Woman with the Issue of Blood

The story of the woman with an issue of blood is revealed in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 5. As people gathered around Jesus, pressing in on him, one woman could not touch him. She was considered unclean because she had a bleeding problem. It had persisted for twelve years, and despite spending all of the money she had on doctors, she still suffered.

The ancient Hebrews had many purity laws governing the issue of blood. The Book of Leviticus, Chapter 15, is devoted to explanations of impurities, including the issue of blood, and the rituals and rules of purification.

And if a woman have an issue, and her issue…be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. (Leviticus 15:19–22)

The New Testament woman with the twelve-year issue of blood had tremendous faith that Jesus could heal her. So great was her faith, that she believed one touch of his clothing would cure her problem (Mark 5:28). That explains why the woman joined the crowd thronging around Jesus and his disciples during their walk toward the house of Jairus, and in a final act of desperation reached out for the man many called the Messiah.

Jairus, a powerful official in the synagogue, had begged Jesus to go to his house and heal his sick daughter. While Jesus walked with Jairus and some of his disciples (Peter, John, and James, among them), the crowd jostled around and pushed in, trying to get near the Lord. From somewhere behind Jesus, the woman with the issue of blood approached, and got close enough to stretch forth her fingers. Now the Hebrews had many rules governing ritual purity, and Jesus knew immediately when she touched him that the virtue (some texts say “power”) had gone from him (Mark 5:30) and, in the eyes of the Jewish officials, he had become unclean.

The Disciples Do Not Know Who Touched Jesus

Jesus' disciples told him that it was impossible to know who touched him. They told him that there was a large crowd all around him. They wondered how Jesus could even ask such a question, when anyone there could have done it.

The Woman Confesses

The woman with the issue of blood stepped up, though she was probably afraid. This man of God had divine power to bring about the healing she so desperately sought, and yet to be in the presence of the power of God must have given her some anxiety. Still, she stepped forward and fell at Jesus' feet. There, she trembled and told him she had touched his garment. She explained why, though it must have been exceedingly embarrassing for her to speak of it publicly.

Jesus Lovingly Responds to Her

The Gospel of Mark reveals that Jesus did not berate her or speak to her sternly; he was not angry or offended. He simply said, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague” (Mark 5:34). The Gospel of Luke also presents the story of that woman and states that Jesus said to her upon hearing her confession, “Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace” (Luke 8:48). Jesus doesn't say he healed her or that his garment healed her, but that her own faith had ended her misery and made her whole.

The gospels are full of stories of miraculous healings by Jesus, effected through touch and words and prayers. Does that mean that everyone who asked for a miraculous healing from the disciples of Christ were made whole, like the women in this chapter? The answer is no. The Gospel of Mark makes the point that it was difficult when the faith of the people was not strong. “And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him” (Mark 6:1–3).

But Jesus, the gospel stated, answered them “A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mark 6:4). The next verse reveals that Jesus “…could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5–6).

The laying on of hands and praying over the sick is an ages-old practice. The disciples of Jesus, however, were not always able to perform miracles. Jesus explained why his disciples could not heal a boy whose father pleaded with them for help. The father said to Jesus, “And I besought thy disciples to cast him out; and they could not. And Jesus answering said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you?” (Luke 9:40–41).

What gain is made through suffering? The Book of Psalms offers one answer: “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119:71). The Apostle Paul endured an affliction despite three separate pleas to the Lord from Paul. He was told that the Lord's power was made perfect in weakness, and he would have grace to endure.

Jesus finally reached the house of Jairus. The Bible doesn't say whether he went through any kind of ritual purification after encountering the woman with the blood issue, before entering the room of a dying child. He was a Jew, and in the opinion of the Jewish rabbis, he wouldn't have been exempt from having to undergo the rituals necessary to purify oneself after contact with blood or a dead body. Still, it is one biblical example of how Jesus moved in the world in his own way, and treated others with love and understanding and assistance, instead of shunning them as others might have.

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