Healing Miracles, Part 6
Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If only I touch his cloak, I will be healed.”
Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. Matt. 9:20-22 (NIV).
Metrorrhagia–irregular uterine bleeding beyond menstrual periods–is the likely diagnosis. It is a woman, and she has bled for twelve years. Bleeding from any other cause would have killed her years ago. Jesus calls her daughter, and since He wasn’t much over thirty himself, she must have been young, probably in her twenties. Metrorrhagia, especially before commercially available sanitary products, must have been messy and distracting. Furthermore, it made her infertile and therefore ineligible as a wife, as well as chronically anemic with weakness and fatigue. Then there was the final burden in first century Jewish life: she was “unclean.”
Matthew must have sat down and talked with her afterwards, because for the first time we are told what one of the healed people was thinking. He probably said something like this: “You are ritually unclean! You shouldn’t even be here in town or touched anyone, much less the rabbi! What could you possibly have been thinking?”
She could have been stoned. She should have been stoned. See Leviticus 15:25-31. She is unclean for as long as she bleeds plus seven days, then she can bring a couple pigeons to the priest who will sacrifice them thereby making atonement for her. In the meantime, her body, her bed and anywhere she sits is unclean. The law forbids her to go to synagogue. No one can touch her, or they, too, become unclean. You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them. (Lev. 15:31 NIV).
So, it’s likely she’d been thinking a lot before she came up with a sneaky plan. She’s been lonely, sick, and tired for half of her life. No sane man would marry her, children weren’t possible, and even her parents and her siblings were forbidden to touch her. She must have been thinking that she’s got nothing to lose.
Sneaky doesn’t work with Jesus, though. He knows. But the first thing he tells her is to take heart, as in …take heart! I have overcome the world. (Jn. 16:33b NIV). Don’t be afraid; it’s going to be okay. I wonder how long it had been since anyone told her that.
Then he told her something that he hadn’t said before in any of the stories Matthew shared with us about miracle healing: Your faith has healed you.
We think we’ve heard this before, but we haven’t. He told the leper, “Be clean,” and he was. He commended the faith of the centurion, but the faith of the centurion’s servant wasn’t mentioned. Peter’s mother-in-law just had to be in the house. The two Gadarene men were dispossessed of demons without any mention of faith. The paralyzed man, faithful or not, had his sins forgiven.
Jesus now tells this woman that she is healed because of her faith.
This has been a stumbling block to me in my own faith walk.
It goes against my Midwestern, German-Norwegian heritage of hard work, stoicism, and perseverance. We don’t whine about problems impossible to fix; we soldier on.
It goes against my scientific training. Metrorrhagia is caused by endocrine imbalances, gynecological neoplasms, coagulation disorders–not by lack of faith. I treated a young mother for her malignant brain brain tumor from the time of her diagnosis to the time of her death, a disappointing nine months later. Every day she prayed for healing. She called on Jesus and remained faithful until she was comatose. Then she died. Some things don’t seem to be curable by faith.
It goes against my sense of fairness. Some people profess faith and are healed. Others profess faith and die. I can’t believe the ones who died were somehow deficient in their faith.
Because of all that, I spent at least half my adult life not believing in healing miracles. But now, I am an old doctor, and I have seen things. When I was convinced that it was impossible, I have seen a stroke victim rise from his chair and go on to be a bus driver, a blind woman see, a paralyzed man get up and walk, and even a brain dead patient return to normal life. Miracles happen–not often, of course, or we couldn’t call them miracles. But they happen.
The question is: what does faith have to do with it?
When Jesus healed the leper, the leper had faith Jesus could do it; he only questioned Jesus’ willingness to do so. The centurion’s servant may have had no faith in Jesus, but his master did. Peter’s mother-in-law may or may not have had faith in Jesus, but Peter certainly did. In a perverse way, even the demons of the Gadarenes had faith in Jesus. And the four guys who brought in the paralyzed man had faith or they wouldn’t have gone through the effort. Someone had to have faith. Someone had to believe that Jesus was who He said He was, and He had the power to heal.
My experience with the healing miracles that I have witnessed is the same. Someone, not necessarily the sick or injured person, had faith. Faith is not everything needed for healing. God is too smart to do whatever we want Him to do no matter how much we believe in Him, but faith is an important prerequisite to His intervention. It gets us close enough to touch Him.
Let’s look at what Jesus told the bleeding woman again, with a little different emphasis: “Your faith has healed you.”
She was a pariah. For twelve years she had been unable to go the the synagogue. Under the fear of death, no one had touched her–not her mother, not her father, not her brother or sister, not her closest friend, even if she had one. No one had faith for her. No one brought Jesus to her, no one brought her to Jesus. She was alone when she developed her sneaky plan: “If only I touch his cloak, I will be healed.”
I have never been this isolated. I have sometimes been lonely in a crowd, and sometimes sought solitude in quiet places. But I always had a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a close friend, a child, or, last but not least, my wife, to come home to and hug no matter how dark the day.
I’ve never suffered anything for twelve years. I have had dark days when I doubted myself, and other dark days when outside forces attacked me and looked like they would win, and still others when those I love were sick or dying.
I don’t know how I’d handle social isolation, weakness and fatigue for twelve years. I hope to never find out. If it does happen, though, I’m glad to hear that I can elbow my way in, unseen if necessary, and grab Jesus by the sleeve. Then He’s going to turn around and tell me, “Good to see you! Take heart! It’s going to be okay.” I have the ancient story of this woman’s testimony to tell me I will be healed at that moment.