A reflection for Sunday 30th June 2024 by Judy Wedderspoon, Lay Reader

Fifteen minutes! You’ll be happy to know that that is not the length of my sermon! That’s my rough estimate of the time it took for the life of a desperately ill woman to be totally changed through her contact with Jesus. It wasn’t long, as Jesus was being pressed by an important man to come home quickly with him. But fifteen minutes changed forever the life of an insignificant, ordinary woman, whose name we don’t even know.

Let’s try and imagine the scene. Jesus has just returned from the far side of the Sea of Galilee. His reputation as a teacher and healer has become known, so a large and excited crowd is there to greet him. Suddenly the crowd parts to let through Jairus, an important man in the community, a leader of the synagogue. Jairus begs Jesus to come and save his dying daughter. So Jesus sets off, with the crowd still pressing around him.

Then there is an interruption. Jesus stops, turns around and asks “Who touched my clothes?” Understandably, with a crowd pressing around, the disciples are sceptical; how can Jesus have felt someone just touching his clothes? 

But a poor and desperate woman has done just that. For twelve years, she has been bleeding incessantly. She has seen many doctors. Some have poked and prodded. Some have prescribed remedies of various sorts. But nothing has done any good, in fact often matters have been made worse. So for twelve long years she has been unclean according to Jewish law.

It is hard for us to realise what a hard and lonely life she has led for those twelve years. The Jewish law which applied in those days as set out in the Book of Leviticus, was strict. Anyone with any form of discharge was ritually unclean. This applied not only to women but to everyone. For instance, a soldier or huntsman whose wounds wouldn’t heal was also ritually unclean.

That uncleanness affected the whole life of the sufferer. Anyone who touched a pot or dish which he or she had used became unclean. The pot or dish had to be broken up and thrown away. If the sufferer sat on a chair, anyone who then sat on it became unclean. Anyone who touched the body of a sufferer became unclean and had to bathe and wash their clothes and remain unclean for the rest of the day. 

Hardest of all, no unclean person was allowed to go to the synagogue. The whole object of the laws about ritual cleanliness was to keep the clean people of Israel separate from anyone who might defile them. So one way and another sufferers were mostly cut off from their Jewish family and friends. They had to live alone to avoid the risk of making the people whom they most loved unclean. Unclean family members and friends would also be cut off from the synagogue until they had gone through the necessary purification procedures specified in the Law, which not all of them could afford.

Recently we, because of the coronavirus, have had to experience something of what that woman went through. We may have had to self-isolate and to take precautionary measures such as frequent hand washing and social distancing to avoid infecting family members and friends. I know that this has been desperately hard and difficult for some people. But we only had months of it. This poor woman had twelve years of it. Imagine! She couldn’t touch Jesus, nor even ask him to touch her, as he would then become unclean. She hoped and believed that just touching his cloak would be enough to stop the bleeding. So she pushed through the crowd and touched his cloak. Immediately she was healed. And she knew it.

And Jesus knew that something important had happened.  So he stopped,  and asked “Who touched my clothes ?” By then the woman had shrunk back into the crowd.  But Jesus knew, and the woman knew, that Jesus had even unwittingly been a channel of God’s grace and power. Even though she was embarrassed and afraid, she had to come forward and confess the truth. Jesus sent her away with the lovely words “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

Fifteen minutes, hope and faith, and everything in that woman’s life changed. When we are going through a really dark time in our lives, let us remember how that woman of Galilee was healed. How Jesus changed her whole life. Let us also hope and believe in his power, in the mercy and grace of God in the face of all human suffering. Amen.