I love my church. And I love that it isn't afraid to explore the difficult issues -- and figure out how to do so in loving ways. We just finished a series that was designed to start the conversation about how the culture of patriarchy has harmed our faith. The point wasn't to promote negativity, but to acknowledge wounds, remove the limits we have put on God, and move forward in more holistic and inclusive ways as a church.
This past Sunday we focused on how Jesus embraced women and other marginalized people -- no matter who they were or what they had done, he offered them a place at his table. We told these stories from the point of view of those Jesus reached out to and included. It was a beautiful and emotional service, as we affirmed that all were welcome and loved by Jesus and at our church. For it, I wrote a piece based on the story of the bleeding woman Jesus heals that I also wanted to share here.
The Bleeding Woman
I'd gotten used to the bleeding. And the weakness that went along with it. But it was the loneliness that consumed me.
For twelve years, my body has unnaturally bled. At first I thought it was just my monthly courses run long, but then it didn't stop. I tried to hide it from my family of course, smuggling out the dirty rags to wash down at the river. But nothing gets past my mother. When she found out she just gave me that look, you know the one, the one that told me that I was a complete failure -- worthless. Whatever was she going to do with an unclean daughter?
At first they tried to take me to doctors. Always the Roman doctors, not the Jewish ones -- they didn't want it getting out in our community that I was unclean. The doctors were more than willing to take my parents' money, but nothing they did helped. The bleeding just continued -- and I grew weaker and weaker. When it got to the point that I was too weak to even help my mother with the chores, my father had the idea to marry me off as quickly as possible. I assume he knew that my condition would be discovered, but then I would be another man's problem.
I'm surprised I survived the night my husband found out the truth. I think I passed out sometime after the third blow, weak as I was. The next thing I knew he had thrown me at my father's doorstep -- demanding payment for the humiliation of having been given worthless goods. My father, of course, denied knowing anything at all -- calling me a deceptive harlot, spitting in my face, and saying that I was no daughter of his.
Now everyone knew I was unclean. No one could touch me, and everything I touched or anywhere I sat immediately became unclean. No shopkeeper would allow me near his wares; no housewife would allow me to pause to catch my breath on her doorstep. I begged as best I could for the occasional bite of bread, as my condition even barred me from the profession most desperate women end up turning to. No one wanted me.
So like I said, I got used to the bleeding and the weakness, but the loneliness got to me. No one's touched me for nearly twelve years. Oh, I've been spat upon and received the occasional kick from daring young boys -- but no hugs, no shoulder to cry upon, no sister to help braid my hair. And it's been that long since I've been allowed in the synagogue as well -- to raise my voice in praise to God or hear the precious words of the Torah read. I am as invisible and worthless to God as I am to everyone else.
But then I heard rumors about a rabbi who could heal the sick and even raise people from the dead. Now I'd been to my fair share of doctors and magicians who had claimed they could heal me, but somehow I knew this man was different. I don't know how I knew, but something deep inside gave me hope that this time I could finally be well.
It took me a few days though to work up the courage to approach him. I knew I could never ask him outright for healing -- I doubt any rabbi would heal a woman who broke the taboo of speaking in public to a man. And I was sure he would despise me for making him unclean if I even came near him. So I knew that my only option was to secretly approach him. If he truly was a holy miracle worker, just touching the hem of his cloak should be enough. I was good at slipping quietly through crowds; I just prayed my touch would go unnoticed.
I saw him hurry through the streets following one of the important synagogue leaders. His disciples were pushing the crowds away to help him through, but I knew that if I did not seize this opportunity, I may never get another chance. So I slipped through the crowds until I was close enough and then I reached out my hand and lightly brushed the edge of his cloak. And I felt a power course through me, I felt alive and full of a strength and energy I hadn't felt in years. I knew I was healed. I wanted to shout for joy, I wanted to tell the whole town that I was clean again. But I knew no one would believe me, and I needed to quickly get away from this Jesus before he noticed me.
I was slipping away when I saw him stop in his tracks, and my heart sunk. He knew. He called out "who touched me?" His disciples laughed at him; they were in a crowd there where dozens of people were touching him. But he asked it again and I knew my worst fears had been realized. I had risked it all for this one chance, and now I would be punished for my desperate attempt. I wondered if in his anger he would just whip me like the other men I had accidentally touched or if he would reverse my healing -- condemning me to isolation for the rest of my life.
I knew I had no choice, so I threw myself at his feet, trembling in fear as I awaiting his punishment. I couldn't even bear to look at him. I stammered out how I so desperately wanted to be well and how I knew that just touching his cloak would heal me, and that it did, that I was finally well. And I apologized over and over again for my brazen actions, hoping he would understand just a little why I dared make him unclean.
But then everything changed. You know when there's that moment when your world shifts? This was it for me. He didn't yell at me, he didn't beat me. He didn't even walk away in disgust. Instead he walked towards me and knelt down at my side. And then, and I will never forget this, he placed his hand on my shoulder and said "Daughter, your faith has healed you go in peace." My own father had rejected me and no one had touched me in years, and here this rabbi blessed me and called me daughter. That touch, that word healed me more than just stopping the bleeding had. For the first time in years, I felt accepted and loved -- I felt whole again.
Jesus looked past the names and labels that my culture had imposed upon me, and healed my wounds. He gave me a place at the table.
Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us.