Preface: How does it feel to be looked down on and constantly ignored? The woman referred to in the Gospel of Mark as "the unclean woman" was an untouchable misfit in her society. She knew how it felt to have people dismissively look away or to step quickly aside, scrupulously avoiding any physical contact with her. She felt insignificant, alone, unloved and abandoned. She felt betrayed by her diseased body. Her encounter with Jesus was fascinating. Not only did he heal her physically, but he restored her profoundly wounded heart and damaged soul.
Let's hear it in her own words.
"With a look of disgust on their faces, people cautiously stepped aside when I walked by. I sensed their irritation because I had gotten in their way. By law they were required to avoid all contact with me, otherwise they too would end up ceremonially unclean. I was known in my community as the 'unclean woman.' This had gone on for twelve miserable years. The continual, daily rejection bred emotionally painful isolation and chronic loneliness. I felt small and invisible. I never grew accustomed to it and the fear of more rejection caused me to be defensive at times. This made people want to avoid me even more. I spent most of my waking hours hiding in the shadows, watching others live their lives.
"I suffered from a malady that caused a chronic hemorrhage of blood. And in our society, anyone who touched me or anything I had touched, either purposely or accidentally, was considered ritually unclean until evening. They were then required to wash all their clothes and bathe with water. When I first became ill, a few had pity on me, willing to perform the complex, time-consuming rituals after having had contact with me. But that quickly grew tiresome for my family and friends. Plus there was the lingering foul odor and untidiness of it all. It was simply easier for people to stay away from me.
"Doctors didn't know how to treat my disease and often the 'cure' was humiliating and painful, worse than the illness. The cost of treatments left me penniless. Having exhausted any possibility of a cure and living in poverty, I was at my lowest point, feeling truly abandoned.
"Then Jesus arrived in our town. People called him the 'gentle healer.' The afflicted and hopeless whispered his name with deep affection. He offered restoration and healing of mind and body-a new beginning.
I hadn't stopped dreaming of being whole again, doing the normal things women do every day. So I gathered up what little courage I had left and searched the neighborhoods for Jesus. When I found him, he was surrounded by men, women and children, all wanting to see his face, to receive healing and a promise of better things. For the first time in years, my heart soared. I was absolutely caught up in the excitement and decided on the spot if I could just touch his garment, somehow that would be enough. I knew better than to think I could actually approach him directly.
"Then I noticed the prominent synagogue leader, Jairus, walking with Jesus. They were on their way to Jairus' house because his little twelve-year-old daughter was dying. My heart sank. My plan was shattered. Touching Jesus' clothing would render him ritually impure and he would not be allowed to enter Jairus' home. But I was desperate and instantly convinced myself to do it anyway because, after all, Jesus wouldn't know who had touched him. People were swarming around him, grasping at him, bumping against him.
"I pushed through the thick crowd, finally crawling on my hands and knees, between legs and over feet, managing to reach the spot where Jesus was about to pass by. I stretched out my hand, barely touching the fringe of his robe. Immediately, I felt a surge of healing and strength coarse through my body. Breathless, I struggled to my feet and backed away, stunned. Then Jesus called out: 'Who touched me!' I froze. He repeated the question. I wanted to flee but instead fell at his feet, terrified. Sobbing and choking on my words, I poured out my story.
"Amazingly, there was no rebuke, no scolding for delaying and defiling him. Instead, Jesus praised my faith and said what I had been hoping against hope to hear: 'Take heart, daughter, you are free from your suffering!' But as he spoke, he was interrupted by one of Jairus' servants bringing news that Jairus' beloved daughter had died. I swallowed hard, assuming I was the cause of her death. I had selfishly delayed Jesus and now the synagogue ruler's only child was dead. I feared retribution from Jairus, but Jesus quickly reassured him, saying: 'Don't be afraid. Just believe.' Confused and conflicted, I followed Jesus and the crowd to Jairus' house. There Jesus raised his daughter from the dead! Everyone was astounded. The master had graciously delivered us both!
"And just like that, it was all over. After twelve years, I was no longer the neighborhood misfit, the untouchable woman in my village. Jesus had healed my body and brought wholeness to my life. He had publicly validated my faith. What a glorious time I had returning to normal living, doing things that most took for granted. No more hiding in the shadows. No more shame and rejection. No more pain. No more isolation and loneliness. For the first time in twelve years, I embraced life and all those around me!
(c) Joyce Catherwood 2011