The Word Among Us

January 2008 Issue

The Faith That Heals

One woman's story gives hope to all of us.

The Faith That Heals: One woman's story gives hope to all of us.

Imagine having to endure a painful and embarrassing illness for twelve long years. Now imagine going to doctors, only to be given treatments that made you feel worse than before. Next, add to that the crushing weight of all those medical bills. Wouldn’t it be tempting just to give up and accept a life of misery? Maybe you should just learn how to deal with the pain—and hope for an early death.

But this isn’t how one woman described in the Gospels reacted. Known to us only as the “hemorrhaging woman,” she did something bold and even scandalous—and she was greatly rewarded for it. She pushed through a crowd of people surrounding an itinerant preacher named Jesus, and reached out to touch his robe. And in an instant, she was cured.

But the woman’s relief and excitement were short-lived. Jesus suddenly turned around and asked who touched him. Of course, many people had been jostling him, but he knew that there was one person who had made contact with the power that was within him.

Now came the moment of truth. Should this woman own up to what she did? Or should she quietly slip away and return home to enjoy her newfound health?

She chose to stay. The same faith that moved her to reach out to Jesus now compelled her to testify to her miraculous healing. And again, she was greatly rewarded. Under Jewish law, any woman with a flow of blood was considered unclean—and anyone whom she touched became unclean as well. But rather than chastise her for contaminating him, Jesus assured her that her healing was authentic and permanent: "Daughter," he said, "your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction" (Mark 5:34).

Such Great Faith. It took a great deal of faith and determination for this woman to press through the crowd and get to Jesus. Maybe if we looked at some of the obstacles that she faced, we could learn a few things about the kind of faith we can have—a faith that brings us in touch with the power of God.

First, there were the physical obstacles. Jesus had just agreed to go to the home of Jairus so that he could heal his dying daughter. Excited by the chance to see Jesus at work, many people crowded around him as he headed for his destination. You can imagine everyone talking excitedly to each other, maybe asking Jesus how he was going to cure the girl. How could she possibly break through all that commotion to get to her goal?

This woman also had the obstacle of her own poor health. Twelve years of uncontrolled bleeding probably left her very weak. Most likely, she was in a good deal of pain as well. The mere physical exertion required to get through to Jesus could have been enough to cause her to faint, or to slip and fall. Still, she pressed in, maintaining her faith through the pain and the crowd.

In addition to these physical obstacles, this woman faced internal obstacles as well. As we said above, Jewish law considered any woman in her condition to be unclean. Moreover, anything or anybody she touched was made unclean as well. (Leviticus 15:19-33). So you can imagine the battle that must have been going on in her mind as she tried to catch up with Jesus: “What if someone sees me? Should I even be doing this—isn’t it against God’s law? How could I ever justify myself to the priests?” It’s no wonder, then, that she came up behind Jesus: She didn’t want to be recognized.

Her plan may have seemed illogical or even impossible. But in her heart, this woman believed that none of these obstacles could withstand Jesus and his desire to do good. “If I but touch his clothes,” she reasoned, “I shall be cured” (Mark 5:28). And she was right.

Faith and Power. We can learn a lot from this woman. For one thing, her story tells us that there is always room for faith, no matter what challenges we may be facing. No matter what the medical facts of an illness may be, no matter what the history of a wounded relationship may be, no matter how many times we may have succumbed to a particular pattern of sin—there is always room for Jesus to work. The problem is never too big, and the timing is never too late. He can turn around the most distressing of situations, soften the hardest of hearts, and cure the most ravaging of diseases.

This woman’s story also tells us that Jesus responds to faith. Many people were touching Jesus as he walked down the road that day. Clearly, some were bumping into him as they walked, but perhaps someone was laying a hand on his shoulder, or another was patting him on the back. But in the middle of all this contact, it was this woman’s fleeting touch—just a simple brush across his cloak—that caught his attention and caused him to stop. This touch registered with him on a much deeper level because it was combined with faith and trust.

Were the other people simply curious? Were they skeptical? Were they interested only in seeing a miracle, but not in bringing their own needs to Jesus? Perhaps it was a combination of these and other factors, but this woman had faith, and she was transformed.

Mystery and Intimacy. This is not to say that everyone with faith gets the exact healing they ask for. And neither is it to say that people who do not get healed are weak in faith. Ever since the beginning of the church, believers have been challenged by the mystery of God’s will and his wisdom. Simply put, we don’t know why some people are healed while others are not. But we do know that everyone who turns to Jesus is answered. Sometimes the answers are surprising, and sometimes they far surpass the physical healings we are asking for. But whether the healing is physical, spiritual, or emotional, the truth remains the same as what St. Paul told the Romans two thousand years ago: “Everyone shall be saved who calls on the name of the Lord” (Acts 2:21).

The hemorrhaging woman’s story backs up this truth by showing us that faith has to do with Jesus himself, and not his power to remove sickness. The woman reached out to touch his cloak, expecting to be healed physically—and she was. But Jesus did not let her remain anonymous. Stopping abruptly, he asked who touched him. When the woman told her story, Jesus didn’t scold her for making him unclean. He didn’t treat her like a thief. And neither did he simply dismiss her right away. Rather, he spoke to her tenderly, calling her “daughter,” and assuring her of his love and grace (Mark 5:34).

Because of her intimate encounter with Jesus, this woman was blessed not only with a miraculous healing but with a whole new lease on life as well. No longer was she bound by pain and weakness. No longer was she an unclean outcast. Now she was a beloved daughter, a member of the family of God. It seems, in fact, that she received far more than she was hoping for. She sneaked up behind Jesus looking only for healing in her body. But when she was brought face-to-face with Jesus, she received an even deeper and more important healing—a “salvation” that penetrated into her spirit.

Don’t Sell Jesus Short! Jesus loves to listen to us. He loves to spend time with us, letting us pour out our hearts to him. He especially loves it when we come to him with the faith and trust that this woman had—the faith and trust that he can help us. All too often, we think that God expects us to help ourselves, to deal with our problems on our own. Or we think that prayer should be limited to simply praising him and accepting our fate, whatever that may be. But story after story in the Bible tells us about the way Jesus can intervene in our lives and restore our hope, our dignity, and even our health.

So don’t sell yourself—or Jesus —short. Don’t be afraid to reach out to Jesus, even if it is just to touch the hem of his garment. Be persistent. Be confident. Sooner or later, you will find yourself face-to-face with Jesus. Sooner or later, you will hear him call you his child and assure you that your faith really has saved you.