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Open Book: A healing of holistic proportions

Woman touching Jesus

NILS VON KALM looks at the Gospel account of Jesus’ meeting with a woman who had been suffering from a flow of blood for 12 years…

Melbourne, Australia

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from a flow of blood for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had, and she was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Immediately her flow of blood stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my cloak?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” – Mark 5:25-34 (NRSVUE)

When we look at the healings of Jesus in the gospels, we often do so through our Western, individualistic lenses. As a result, we miss the main point of what Jesus was doing when He healed people. What is even more tragic is that we actually miss what the Gospel is really about.

Our Western mindset generally leads us to focus on the physical aspect of the healings and the faith of the person being healed. They are right and proper things to focus on of course, but if we leave it there, we short-change what Jesus was doing, who He is, and we short-change the very Gospel itself.

Woman touching Jesus

ILLUSTRATION: Andry Djumantara/iStockphoto.


“The healing that Jesus is on about is always holistic; it is transformation of the whole person and their community. When Jesus showed love to people, He looked past their ailment to the whole person. He saw them as they were: as people made in the image of the Creator, with full dignity and worth.”

The healing that Jesus is on about is always holistic; it is transformation of the whole person and their community. When Jesus showed love to people, He looked past their ailment to the whole person. He saw them as they were: as people made in the image of the Creator, with full dignity and worth.

Dignity is what Jesus saw in people; He focused on those whose sense of dignity had been terribly diminished. They were the ones who were marginalised. Mostly, they were poor because they were marginalised, but sometimes marginalised people were also rich. Zaccheus the tax collector is a case in point.

By viewing people through the lens of dignity, Jesus healed people in different ways. Some people He healed well away from the crowds, while others He healed right in front of them. Either way, He treated them according to where they were at in their sense of dignity.

One person He healed in full view of the crowds was the woman with the flow of blood. This story is told in all three of the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. And it is wedged in between another healing, that of the 12-year-old daughter of the synagogue ruler, Jairus.

In order to understand and get a good grasp of the impact of what Jesus was doing, we need to understand the context of the time in which He lived.

This healing takes place at a time when Jesus’ popularity is at its peak. He has rock-star status, and everyone wants a piece of him. People are flocking to hear Him or be healed or have loved ones healed. He is causing a sensation.

Now consider the woman. This is where we see how radical Jesus was in how He treated people, and how He walked all over the legalistic laws of His day and of His people.

Firstly, being a woman in that society placed you at a distinct disadvantage. Women were treated as second-class citizens. If you were a woman, your testimony was not valid in a court of law simply because of your gender. Women were considered to be unreliable.

Secondly, this woman had suffered bleeding for 12 years. This meant two things: she wouldn’t have been able to have children, and she would have almost certainly been divorced. In a very strong ‘honour/shame’ culture, her inability to have children would have been a cause for deep shame. She would have been considered to have sinned in some way. That would also have been a source of shame for her husband, who would have therefore divorced her. A husband could easily divorce his wife in that culture.

Thirdly, the purity laws of the day meant that, because of her bleeding, she would have been considered unclean. According to the Law of Moses, women were ceremonially unclean for seven days from the time of their period (Leviticus 15:19). It also meant that anyone who came into physical contact with her would be unclean.

In short, this woman didn’t have a lot going for her. She was a social outcast, someone to steer well clear of, relegated to the margins of society.

With all that as background, you can imagine her deeply wounded and traumatised sense of self-worth. It would have been at rock-bottom. No wonder she tried to get to Jesus secretly. She was probably literally hunched over, just wanting to have her finger touch the hem of his cloak, hopefully be healed, and then scurry off with no one – least of all Jesus – being any the wiser. The terror of being noticed would have been too much for her.

So, she tries to do just that. She pushes her way through the crowd, touches Jesus’ cloak, and all of a sudden, her life is changed forever. Her bleeding stops. After all the years of seeing unscrupulous doctors, losing all her money and actually getting worse, suddenly she is healed. Can you imagine her shock? Something has changed in her body, and she knows it.

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In many Western churches, that would be a fitting end to the story. She’s healed! Everyone can go home and praise God, His wonders to behold.

But it’s not the end of the story for Jesus. Or, thankfully, for the woman. It’s only the beginning. Because then we have this completely bizarre scene where Jesus, in the middle of a crowd with people jostling Him back and forth, says, “Who touched me?”. No wonder the disciples basically say to Him, “What sort of question is that?!”.

For Jesus though, physical healing is only one part of the healing He gives. Jesus is about total transformation, and that is what we are about to see in this story.

He calls her forward, possibly knowing full well the fact that she wants nothing more in that moment than to hide herself away. She tells him the whole story, and what does He call her? Daughter. This woman, who has seen herself and has been seen by others as unworthy, unclean, an outsider, an outcast, is suddenly told she’s in. Daughter. She’s part of the family. An intimate part of the family. When society pushed her to the margins, Jesus said “no, you’re part of the family”. Can you imagine what this does for her sense of self-worth? She can suddenly walk tall and look people in the eye and say, “I am equal to you”, and she believes it in the bottom of her heart.

When I was in Memphis in 2022, I visited the site where striking African-American sanitation workers marched for equal rights in 1968, a protest which garnered the support of Martin Luther King. The enduring image of those marches is the signs they were carrying which said, “I am a man”. Why would people protesting their low pay and working conditions carry signs saying that? Because when you’re a black man in America, being called ‘boy’ is a constant put-down, designed to reduce your sense of worth.

Being marginalised affects your sense of dignity. And this is exactly what Jesus healed in the woman with the flow of blood. Her healing was total. It was physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. Her very identity was healed.

God loves every part of us. No part of us is more or less valuable than any other. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). The healing of the woman with the flow of blood is a classic example of how much Jesus values our bodies, our emotions, our spirituality, our very identity, all equally. Now, that’s good news!



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