A large crowd followed [Jesus] and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages 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.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, `Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:24-34 (See also Matthew 9:20-22; Luke 8:43-48)
Chronic illness can be so devastating—and can make one desperate enough to try anything! Just look at this woman with the flow of blood. For twelve years she had futilely sought a cure for her bleeding disorder, only to be disappointed time and time again (Mark 5:25). Who wouldn’t have been discouraged, even hopeless, after spending so much money on one doctor after another, only to have gotten worse (5:26)? Yet this woman hadn’t given up hope. Moved by expectant faith (and courage), she reached out to Jesus, confident that she would be healed simply by touching his clothes!
It’s not clear exactly what physical disorder this woman suffered from, but whatever the cause, her ailment was chronic. In addition to enduring the painful discomfort from such steady bleeding, she probably experienced debilitating anemia, weight loss, and weakness. No medical treatment had relieved her symptoms or cured her.
However, much more than this woman’s physical well-being was affected by her condition; she had known years of loneliness, grief, and isolation. 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 impure nonetheless (cf. Leviticus 15:25-27).
If this woman were relatively young, her condition would have made marriage and childbearing impossible. If she were already married and had borne children before the onset of her disorder, its chronic nature would have severely restricted her relations with her husband and family. Regardless of her age or marital status, her continual “uncleanness” would have curtailed her activities and cut her off from her friends, since any contact with her would have made them ritually unclean too—just touching a cup she drank from or a chair she sat on would “defile” them. Consequently, the afflicted woman could not participate in the social life of her village or in the public worship of God.
Encouraged by reports of how Jesus had already healed so many people (Mark 5:27), this woman dared to hope the same for herself. Emboldened by her belief in Jesus’ power, she was determined to reach out to him for help. Just coming in contact with the fringe or hem of Jesus’ garment would be enough to heal her, she thought (Matthew 9:20; Luke 8:44). “Her desire for connection and healing broke through the fear from isolation and disgrace,” noted Anglican priest David Giffen. “She came to experience faith as both a verb and an action, touching Jesus, and asking him to take away her pain.” But because she was legally unclean and embarrassed by her illness, she wanted to slip through the crowd and touch Jesus’ robe without attracting any attention.
When she touched Jesus’ clothing, the woman’s bleeding ceased and she immediately felt that she had been healed (Mark 5:29). After so many years of suffering, she was well; her body was healthy and free of pain, and her hope had been fulfilled! But when she tried to disappear into the noisy throng unnoticed, Jesus gave her away.
Jesus was certain that he hadn’t 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 hadn’t he 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, now 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).
Not only did Jesus restore this woman’s health; he also restored her place in society. When he called the woman to come forth from the crowd to publicly acknowledge her healing, Jesus established her as clean in the eyes of all. By his gracious affirmation of her, she was freed from her “civic death” and given full and abundant life.
The evangelists don’t tell us the name of this woman. Since she remains unnamed, each of us can more easily put ourselves in her place—and follow her example. When we are facing challenges or a crisis, Jesus is eager to answer us with miraculous signs of his presence and love and healing power—but we first have to reach out to him. As Pope Francis declared in an address urging us to be as daring as this woman, “This is faith: to touch Jesus is to draw from him the grace that saves. It saves us, it saves our spiritual life, it saves us from so many problems” (Angelus Address, June 28, 2015). Today God continues to work miracles in our midst to bring us healing, wholeness, and deeper conversion to him.
This is a selection from Biblical Women in Crisis: Portraits of Faith and Trust by Jeanne Kun (The Word Among Us Press, 2017). Available at wau.org/books