I have edited and expanded for clarification and further attention to this powerful scripture.
Scripture can be complex and multi-dimensional.
Scripture can be personally beloved because it deeply connects to us.
Our Mark passage, in my opinion, is an intersection of these.
Our Mark scripture is perhaps my favorite healing story of Jesus and his ministry, particularly how the author of Mark shares it. Mark is often a “bare bones” gospel account that Matthew and Luke elaborate. However, Matthew and Luke actually remove details.
The Gospel according to Mark, as I have shared, embraces the theme that God’s kingdom has come, is near, and not yet fulfilled. It is a kingdom that we are called to bring forth.
But, how does this passage embrace that over-arching theme?
We need to learn about the history and culture, in order to understand this story.
Our author writes that a woman had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. The scholars, clergy, and commentaries throughout the centuries have speculated the specifics of her illness but have agreed only that it was “female problems”. I have heard Uterine Fibroid Tumors (non-cancerous) and Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), but not the obvious condition of Endometriosis.
I deeply connect with the woman because of my personal experiences.
See ‘Feminine Trouble’ Series: What the Hell? (pt. 1).
During this biblical time and place, the Jewish community was ‘orthodox’ emphasizing the purity laws that regulated their lives and social interactions, including female menstruation and reproductive health. This is essential to our scripture.
During menstruation (period), a woman was “unclean” and remained “unclean” for seven days afterwards. The woman, after those seven days, would participate in a purification ritual in order to become “clean” again and accepted back into the family and (polite) society.
While a person, such as a menstruating woman, is considered “unclean” physical contact is prohibited and social interactions are limited. The family, friends, and community could become “unclean” through direct contact but also indirect contact, including sitting in a chair after the menstruating woman had.
Therefore, this woman had been denied physical and perhaps social contact from her husband, children (if a mother), her family, friends, and community.
THAT is ISOLATION.
In addition, this woman was not simply “unclean” but suffered from a physical illness that was probably quite painful and weakening. She was in need of care, compassion, and love from her family, friends, and community, who would have been concerned about their own “cleanliness”.
Can you imagine this isolation?
Can you imagine her 12 years of pain? (I barely survived 8 years).
Can you image her determination as she clanged to the hope of a cure?
She reached a point of desperation to be rebellious against the purity laws.
She reached a point of desire to act against the social norms and boundaries.
She traveled approximately 30 miles on foot to encounter the holy/medicine man, Jesus.
She did not seek to speak with him or even to be acknowledged.
She only desired to touch the hem of his cloak confident she would be healed, rescued.
Although our translation reads “disease”, the original Greek is “torment”.
I can testify that these feminine troubles are indeed physical torment, which would have been further compounded by social isolation.
She held in her mind, heart, and soul that Jesus could rescue her from her torment BUT must have feared that by this simple, yet rebellious, act she would “dirty” this holy man. She gathers the courage, goes into the crowd who is pressing against Jesus in all directions, she barely touches the hem of his cloak, and she is immediately healed. The hemorrhage stops. Her body, mind, and spirit are restored… and then it happens.
Jesus demands to know who touched him.
The disciples are confused (and amazed) because ‘who knows’.
But, Jesus was not simply touched for he felt his healing energy/power leave his person.
The woman was not only healed, but was empowered.
The woman was not only healed, but also deeply connected to Christ.
Christ felt this power and connection, but was not angry.
The empowered woman, however, fearfully bares her entire story to Christ, the disciples, and the crowd. This is also a healing act. Honestly, women continue to be shamed for their menstrual cycles, menstruation, and reproductive health in this time and place, whether it is “normal” or not.
Then, Jesus continues ahead to heal a now dead 12-year-old girl.
The woman’s torment lasted a life-time, at least the life-time of this young girl.
The number 12 within scripture is often associated with “completeness/wholeness”.
Jesus took this young girl by the hand.
According to the “purity” laws of Judaism, contact with a corpse made you “unclean”.
Jesus, again, throws caution to the wind and trespasses against the purity laws.
Jesus, again, crosses the boundaries established by the faith and social communities.
Within this passage, Jesus trespasses the purity laws and social boundaries three times:
(1) he has contact with an “unclean” woman;
(2) he, a Rabbi, speaks to said woman in public; and
(3) he has contact with a corpse.
Jesus’ purpose was INCLUSION, healing, restoration, redemption, and reconciliation for this woman, this young girl, and the whole community.
Jesus is invested in this ministry, because he felt his healing energy (or power) leaving his person. We are called to be similarly invested in the loving, compassionate service of others requiring our time, our energy, and our life-force. Our service that requires trespassing purity laws and social norms requires significant life-force.
We, as humans, desire to think and believe that purity laws and social boundaries are non-existent in our time and place, but in the words of a Christian Century commentary:
Purity rules can draft boundary lines, solidifying a dialectic of inclusion and exclusion.
Our institutions and our lived values proscribe places for people,
all in service of myths of superiority and power.
But when she reaches for Jesus, the woman claims her presence and humanity.
Personally, I would add that she claims her dignity as well.
The truth is that we do have “purity laws” and social boundaries that separate persons.
Jesus was a trouble-maker who always caused trouble for being “too” inclusive of persons and never from his exclusion of persons. The gospels, especially Mark, writes about Jesus regularly crossing the established boundaries, not for the sake of throwing caution to the wind but for the sake of living into God’s kingdom. Those glimpses of the boundaries broken down for the sake of inclusion and love is the Kingdom here, it being near has we reach across the rumble, and not yet fulfilled.
We, like the woman and the young girl, have the freedom to live into God’s kingdom because we too have been healed, restored, and empowered by Christ and his healing power (life-force). Let us embrace this freedom as we go forth from this place. Amen.