25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Lee Jeffries is an amateur photographer who has a very interesting story and who has taken some truly gripping photographs. In a Time magazine article on Jeffries, it tells how he was in London in 2008 when he took a photograph of a homeless person a long distance away. The homeless person spotted him taking the picture, however, and grew irate. Instead of walking away, Jeffries went over and apologized and got to know the person. This experience affected him deeply and soon he began befriending and photographing the homeless with their permission.
If you go online and Google Lee Jeffries’ photographs of homeless people, you will, I suspect, be as struck by the power of the images as I am. One in particular really did grab my attention. It’s a black and white image of a homeless woman. It has no title.
She is given no name in the picture. There is just her face with her hands placed on either side of her cheeks. The expression and especially the eyes are quite arresting. They speak of depths of sadness we likely cannot imagine. Her face is a study in quiet despair but there is also a kind of strength, determination, and beauty there. I agree with one reviewer who said this about Jeffries’ images:
If you will forgive my indulgence, This work is most definitely NOT photojournalism. Nor is it intended as portraiture. It’s religious or spiritual iconography. It’s powerful stuff. Jeffries gave these people something more than personal dignity. He gave them a light in their eyes that depicts transcendence, a glimmer of light at the gates of Eden, so to speak. The clarity in their eyes is awesome to behold, as if God is somewhere in there. He has made these people into more than poor old broken homeless people lazily waiting for a handout from some urbane and thoughtful corporate agent. He infused them with light, not darkness. Even the blind guy has light pouring from his sightless eyes. I think Jeffries intended his art to honor these people, not pity them. He honors those people by giving their likenesses a greater meaning. He gives them a religious spiritual significance. He imbues them with the iconic soul of humanity. I think that’s what he was trying to do, at least to some degree thereof.
I love that: “as if God is somewhere in there.”
I cannot help but think of the woman in our text when I read that and when I see Jeffries’ photograph. I also cannot help but think that the woman Mark tells us about would have a very similar face, a very similar expression, and the same powerful gaze. Like this woman’s eyes, the eyes of the woman in Mark 5 would have undoubtedly told a very similar story: one of pain, one of struggle, yet also one of determination and beauty.
I would like to talk about the woman in Mark 5:25-34. I would like us to consider her story. In considering this, we will learn much about her. More importantly, we will also learn much about Jesus. Let us approach her story by considering three conclusions about Jesus and humanity that arise quite naturally and clearly from our text.
You are not so broken that Jesus cannot heal you.
To understand the beauty and power of this story, we must first enter into this woman’s world and, specifically, her pain. Mark tells us much about her.
25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years
She had “a discharge of blood.” While the scriptures offer us no further details about the exact nature of this discharge of blood, its lack of specificity confirms the most obvious suspicion: she had a difficult and embarrassing women’s health problem that essentially shut down her life.
The agony of this woman’s existence is clear from the details of her situation, but it is also clear from the very structure of the sentences that comprise her story. Robert Gundry observes that “the sentence which forms vv 25-27 starts by referring to a woman and proceeds with a strikingly long series of [i.e., seven] participial phrases” that magnify “the prior hopelessness of the woman’s condition.” Here are the phrases:
- “who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years”
- “who had suffered much under many physicians”
- who “had spent all that she had”
- who “was no better”
- who “rather grew worse”
- who “had heard the reports about Jesus”
- who “came up behind him in the crowd.”
There is an artistry to what Mark is doing here. As if his crafting of the sentence structure is intended to create a kind of rhythm of anguish. So very much had happened to this poor woman.
Not only does Mark offer us this powerful list of participles, he also uses progressively more intense language to communicate the seriousness of her malady. Gundry goes on to write that “the shift from…‘flow’ (v 25), to…‘fountain,’ [v 29] and the further description of the malady as a … ‘whip, scourge, affliction,’ emphasize the severity of her condition.” This discharge of blood was profoundly debilitating to her health and to her life.
Her condition was agonizing. Interestingly, Mark tells us:
26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.
What does this mean? How had she “suffered much under many physicians”? She had done so because the medical treatment of such conditions at this time was truly dehumanizing, painful, and, we might say, from our perspective, absurd. The Talmud records common early remedies for this condition. They include (in the words of commentator William Lane):
- “drinking a goblet of wine containing a powder compounded from rubber, alum and garden crocuses”
- “a dose of Persian onions cooked in wine administered with the summons, ‘Arise out of your flow of blood!’”
- “sudden shock”
- “the carrying of the ash of an ostrich’s egg in a certain cloth”
- Joel Marcus points to the early proposed cure of “feeding her grain found in a mule’s dung”
How utterly gruesome and horrible these treatments must have been. They did nothing to help her health, though they did undoubtedly embarrass her and hurt her body even further.
Truly St. Jerome was not exaggerating when in the fourth century he said of this woman, “Hungering and thirsting, her spirit had died within her.” Furthermore, Peter Chrysologus, the fifth century Bishop of Ravenna, wrote of her, “Through many years her body has been an arena of suffering.” And yet, this woman, racked with pain and shame and despair, ostracized, forgotten, and invisible, dares to hope when she hears about Jesus.
27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”
Not only does she dare to hope, she dares to come! True, she hides in the anonymity of the mob encircling Jesus. True, she sneaks up behind him. True, she touches only his garment and not even him. But she comes. She comes because she believes. And believing, she touches. And with the believing approach and the believing touch she is healed.
29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
Like lightning, like raw power, like a surge of energy, “she felt in her body,” Mark tells us, “that she was healed.”
And she was.
Oh, friend, hear me: you are not so broken that Jesus cannot heal you.
You are not damaged goods. You are not beyond the loving touch of Jesus Christ. Not all who touched Jesus were healed, but nobody who touched Him was touching anyone but the Healer. Whether He heals you now or heals you in glory, there is healing in Jesus!
You are not so broken that Jesus cannot heal you. Do you remember what Jesus said back in Mark 2?
17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Do you feel that you are broken physically, spiritually, mentally, relationally, vocationally? Come to Jesus. Bring your wounded, broken, hurting self to Jesus.
You are not so shunned that Jesus does not desire a relationship with you.
In many ways, the physical aspect of the woman’s travails was not the most damaging. It was the social and religious aspects that were most brutal.
A woman in such a condition saw her relationships disintegrate, her social life evaporate, and her religious life completely disrupted. “A woman suffering from this complaint was called a zabah,” writes Lane, “and came under the restrictions of Lev. 15:25-33.” Let us consider these Levitical strictures against such women.
25 “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. 26 Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity. And everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her menstrual impurity. 27 And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 28 But if she is cleansed of her discharge, she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. 29 And on the eighth day she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest, to the entrance of the tent of meeting. 30 And the priest shall use one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her before the Lord for her unclean discharge. 31 “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.”
Understand, then, that this woman’s physical condition affected the totality of her existence. Perhaps most difficult of all was the shunning that came with it, not only in worship but also in relationships in general. Part of the shunning of this woman had to do with how a woman’s discharge of blood was viewed in the ancient world. Joel Marcus has helpfully outlined some of the historical background material that can help us get at the mindset of the time.
- Religiously, she came under the strictures of passages like Leviticus 12:7; 15:19-33; 20:18.
- In Second Temple Judaism, a woman with this condition would have been quarantined. (Such a mindset continued into the third century A.D. when “Dionysius and the Didascalia were already debating…whether or not menstruating women should be kept out of church.”)
- In the ancient world it was believed that “blood contains life,” so contact with blood was forbidden.
- Some Jews believed that even proximity to a menstruating woman could cause death, an idea present also “in the non-Jewish world, even among educated people.”
- Some believed that contact with a person who was menstruating “might cancel a charismatic individual’s miraculous power.” Marcus points to the third-fourth century A.D. story Hekhalot Rabbati “in which a rabbi on a heavenly tour…is immediately brought down to earth by another rabbi placing on his knees a piece of wool that had been touched very slightly by a menstruating woman who had been declared pure by a majority of the rabbinical court.”
Such was the mindset of those times. Undoubtedly, all of this added up to one of the most crippling conditions known to mortal man or woman: loneliness. She was alone. Perhaps she had a few faithful family members and friends who stayed near her and helped her, but, even then, she knew the isolation of her situation and she knew what it was to not be able to associate freely with others.
After twelve years, the news gets out, the stigma attaches, and the damage is done. This is why she snuck up behind Jesus. This is why she hid herself in the anonymity of the frenzied crowd. This is why she only touched his garment.
She only wanted healing. She had no hope of a relationship. She wanted a quick transaction, though she did, we must note, approach Jesus in genuine faith. So she sneaks…and she touches…and boom!…she is healed. She feels it. She knows it. She is healed! The tears come. The rush of adrenalin. The thought, “Could this really be happening?!” Then begins her retreat. Delicate. Careful. Head down. She begins to retreat.
Then something terrible happens. Something horrifying, in fact. Needing to exit quickly, she backs slowly out of the crowd, praying, hoping that nobody recognizes her. After all, they do not know she is healed. She is still the broken woman, the impure woman, the dirty woman. Even so, she hears it, and her heart skips a beat.
30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it.
“Who touched my garments?”
The disciples are amused and incredulous, but Jesus persists: “Who touched me?”
Oh no. This is a problem. It is a bigger problem than we realize at first. It is not just that she, the broken woman, might be found to be present, it is that she, the broken woman, might be revealed to be the one who dared to touch Jesus.
In the first century, women did not approach men like this. Women certainly did not touch men. Women certainly did not touch men uninvited. And women did not touch anyone if they were unclean and had a weird disease that made everybody else unclean around them.
If she is found out, she is in big, big trouble.
But…Jesus…persists: “Who touched me?”
“Who touched me? Who are you? Where are you?” The woman cowers and trembles as the crowd grows quiet and starts to look around.
“Oh no…oh no…please do not see me!”
We have seen this scenario before. Think. Genesis 3.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
The same shame. The same fear. The same hiding. But the same question from God: “Where are you?”
Oh why? Why does God keep doing this? Why does He keep calling us out of our hidden, shameful places? Why does He not just let us recede into the darkness? In Adam and Eve’s case, why could He just not leave them alone with their sins? In this woman’s case, why could He not just leave her alone with her healing?
Why? Why does He keep asking: “Who touched me? Where are you? Where are you?”
People debate whether or not Jesus actually did not know who it was who touched Him. I would suggest that such a discussion misses the point. Here is the point: you are not so shunned that Jesus does not desire a relationship with you.
“Who touched me? I want to meet her.”
Oh how badly we want an impersonal deity who will dispense healing and forgiveness without the intrusive embarrassment of an actual relationship. It is not that we do not want to know God. It is that we do not want God to know us. We are ashamed. We prefer the shadows of our own ignominy to the morning light of an actual relationship. We want to hide, to disappear, to sink back into the horizon.
Jesus, however, will have none of this. He wants to know you. He wants to know you.
“Who touched me?”
“Where is she?”
“Where are you?”
“Come out. Come out! Come out and let me see you!”
You are not so shunned that Jesus does not desire a relationship with you. Have you known rejection? You will not know it from Jesus. Have you known isolation? You will not know it with Jesus. Do you see yourself as the awkward one that nobody invites to parties? You are invited to Jesus’ party. Do you see yourself as the ugly one, the broken one, the dirty one, the shameful one? He wants to know you. He loves you so much.
“Who touched me?”
“Where are you?”
You are not so troubled that Jesus will not give you peace.
And the woman…this wonderful, beautiful, courageous, faith-filled woman…takes a deep breath and steps into the circle and falls at the feet of Jesus. She falls at the feet of Jesus “and told him the whole truth.”
33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.
You must imagine the crowd drawing back in disgust. You must imagine the religious elites standing rigid in moral indignation. After all, just how many laws has this woman just broken? And, may I remind you who is standing right beside Jesus when this happens: Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, whose little girl was dying at home. What did he think when finally it dawned on him who this woman was? After all, Jairus was the keeper of the gate, a religious ruler, part of the Jewish religious establishment. And here, before him, lying in the dirt and confessing her brazen act of aggressive behavior was a woman who should have been quarantined.
Most likely Jairus did not think that for very long if he thought it at all. After all, his daughter is dying at home. What was this to Jairus but an excruciating delay of more important business? As this woman blabbered on, Jairus had to have thought and possibly even dared to voice, “Jesus, I beg of you, what about my daughter? WHAT ABOUT MY DAUGHTER!!!”
And then Jesus speaks to the woman in the dirt, and His words must have taken Jairus’ breath away.
34a And he said to her, “Daughter…”
What was that? “Daughter, your faith has made you well…”
Oh Jairus. Oh Church. In the kingdom of God it is not only the privileged offspring of the super religious but also the forgotten and forsaken shamed women in the dirt who get the title, “Daughter.” Christ is the great leveler of the field. Through Jesus, we all become part of the family. Maybe Jesus knew that Jairus needed to learn this so that he too could be healed.
And what does Jesus say to this daughter?
34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Your faith has made you well.
Go in peace.
Be healed of your disease.
You are not so broken that Jesus cannot heal you.
You are not so shunned that Jesus does not desire a relationship with you.
And you are not so troubled that Jesus will not give you peace.
Come, you broken souls, come. There is kindness in the hands of Christ. There is healing in His very garments. And there is grace.
Come in faith.
Go in peace.
 Robert H. Gundry, Mark. Vol.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), p.268-269.
 William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark. The New International Commentary of the New Testament. Gen. Ed., F.F. Bruce (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p.192, n.45,46.
 Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8. The Anchor Bible. Vol.27 (New Haven, CT: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2005), p.358.
 Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall, ed. Mark. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed., Thomas C. Oden. New Testament. Vol. II (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), p.73-74.
 Joel Marcus, p.357-358.