Mark 5:21-43 (The Woman: vv. 25-34)
Jesus Heals in Response to Faith
25 A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. 26 She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. 28 For she thought to herself, "If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed." 29 Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.
30 Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my robe?"
31 His disciples said to him, "Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, 'Who touched me?'"
32 But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. 34 And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over."
A crowd is following Jesus and pressing in upon him. A woman sneaks up and touches the edge (= fringe) of his robe in order to be healed of the hemorrhage from which she has been suffering for the past twelve years. Having spent everything she owned and gotten no better, her last resort is Jesus, the one who has power over both diseases and demons.
A woman ... had suffered (Mark 5:25)
The woman seeking Jesus had been suffering from "constant bleeding" for twelve years - possibly "a chronic menstrual disorder or a uterine hemorrhage."359 Treatment of the woman's condition would have included "various and manifold kinds of medicines" in combination with elaborate rituals/ceremonies360 that amounted to little more than "superstitious remedies"361 Her incurable condition "made it impossible for her ever to feel strong and healthy."362 (In his account, the physician Luke refers to the woman's incurable disease but, "with professional sensitiveness, omits Mark's statement that she had suffered many things from many physicians, and was not bettered but made worse."363) Along these lines, we might note that the term used to describe the woman's "terrible condition" ("affliction," NASB) literally refers to a whip, connoting the type of excruciating pain endured as part of a scourging. When used in reference to a disease, often there was an implication of divine punishment.364 To add insult to injury, aside from the physical suffering she had been forced to endure, "the woman's condition would have kept her in a perpetual state of impurity,"365 thus greatly restricting her contact with other people. In spite of this fact, she pressed through the crowd, making impure/unclean everyone with whom she came in contact (see Leviticus 15:25-27; a woman with an issue of blood "defiled every one who touched ... her"366).367 "Many teachers avoided touching women altogether, lest they become accidentally contaminated."368
Touched his robe (Mark 5:27)
The bleeding woman believed that Jesus had come from God and that he alone possessed the power to heal her. Here and throughout Scripture, we see fear and faith going hand in hand. She kept on telling herself that if she could only touch Jesus' robe, she would be healed369 - suggesting "that the woman was trying to muster up the courage" to do so.370 She was understandably afraid, but despite her fear she refused to give up until she had made contact with Jesus. Apparently the woman was trying to touch one of the tassels that hung from each of the four corners of Jesus' robe (cf. Matthew 9:20-21).371 As one source explains: "Like all true Jews, Jesus wore the shimla, a large, square cloth that was used as an outer robe and had tassels at the four corners according to the requirement stated in Deut. 22:12. The tassels were attached to blue cords, and the Pharisees loved to make these tassels large and prominent in order to display their compliance with the law. Two of the corners of the shimla were thrown back over the shoulder so that two of the tassels hung down behind. One of these, Matthew tells us, the woman touched."372
One source notes how the woman's actions reflect the common practice of a subject's kneeling to touch the king's robe in a demonstration of loyalty and submission prior to making a request.373 While such may indeed be the case, this woman desired to touch Jesus' robe and then slip away unnoticed so as to avoid bringing unwanted attention to herself.374 As one source puts it, "Her motive was not to steal healing but to keep her ailment hidden."375
Who touched my robe? (Mark 5:30)
In keeping with the fact that this miracle story is told from the perspective of the woman, we see Jesus' awareness of healing power having left him and asking who it was that touched him. We should avoid concluding that the power left Jesus without his knowledge or consent. As one commentator puts it:
To say that this outgo of power from Jesus was without conscious volition on his part is to misconceive the entire operation of this power. It is always under the control of Jesus’ conscious will. To think of a somatic mediation of this power, to think that it required physical contact with Jesus, for instance, the touch of his hand, makes Jesus a magnetic medium or a magician. Jesus healed many without a touch, some even at a distance. Touch of hand or of garment is symbolic, an aid to faith and nothing more. The miracles were wrought by Jesus’ almighty will. The instant the woman touched Jesus he knew it, knew her ailment, willed her healing, and thus realized in himself (2:8, "in his spirit") the power that went out of him to work this miracle.376
The frightened woman ... told him (Mark 5:33)
Why did Jesus refuse to let the woman leave without acknowledging him as the source of her healing? Quite likely it was for several reasons:
Jesus wanted to dispel any "quasi-magical notions"377 that she may have had. Hence Jesus' statement that her faith - and not Jesus' robe - had healed her. 378
Jesus did not want the woman to feel that she was wrong in her seeking healing from him.379
Jesus wanted to remove any lingering shame the woman may have felt over her disease.380
Jesus wanted to help the woman complete what one source refers to as "the circle": "When blessings descend from heaven, they must in the form of thanksgiving be returned to heaven by those who received them."381 Put simply: we ask God for help; we receive God's help; we thank God for his help. This "circle" both strengthens our faith and gives God the glory he richly deserves and rightly demands.
Notice the tender mercy of Jesus as he deals with this woman. Choosing to reassure rather than reprimand, he:
calls her "daughter, a term implying "affectionate concern"382
commends her faith
pronounces peace - that is, "freedom from anxiety and inner turmoil"383 - upon her
reassures her that her time of intense suffering is finally over
There the Entire Time
The story is told of an early American Indian initiation rite.
A brave would be taught how to hunt, scout, and fish. Then on his thirteenth birthday he would be blindfolded and, for the first time, taken from his family and deposited several miles away in a deep, dark forest where the blindfold would be removed and the brave left to spend the entire night completely alone.
It was a very long and very trying night, with fear magnifying the slightest sound. The boy was utterly relieved when the new day finally dawned.
To the young brave's utter astonishment, the sun would reveal the figure of a man standing very close by. The man, armed with bow and arrow, was the brave's father. He had been standing guard over his son the entire night.384
The bleeding woman must have felt very much like the young Indian brave: alone, afraid, and trapped in her condition.
Oftentimes our fears stem from an inability to see and understand what is immediately before us, coupled with a sense of being all alone. (Isolationism is a major tool of the Devil.) It is in those moments, however, that God can work most powerfully in our lives. As we turn to him, he will remove our fears and replace them with comfort, direction, and hope. Best of all, he will remind us that we are never completely alone: he is always standing close by.
??? Did you wait until you were at the end of your rope before turning to Jesus? Explain. What can the woman's example teach us about trusting Jesus?