“And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.’ And immediately the haemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’ and his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, “Who touched me?”‘ And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:24-34)
I have thought about this story a lot. In sunday school, this story is about faith, that do-whatever-it-takes faith. I remember feeling sorry for the lady but kind of with that secret cringe that happens when we see someone dirty walking towards us on the street. When I read it now, I read about desperate hope. And about one woman’s pain. Can you imagine that pain–“suffering” under doctors for 12 years? Theologian Elizabeth Moltmann-Jurgen writes in her book “I Am My Body,” that the only other time this greek word for “suffering” is used in Mark is when it refers to Jesus on the cross–that is strong wording. It is a story about something unearthly, super and miraculous and what I can only hope was a life-changing interaction. Overwhelmingly, it is a story about bodies, about faith, about compassion and what it might mean to experience wholeness.A woman going to Jesus to be healed is not so unusual as far as the gospels go. But its her history that makes her actions so remarkable. Twelve symbolic years, spent hurting under doctors, taking whatever advice we can only imagine they’d think prudent at that time. Her child bearing capacity had wasted away, and with it, one of the only valid identities open to her, in so many ways, just…fell away from her. We already know from the Old Testament that the term “flow of blood” indicated an unclean condition and therefore she was assuredly socially isolated but she was also religiously isolated, spiritually isolated–she could not worship because her body was so broken.
She did not come right up to him, she could not entrust herself to Jesus–not there in front of all those eyes. She came from behind, hoping to GOD that he wouldn’t notice. She knew that her doing this would make him unclean but her inhibitions seemed to have been lost somewhere along the way… along with her blood. It was just a split second of a touch but she knew she was healed. Moltmann-Jurgen writes it this way: “Her blood now remains in her. Her strength no longer flows out. Something belongs to her now which she had previously been losing. She is some-body, a body which no longer suffers and has to give itself up.”
This experience came with no promises of salvation by Jesus. It was located entirely in her body. What does that say to you? That and the fact that she’s done this entirely on her own, without anyone with her, anyone allowing her or instructing her in it. She acted alone “against all rules and regulations.”
Jesus, too, felt something. He felt power leave him. He was not the active hero in this story–it was her. He looked around and she had to come forward. I can only imagine that she was fearful and terrified by the enormity of this bodily experience–fearful as all revelations of God are. It was she, not him, that knew what happened and she had to tell him the truth.
And this might be a small glimpse into what it meant that Jesus had a body, that he was an enfleshed being, learning too as he went. Again, Moltman-Jurgen writes:
“Jesus experiences the truth through her, including the truth about himself and his capacity; he experiences the truth about himself and his body, which is a human body, but full of divine powers, of life-giving energies which he can communicate to others. God is not a spirit. God is there in bodies and their energies, alive and active. Though the story may smack of magic to some enlightened people, it is a physical story, the story of our bodies, which in Christianity have been forgotten.”
And most importantly, this story is about a healing, a bodily healing, which required no purification and no sacrificial rite. Jesus was different–and is doing something different. Again, Mark shows us the importance of this with the words he chose to use. The word he used for Jesus’ body in this passage (soma) is the same used when describing Jesus’ body being anointed for death (Mark 14.8) and finally his dead body (Mark 15.43). And this word is only used these three times. (Moltmann-Jurgen) Think on this! This indeed was his body….offered…..broken for us. A real body which makes real life possible.
When I read this story and read Moltmann’s thoughts on it, it emerges in front of me as a eucharistic story. This woman becomes a eucharistic icon for us to peer into and maybe through her see a bit of trueness. It is a story where redemption happens–IN a body and THROUGH a body. This body was not discarded, it was not debased, it was not discounted. It was affirmed. An individual, a person, a woman, a body and soul, were made whole and in this one woman’s case, set free. Indeed.