won’t be punished or exposed.
But Jesus will still be waiting for you, asking, “Who touched me?” and longing to give you all he wants you to have, longing for you to accept the gift of his very self.
If you will stop—if you will fall to your knees before him, if you will risk offering him your self in truthfulness—then he will offer himself to you, and open himself to you, so that you might be healed by his brokenness and drawn into his wholeness and raised into new life. He will offer himself to you, so that you might be reconciled to him—and, in him, to the glory of God and the joy of all the earth.
If you will stop, if you will come—even if you will come back—it will be worth the risk; because “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away … everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17)
It does not matter who you are, or what you have done. Whether you were raised in a loving home, or made to feel worthless; whether you live with guilt and shame and fear—or even live as one from whom others recoil in fear—Jesus is offering you a place in his family, a place at his table, a place that’s been set just for you.
So, reach out. Reach out and touch.
Even if it’s just the hem of Jesus’ garment, the touching will change your life.
* See Leviticus 15:25-28