A WOMAN WITH ISSUES Mark 5.21-43
The King James Version of the Bible describes, rather delicately, the woman in Mark chapter 5 as having an issue of blood. However, this woman had not one but a whole number of ‘issues’ which were draining her of life and which drove her, out of sheer desperation, to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak as he passed by.
Firstly, she had issues with society, a society ordered and structured so as marginalise and ostracise her.
In its preoccupation with anything that was considered unclean, the diseased were considered a social and spiritual threat and rigorous procedures were put in place to isolate them and to rehabilitate those who came into contact with them.
That created insiders and outsiders, the included and the excluded, and this woman was a victim of such a society.
She was regarded as a walking health hazard. (Lev 15:25-31) She wasn’t allowed to mix with other people, she wasn’t allowed to eat with other people or even go to their homes. Anything she touched would be rendered unclean and worst of all she wasn’t allowed to pray with other people - she was banned from the synagogue.
Some, however, benefited from such social and religious arrangements – like the doctors who for twelve years had bled her financially. And of course any social arrangement is policed and enforced by certain key figures - like Jairus, leader of the synagogue in her town.
He was ever alert for anyone who, like this woman, might breach the parameters that constrained and isolated them. And of course such social arrangements were held firmly in place by God. The guardians of religious law and propriety had a divine mandate, in this case the second section of Leviticus chapter 15.
Secondly, therefore, this woman had issues with the God who overshadowed her life, who was ultimate purity and holiness. Indeed all the people she feared and who enforced her isolation – including synagogue rulers like Jairus – were agents of this fearful God. And doubtless she had prayed desperately for healing but such a God had no time for an outcast like her.
Then thirdly, living in such a social order, reinforced by such a God and his representatives, this woman had issues with herself. After all, it’s hard to love yourself when everyone from God down tells you that you’re worthless and cursed. People subject to this kind of judgement internalise society’s verdict on them.
And this woman watches young twelve year olds like Jairus’ daughter, in the first bloom of womanhood, and she envies them. They bleed too, but for them it indicates life and fertility, the capacity to marry and bear children. Their womanhood is their dignity. For her, however, it is a death sentence. For Jairus’ daughter the sum of twelve years adds up to fulfilment, to adulthood and possibility. But for the woman the tally of twelve years adds up only to despair and ruin. And while Jairus’ daughter skips along with her head held high she walks with a stoop, head bowed in defeat.
Jairus’ daughter died, but she died loved and had someone, her father, to act on her behalf, to run to Jesus for her, Jesus who brought life. This woman has no-one to go for her. She has no-one to love her – not even herself.
Somehow, this woman has made her way towards Jesus, her last hope, risking being caught. And she has reached out and touched the fringe of his cloak and in a moment of ecstasy she felt healing flow into her.
Her moment of joy, however, is short-lived. Suddenly she freezes, immobilised with terror as the words ring out, Who touched me? This is the final humiliation. She’s been caught, exposed, found out. Such shame – why did Jesus have to spoil it? Couldn’t he have just left her to sneak away, undiscovered, her secret safe?
Couldn’t she have been spared this exposure and humiliation before the crowd? Well, no. Because in that moment and in what follows three things happen that heal this woman in an even more profound way, opening the door of life for her. In this encounter with Jesus each of her issues is resolved.
Firstly, she finds herself affirmed. Daughter, your faith has healed you, says Jesus and that word Daughter, is shorthand. It stands for Daughter of Abraham – and in calling her this Jesus is addressing her as one of the people of God, a child of the covenant, and she is an outcast no longer.
Then come those words, Your faith has healed you, and note well: Jesus is saying it was your faith, your courage, your determination! Could anything be more empowering? And suddenly this woman finds herself looking into the eyes of the crowd, and her head is bowed no longer as deep within her there are stirrings of self-love and self-worth.
Furthermore, in that moment this woman finds a new image of God. She looks into the eyes of this man of God and she sees reflected there not a tyrant but a God in whom purity is over-ridden by compassion and holiness is seen in fierce, steadfast love.
In what follows, however, something else is changed, because suddenly all the old social and religious
arrangements are blown away.
Jesus, after all, has been touched by one who is impure. But he understands the dynamics of grace and he knows that it is not he who has been soiled, but rather she who has been enlivened.
And he then goes on immediately to touch the ritually unclean corpse of Jairus’ daughter - but again, is he defiled? No! Jesus knows that rather than him being sullied she is made whole. And Jesus therefore treats the whole purity system with its rules and regulations and insiders and outsiders with utter disdain.
Suddenly the foundations of an old, oppressive, social and religious order are shaken. Grace is invading, and the walls of control, misused power and exclusion are tumbling down. No wonder they crucified him.
This is the story of an outcast being included, a bowed head being raised, a new vision of God being glimpsed, an oppressive social order being undone, and death being overcome by life. It’s the story of the ministry of Jesus - a ministry he has bequeathed to us.