Reaching past your past
A sermon on healing for inside a women's prison
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from a flow of blood for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had, and she was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Immediately her flow of blood stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my cloak?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” - Mark 5
This week I realized that every sermon I have ever heard on this text has just been sorta vague about the actual ailment of the woman who reached for the hem of Jesus’ garment.
This week I also realized that all the sermons I’ve heard on this text over the years were preached by men.
So, just so we are clear ladies, the woman from our Gospel reading today who was healed when she touched Jesus cloak had her menstrual period for 12 years.
She had her period for 4,383 days in a row.
And it’s not like they had pads or tampons in the 1st century.
Just take a moment and consider what that was like.
And even worse - back in her day women on their periods were considered impure– they were treated as so unclean that they couldn't be around other people or even enter the synagogue until their bleeding had stopped. Why? Because their impurity was considered contagious. Like someone could catch your period from you.
For 12 brutal years, our sister not only had her period but she was also segregated from the so-called good healthy people.
I imagine that if anyone can understand what it is like to live year after long year being told you are a woman who is not safe for other people to be around it might be you in this room.
But, the Gospel tells us, she had heard about a man – a teacher – a prophet – a healer who did not recoil from women like her. She heard about a man who touched the unclean, who didn’t seem to mind being close to lepers and prostitutes and mad men in tombs. She heard about a man who caused a stir- a man who caused religious people to clutch their pearls, a man who caused the blind to see.
She had heard about Jesus…and in a heroic act of self respect, she pressed through those holy people who if they knew it was her who was touching them that day– would have reported her.
She had heard about Jesus and breaking all the rules, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, and said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
So she reached with everything she had–she reached past her fears – she reached past her limitations,– she reached past the dirty looks– she reached past 4,383 days of isolation and disappointment and despair – she reached past the hateful things said to her by those who were supposed to help her, she reached past her past. Our sister reached for her own healing and her own dignity and her own wholeness and said if I but touch his clothes I will be made well.
That is to say, if I but touch his clothes I will be made me.
I will be made me again and not what everyone has labeled me.
And immediately her bleeding stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed by the power of Jesus of Nazareth.
Her Yelp review would be like, Healing was immediate and thorough; 5 stars.
Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”
He was looking for the one who reached for her healing and received it. He wanted to look this woman in the eye – a woman who for 12 years never received a whole lot of eye contact but he knew it was HER he felt.
And his disciples are like, “Dude, everyone is touching everyone’s clothes it’s a huge crowd’”
But he kept looking for her eyes.
And the woman, who knew what had happened to her in that moment of her healing AND who knew very well what had happened to her in her 4,383 days of confinement came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.
She did not hold anything back.
She told him the whole truth and nothing but.
Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Everyone else may have called her impure, unclean, and unholy . . . but he called her daughter. In that one word Jesus tells her who she really is. A beloved child of God.
You are well, you are a daughter of God, go in peace and live as a healed woman.
I love this story so much, BUT I have some questions.
I’ve always wondered if that word “daughter” – caused any pain as it surged through the parts of her that had been deprived of love and life for so long.
I wonder if it hurt to be healed even though it is what she wanted.
Because sometimes it’s actually more comfortable to allow parts of ourselves to die than to feel them have new life, because then we have to face the pain of the whole truth.
But mostly I wonder what her life looked like after that moment.
Because 12 years is a long time and it’s not like there was some kind of re-entry program she could participate in. No half way house between clean and unclean.
I wonder if, for our sister the bleeding woman, there were times it actually felt more comfortable to cling to the identity of being unclean because at least it was familiar.
At least then she knew where she stood.
I wonder if there was an adjustment period for her before she could really live her new identity.
I say this because this week as I thought about her I also thought about how I spent the first three years of my sobriety trying to live the exact same life as before I got sober, just without the drugs and alcohol because I could not let go of who I was. Technically I was sober, but I was trying to live like I was still the same person…I was even copping dope for other people and not even taking a cut, because I could not cope with the idea of not being connected. It was terrifying to incorporate into my self-understanding the idea of being someone who no longer knew how to score. And leading the same life with the same people in the same scene and the same job and the same sleeping around with the same exact kind of people and being in the same room as people who were getting messed up – it ends up - that is a very painful life to lead without the benefit of intoxication.
The point being, I may have been sober and going to meetings for three years but I didn’t really get well until I could accept both who I had been and who I was becoming and accept any distance there was between the two. And ultimately, when the pain of trying to lead the same life when I was not the same person was acute enough, I became willing to re-think old ideas about myself.
Because at the time, I desperately needed relief from a life in which I was impersonating an old version of myself. I needed to repent of all the ways I defined myself for so long. I don’t know why losing things that hurt me also causes me to hurt, but it does.
But on this path of God’s grace, what I have experienced is that anything I use to define who I am. . . and anything I use to define who everyone else is other than the gospel is going to be taken away and I’m going to hate it and It’s going to hurt. I wish I had something that sounded more cheerful than that but I respect you too much to lie.
Because whatever it is that we don’t want to let go of: status, fear, bad relationships, victimhood, political correctness, moral superiority, resentment…name your poison – whatever identities we think will keep us safe – aren’t safe at all they are just familiar and that’s not the same thing.
Because when these flimsy designations touch even the garment of God they fall away. And then Jesus looks us right in our eyes and tells us the truth when he declares, daughter you are well, go in peace and live as a healed woman.
Thanks to my paid subscribers, I have recently been able to take over as the interim pastor of New Beginnings Worshipping Community inside the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility without having to take a stipend. Your support of me and my work means the world to me. Please pray for them and that the right pastor comes along to serve in this special call.