This question of Jesus amazed the disciples. There were so many people around Jesus, clamoring for Him, tugging at Him and trying to get His attention.
It turns out that the person Jesus singled out didn’t want His attention. She was a woman “who had a certain flow of blood for 12 years.” Her condition of chronic menstrual bleeding was addressed in Leviticus 15 among the purification laws that God gave to Israel. God singled out her condition, decreed that such a woman “shall be unclean for as many days” as this condition lasts, and that if anyone so much as “touches” her or she touches anyone, that person also is “unclean.” This was part of Israel’s ceremonial law. It wasn’t about physical uncleanness. It was being unclean before God. It meant she could not worship publicly.
This woman had had this condition for 12 years. She suffered great frustration and emotional pain in addition to the toll it took on her body. Perhaps worst of all, she was excluded from public worship. Her life the past 12 years was truly miserable. But she had heard about Jesus. In fact, her emotional and physical pain brought her to Him. She had heard about His power to heal.
St. Mark tells us she came up behind Jesus unannounced, telling herself, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.” She was hoping to get away unseen. She had lived with so much shame and embarrassment. Others shunned her.
She feared being noticed and coming under disapproval. She didn’t want to incur the anger of the religious leaders and feel more of the sting of the law. Although she had done nothing wrong to cause her condition – it was not a punishment for her own sins – still she was a victim in this way from sin being in the world. She didn’t intend to touch Jesus, only His garment.
Jesus’ question stopped her in her tracks: “Who touched Me?”
In that brief moment between the time she touched his robe and He asked the question, she was healed. Normally if she touched a person, it would make that person unclean. But this time, Jesus took her uncleanness from her and He gave her His purity. She was immediately and totally clean in God’s sight. St. Mark says that the flow of blood dried up and she felt it instantly. She was healed. But nobody else knew it. Now it seems that she wanted to slip away unnoticed. But Jesus’ question didn’t allow her to do that.
For this woman who was so ashamed and trying not to be noticed, to be singled out terrified her! She is described as “fearing and trembling.” But Jesus was not trying to embarrass her. For Jesus it isn’t enough just to take away her uncleanness. That’s the negative part. What Jesus wants for her is so positive. It’s the Gospel: that He takes her uncleanness to be His own and He makes her completely clean, and her life is no longer a matter of avoiding uncleanness, but of living out her cleanness in Him. He brings her to tell Him “the whole truth” (Mark 5:34) about her condition and touching His garment, not to embarrass her but so she can hear the new truth, the Gospel: that His power has gone into her, she is clean through faith in Him, and is completely “well.”
He asked the question, “Who touched Me?” to highlight His touch. No less than ten times in St. Mark’s gospel, Jesus is shown touching someone. His touch doesn’t illustrate His message. His touch IS His message.
This question of Jesus highlighted for the woman that Jesus – the Lord of all – did not shun her. He did not exclude her. He did not stay apart from her. He was not ashamed of her; in fact, He not only took away her shame, but He gave her His complete approval and His total embrace. He restored her in body and soul. He took away her emotional pain and gave her joy, showing He was emotionally connected to her.
This question of Jesus is important for us, too. Feeling ashamed and embarrassed is one of the first byproducts of sin. We are ashamed because we know that we are unclean. We come in contact with the unclean world, we get dirty, and it’s our own doing. Our own sins produce first guilt and then shame. The devil plays this trick: he gets a person to sin, which produces guilt, and then uses shame to keep that person away from God’s house and away from other Christians who can help him to stand.
But it’s not only our own sinful actions that produce shame. We also are victimized by many things, just as this woman had this condition not because she asked for it and not as a consequence for anything she herself did, but just because she lived in a fallen, corrupt world. We are unclean not just because of what we do, but also because of what’s done to us or what happens to us. It may be sins, abuse, or neglect that come from others and affect you. Perhaps it produces bitterness or an inability to trust or have hope. This cuts you off from others. Sometimes it’s not even something other people do to you; depression, anxiety, grief, or some other cross can keep a person disconnected from the assembly of God’s people, and that person will easily feel low and worthless and alone.
If any of this describes your experience, then you need to hear Jesus singling you out with His question so that He can make you aware that His touch is for you. Jesus doesn’t make you seek Him, but He comes to you in His Word, in the Lord’s Supper, just as He came to you in Baptism. He uses physical things. He touches you with water in Baptism, bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, and the mouth and hands of the pastor He sends to preach the Gospel and bestow absolution on you. Through these means of grace, He pours into you His forgiveness and cleansing, His power and strength… and confidence.
Jesus doesn’t shun you. You aren’t alone; He never stays apart from you. He isn’t ashamed of you. He not only has taken away your shame, but gives you His complete approval and His total embrace. He includes you, wraps you up, in His love, no matter how introverted you are. He’s connected to you not only spiritually, but also emotionally and physically (body and soul). He came to know and share all that you feel, suffer, and experience. In His Word, He comes to you, to touch you and make you whole.
O what precious balm and healing,
Jesus, in Thy wounds I find
Every hour that I am feeling
Pains of body and of mind.
(ELH #293 v. 1)
Rev. Jerry Gernander
Bethany Lutheran Church