Mark 5: 21-43
Lamentations 3: 22-33
About three years ago, I spent four months studying this passage from Mark’s Gospel. I had a professor in Seminary that loved this story so much that we spent a couple of months pulling apart the language and exegete-ing its intricacies. It is stunning. There is jut so much happening in this story. Well after the class was done, I couldn’t put it away. I needed more time with these characters. So I wrote a narrative to help me process and engage this tale… So when I saw that this passage came up in our schedule of Scriptures, I decided to share it with you.
This story is distinctly feminine (I say that with some reservations… but I’m not sure how else to describe it), it shares certain characteristics as when Christ’s interacts with the woman at the well- it confronts societal, social, physical issues that women, even today, can identify with. Here Jesus is on his way to the death bed of a young girl (all of 12 years old) but he is interrupted by a rather bold and extraordinary woman. She is likely dealing with the aftermath (again 12 years of it) of a difficult/ perhaps marring experience with childbirth. This has made her ritually “unclean” and shamed.
Some people believe that there are some things that are better off never being mentioned in polite company (and certainly should not be spoke of in church)… things like sex and child birth are at the top of that list… and we defiantly shouldn’t talk about when those things don’t go as planned. So, sadly, this means that we don’t talk about things like miscarriages, fertility struggles…
But the Scripture don’t shy away from these topics. In fact, one of the most common themes threaded throughout the old and New Testament is this idea of God opening and closing the womb. We encounter that theme in the stories of Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, Mary…
So, I encourage you not to shy away from the story of the Hemorrhaging Women- because it is important. It talks about healing from the feeling of shame and isolation, healing from the lose of identity and broken dreams, healing in general.
Jesus brings someone who is spiritually broken/ struggling physically, back into wholeness through relationship with God. That’s grace, isn’t it?
Potential. Once a long time ago, I held inside of my womb potential, but now it will hold nothing. I am a sieve. I thought that someday I might just empty out or dry up, but this illness keeps finding more of me to take. It’s hard to believe that after 12 years, there is anything left.
There is no more potential inside of me. I remember, when it first happened, the pain of its lose. The physical and emotional agony. And now, for 12 years…it’s lose has marked me as an unclean woman. Shame has taken the place of my beloved potential. They shame me for being disgusting. The people of Capernaum. I don’t really blame them; of course, they are merely keeping in accordance to the law. They are bound by their noble faith, to disregard me. I once did the same thing to people who were diseased or somehow destitute, I would cast my eyes away from their hungry gazes, and I would take care to move away from the space that their unseemliness infected. But I never imaged that I would be another cast off.
The shame took so much from me.
It took my name. They no longer call me the name that my father gave me, but rather they just call me the ‘bleeding woman’… if they call me anything at all. I no longer have an identity. Those who are sick are no longer allowed the dignity of who they once were, but rather they are the person who is sick, who is disfigured, who lives in pain, they are ‘that person who is dying’, that one without hope.
The shame took my certainty. When I first became ill, everything that I was certain of became contingent on recovering my lost potential. Would I marry? Would I be able to carry a child? Would I be able to return to a public life? I used to be a woman of wealth. I took pride in being surrounded by comfortable and beautiful things. But when the shame took over… that changed to. In the early years, I employed many people to try and heal me. But they only made things worse, and somehow, more permanent. With their instrument of torture, their medicines that made me sicker, their magic that was more disturbing than anything else… But when their efforts failed, I was left in poverty and, still, without my beloved potential.
The shame took my place. According to the law, everything that I touch would be made unclean. So there was no more going into the marketplace, no more dining with friends or family, there was certainly no more gathering for worship. No chair I sat in, no bed I laid in, no cup I held was left undefiled. And worse of all, no hand that I held was left undefiled. There was only one choice for how I could live…Away.
The shame took my hope. My family put me away. My religion no longer recognizes me. I am left unclaimed. Sometimes I catch the eye of people as they pass me by, and they give me a look that says, “I could not even image being that woman…”, and for the longest time, I wanted to shout back at them “Try!”. But what good would their empathy do, they would still not claim me. I am an orphan. That “bleeding woman”, is what they call me.
It had been 12 years of hurt and living in shadows.
I usually stay out here, by the sea; I don’t pose a threat here. The people who earn their living harvesting this sea, know me. And they stay clear of me. But here I get to see the people coming and going from town, see their visitors, hear the gossip as they pass. It’s here that I spend my day listening. If I go into town, I skirt along the outside of the crowds, with a scarf wrapped around my head, hiding my face. It doesn’t help much, people still recognize me. They still hold their children tighter as I walk by. So I usually stay here.
But being out here, dose have its upside. You do get to hear all the news coming into town.
People have been talking lately about a man that performs miracles. Just recently I heard that he calmed a storm at sea just by just commanding it to be still and at peace! I heard that he rid a man of a demon that was feeding off him. People say that he can heal the sick, that he can put what is wrong, right, just with a touch. They say that this man could be the Messiah, that he is the very Son of God. If I could just touch that man, then maybe… then, maybe I could be rid of my shame.
As I sat there that day, I looked out at the sea, and watched a boat approach the shore. This was nothing new of course. I watched as it drew closer to the shore, the figures that occupied its hull, became clearer. And I heard a man that was working his nets by the shore call out, “It’s him! He’s returned!”.
I knew in that second, that the man in the boat was the one they were all talking about! The man with magic in him. I got up from my well-worn spot, and watched eagerly as a crowd gathered at the shoreline. A man stepped out into the water/ grabbed the bow of the boat and dragged it up onto the land. People climbed out of the boat and joined the crowd. There were embraces and greetings exchanged. They all seemed to crowd around a man that was wearing tasseled robes (the robes of a rabbi). “That’s him…” I thought, “That is the holy man, the one that can take away my shame!”
A group of men came running from the town’s center. It was lead by the man that ran the synagogue. The man whose name means ‘he will awaken’, it was Jairus! The crowd parted as he called out to it on his approach. I watch Jairus, this man of power, fall at the feet of the man that is the hope of my salvation. Something is wrong. “Please!” I hear him cry out, “Please come, its my daughter… she is dying. Come, put your hands on her so that she can be made well!”
The hope of my salvation moves, he follows Jairus as the crowd heads toward the heart of town. “No!” I thought. “Do not leave! If I can just put a finger on his robe, I too will be healed!” Before I know it (I abandon that well-worn place at the shore that has known me as a pariah.) and I run toward the crowd that is churning around the hope of my salvation.
I draw closer to the crowd, but it does not part for me. It does not part for the woman without a name, the one with no certainty, the woman without a place, the one who is outside of hope. The crowd does not part for me.
I neglect to draw the scarf up to cover my identity as I plunge into the crowd. The swarm that engulfs the hope of my salvation, pays me no attention though, they are distracted by this man of glory. I push aside people with all the strength that I can muster. I trod on toes, and trip on clocks as I push my way toward him. “Just a finger” I thought, “Just one small finger on this man of glory, and I will be made well! I will have my Christ! I claim this man and all that he can do!” (pause)
And there he is, I can see the tassels hanging off his robe, I can see his sandals that rush across the dusty pathway. I reach out my hand, my unclean hand, I reach out and run it gently over the fringe. And stop.
Someone bumps into me from behind, but I am glued to me spot.
There in the middle of street, my shame… my shame is starved. I feel that heat burning within me, choking away the shame. I am healed. I feel it. I know it.
Only a moment passes by, when the giver of my salvation also stops. He recoils, and looks around him.
“Oh no” I thought. “I have stolen this!”
The giver of my salvation looks to his left and to his right, and then asks his disciple, “Who touched my clothes?”
He knows! I back away into the crowd, pulling the scarf up over my hair.
His disciple looks at him as if he has lost his mind. “You see the crowd pressing against you and you say, ‘who touched me?’”
But the giver of my salvation ignores him, and searches for me in the crowd.
I stole it! I stole it! I claimed this man’s power, I took his magic, I did not ask! I did not beg! I just took it!
He knows. I move forward in the frozen crowd, and fall down before his holy feet. And I tell him everything, the whole truth. I tremble and I quake, “what have I done?” I thought. “What if this healing was not meant for me? What if it was for Jairus’ daughter? I claimed it!”
I tell my story to this man, the giver of my salvation, and he looks at me. Without pity, without the hardened disgust of those around him. He looks at me as if I were whole and blameless, as if I had potential. And he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed.”
As he spoke to me, just to me… there was movement again as someone rushes to the crowd calling out “Your daughter has died. Why trouble the teacher any longer?”
But those words are not for me. They are for Jairus, the desperate father. Now a man that is ripped with a grief that I have known so well in the past.
The crowd moves around me again, they rush toward the home of Jairus. I hear the giver of my salvation offering this grieving father more of his precious and comforting words.
But I am left behind in my shock. A heavy buzzing fills my ear and I weep into the hands that touched the robe of my savior.
12 years the shame had claimed me! 12 years to carry defilement wherever I go! 12 years I have been put away from my family, from my friends and community! But this man, this holy man, this giver of my salvation claims me as his own daughter.
“Daughter”, he called me. Daughter!
The giver of salvation has given me a name! And it is ‘Daughter’! I have left the ‘bleeding woman’ behind! He has returned to me my identity, my dignity!
He has given me back my certainty! I may have been scarred and damaged, but I know that I no longer have to stay that way.
He has given me a place! No longer will I have nowhere to go, but I am able to return to society, to return to my home, I can embrace my family without leaving them defiled by my unclean hands/ my shame.
He has fulfilled my hope! I can return to the sight of my God. I can enter the place of worship. (pause)
Off in the distance I hear the roar of the crowd return to my ears. Their shouts are clearly those of an elated people… from what I can hear… Jairus’ daughter is awake and well! It seems that this day is not just for me alone, but for all that grieve the agony of losing their potential, and find it again in the savior that claims us as his own.
“Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Is what the giver of my salvation said to me. So, I dry the tears off of my face, and I pull myself to my feet, and I go home. Back to my potential.