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Tony's Reflection 53
You are feeling a little peckish and decide to raid the fridge. Some cheese, cold meat, a little tomato… the ingredients for a gorgeous sandwich are all in place.
Today Mark gives us a sandwich of a different sort (
) – a “story sandwich”, where we have one story wrapped up in another. In this case we have the story of Jairus and his daughter (the bread of the sandwich) with the episode of the sick woman in the middle (the sandwich filling).
This week will be looking at “the meat in the middle” of Mark’s sandwich. Let’s take a closer look at the sick woman’s story (Mark 5:25-34).
This woman was bleeding not just once a month for a few days, but constantly for 12 long years.
She had been desperate to put an end to this agony. Popular culture offered plenty of remedies. Some of them strange but not entirely unpleasant (for example, drinking a mixture of onions and wine), some were simply stomach turning (sifting through the poo of a white female donkey, looking for barley waste and eating it).
This woman had tried absolutely everything. Her distress had gone on so long, there was no stone she had left unturned in her despairing search for a cure. The doctors had all promised that they had just the right thing, yet they all failed to deliver – and still took her money.
Her bank account was now empty, but the pain continued. There was the daily physical distress and discomfort, a red reminder of her suffering, day in, day out. Then there was the emotional torture. What could she ever do to be normal again? As she struggled to find the money to feed herself, she had the painful reminder that this condition had bled her dry of all she had.
There was an added layer of suffering. This bleeding meant she was always “unclean”. As modern Westerners, the thought of being “unclean” is totally alien to us. Let me ask you to imagine something, so you can connect with what “unclean” meant back then.
You are going for a walk in your local park. You hear children playing, there is a pleasant smell from the spring flowers wafting through the air. You are enjoying your stroll through the grass, admiring the carpet of daisies and buttercups all around you. You feel your foot sink into something soft and squidgy. You slip slightly and your nostrils are affronted by a pungent smell. You lift your foot and the sole of your shoe is covered in dog mess.
Capture that moment of repulsion and disgust. That is what a Jew felt whenever they were in contact with something “unclean”. Except, back then, it wasn’t just things that were unclean. People could be unclean, too.
What you felt, as you were gazing at your dirty shoe sole … that’s how people in Jesus’ day felt when they looked at this woman. At least, it’s how they would have reacted to her if they knew about her dirty secret. Perhaps you are now starting to imagine the shame which was hers.
Everything she touched became unclean, as well. No one who knew her secret would want to be anywhere near her. She should stay away from respectable people. They wouldn’t want to be contaminated by her.
She has heard Jesus is in town. Should she go?
Everyone who knew her secret would disapprove. She shouldn’t be mixing with the crowd. She would make them unclean, too.
And what would Jesus do, if he knew and she got anywhere near him? He was a holy man and Jewish holy men would walk the other side of the road rather than go near anything unclean. If they were approached by an unclean person, the holy man would throw stones to keep them away.
But Jesus has the power to heal. She has heard the stories. She would go to him. He was the last hope. There is something truly special about this Jesus, but he would never have anything to do with a woman like her. Maybe if she could get near enough just to touch him, that would be enough.
Jesus is being mobbed as usual. A maddening crowd, all trying to catch him, shake his hand. No one will notice her in all this chaos. She pulls her shawl over her face and looks down to the ground. She can’t have anyone recognise her. Jesus mustn’t notice her touch him. What would he say if he knew an unclean woman had touched him?
She pushes her way through the crowd and edges ever closer to Jesus. Her gaze fixed firmly on the ground, she sees his sandals and his robe swirling in the dust. He is busy blessing a baby. He won’t notice her. This is her moment. She reaches out her finger and touches the edge of his cloak.
Waves of warmth pulse through her body. In that soothing heat, the constant wetness she has felt for 12 long years is dry. She can’t remember when she last felt this way. She is clean again. As she turns to go, she hears something which makes her stop dead in her tracks. The sound she dreaded.
“Who touched me?” asks Jesus.
There is no hiding now. She falls at Jesus’ feet and blurts out the whole story. She can’t bear to look up at him. She has just defiled the holiest man she has ever known by touching him. What will he say? What will he do?
She tenses, waiting for the disapproval to fall on her.
Instead, there is a gentle touch on her shoulder. He knows what she is like. What she has been. How could he touch a woman like her? But he does. The tension inside her evaporates, as her fears are soothed away by the warmth in his voice.
“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be free.”
This is the first time she has felt approval and acceptance in 12 long years. She lifts her head and looks Jesus in the eye. No further word is said. He has said enough. She makes her way home through the crowd, head held high…
This woman had held a dirty secret for 12 years. It destroyed her inside. Where there should have been dignity there was only shame and deep unworthiness.
Have you got anything like that inside you? Secret thoughts. Things you do that you wish you didn’t. They make you feel ashamed and unworthy. They have been there so long they have become a part of you. They make you feel “unclean”.
Jesus can clean you, as well.