Thin, cold fingers clutched the woven fabric pulled carefully over her head, shielding a gaunt face from recognizing eyes. If she was seen, known to be unclean, there would be shrieks of horror, cries of disgust, maybe even rocks thrown. Twelve years of isolation weighed achingly in her chest, a solid boulder of fear tugging her back to her tiny, silent house. Each step forward was a physical struggle against the weakness that was her only companion.
The stories had reached even her, long out of the circle of gossip that defined village life. He’d healed His disciple’s mother-in-law just by touching her hand! A man plagued by demons had been freed with only a word! Somehow, some pig farmers were mad about that one, though she’d missed overhearing the explanation for their reaction.
The story about that leper though… She’d heard Miriam telling it to her daughter-in-law while hanging up yet another endless load of washing. Frozen mid reach, the cloth cold and damp in her hand, she listened intently to the retelling. Questions she couldn’t interrupt to ask rolled through her mind. Had Jesus really touched a leper?
She’d been skeptical of the tales regarding this teacher/prophet/miracle worker since the beginning. But as time went on, they continued with amazing consistency for town gossip. This story, though, was almost too much. Supposedly, the leper had entered into someone else’s home to see Jesus, reason enough to be chased out on the spot. But if Miriam, Simon the butcher, Dorcas, or Susanna were to be believed, Jesus had reached out and actually touched the man, visibly leprous, a sure contaminant! Miriam claimed that her cousin knew the leper man and had testified that his skin was as clear as a newborn babe’s after Jesus touched him.
And it was this story that had her on her feet now. Her swishing layers of threadbare, patched skirts seemed to whisper accusingly, “Sel-fish, sel-fish, sel-fish” as she hurried on. If she bumped into someone, they would be unclean, like her. Maybe Jesus didn’t mind, IF the stories were true, but everyone else? She recognized the side long glances, the outright stares. Her family, her neighbors, even the physicians who would take her coins but not her hand pitied her, but were also disgusted by her. The odor, the weakness, the pallor in her cheeks and gums, they marked her as dirty. Unwanted. Undesirable. Unclean.
Thankfully, most people on the road today paid no attention to the small figure walking head down along the very edge of the road. And there were so many people! From snatches of conversation overheard as she stealthily passed a larger group of travelers, Jesus was heading to the home of one of the leaders of the synagogue. She groaned inside. Jesus Himself attracted enough of a crowd, but if He was with someone else of note, there would be an even greater throng about Him. It was almost enough to make her turn back, but she couldn’t.
Selfishness, desperation, or perhaps simply the bone deep ache of twelve years of isolation and exhaustion drove her forward, despite her reservations.
The crowd was growing thicker, knots of chatting people slowing as she slipped between them, careful to keep her hands inside her cloak, her head bent. No part of her could touch anyone. Her sense of trepidation grew as it became harder and harder to slide through the crowd unnoticed. She pulled the head covering further in front of her face and stepped between two small buildings next to the road. A small path ran between the houses, somewhat parallel to the main road. Perhaps if she walked this alleyway, she could find Jesus, dash out, and… what? Fall at His feet like the leper? Yell at Him like the demon possessed man in the synagogue?
She caught her thin, pale lip between her teeth in indecision. What exactly was she to do if and when she did find Jesus? He was with a synagogue ruler! If anyone knew the law, it was the ruler and his entourage. Stopping them to speak with Jesus and ask to be healed was unthinkable.
But He’d healed with a touch before, hadn’t He? What if she could touch Him? Slip in from behind, touch His hand or shoulder, and back away before anyone noticed? She thought she could do it. The years of constant drain on her body and her finances had left her thin and weathered beyond her years. She’d gotten this far, zig-zagging between clusters of the crowd. But would it work?
She turned with decision into the alley, skirting between buildings, ducking drying laundry, avoiding doorways that might open and spill out someone she could contaminate. Ahead, the market square rang with chatter from vendors and the gathering crowd. From the noise, she guessed that this was where Jesus and his followers were, nearly halfway to the nice end of town where the city leaders lived.
Cutting around a small lean-to holding two goats for sale, who greeted her with bland, golden eyes, she saw Him. Tall and erect, He was instantly recognizable as the Jesus from the stories. He walked slowly among the throng of people, all of them focused on His every move and word like planets in orbit around a star. The well dressed man next to Him seemed impatient, trying to hurry Jesus along, directing his servants to walk ahead and clear the way. No chance of intercepting them without a commotion.
Jesus was on her side of the road. If she could cut ahead of this main group, perhaps she could slip between and reach Him. There was a small gap as some of the disciples held back to relay a word to the group behind Jesus. It might be enough.
As they passed, she pressed between the two groups. If she’d been stronger, faster, maybe she could’ve done it without touching anyone. But her cloaked elbow jostled a lady carrying a small child, her foot trod on the edge of a man’s sandal. Indignation followed her right to the very back of Jesus. Unable to think of anything better to do, in one swift motion, she reached and grabbed the tassel of His tallith.
She jerked back, her hand warm from the contact. Her entire body was suddenly heated, warmer than it had been in years of continuous depletion. Nothing had changed around her, yet everything in her world was different. She stumbled backwards in shock, into the larger knot of people that had been trailing behind her. Mumbling apologies, she turned to flee back between the shops. Just at that moment, she heard a gentle but carrying voice ask above the noise of the crowd:
“Who touched my clothes?”
Her face, newly suffused with blood, paled again suddenly. He knew. The crowd around her broke out into a rising buzz over the strange question. One of his disciples, a man with a fisherman’s weather beaten face, said with a laugh, “Master, thou seest the multitude thronging around thee, and sayest thou, ‘Who touched my clothes?'”
Her feet were suddenly carrying her forward, quite unbidden, with more strength in her limbs than she’d had in years. She stepped into the open space between Jesus and the crowd, and fell immediately to her knees. Face to the ground, eyes streaming tears, she shakily admitted to all she had done. She was unclean, and she had touched Him. But she now was whole, no longer at the mercy of her incurable affliction. The warring feelings surged through her, louder than the noise of the crowd around them, spilling out in a torrent of confession.
Her head snapped up at the endearment. The sudden comfort of being addressed so after years of separation from friends and family was almost tangible. Her tears slowed, and the knot in her chest began to unravel in the light of His warm brown eyes, gazing at her, into her. Somehow, she believed in the depths of her heart that He knew her very soul with just that glance. Her loneliness, her longing for companionship, both deeply walled into the hollowest corner of her heart were healed in that one word just as quickly as her physical wounds had been.
“Thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace and be whole of thy plague.”
The incredible tenacity shown by this unnamed woman, the only one in the Bible called “Daughter” by Jesus, blows me away. To press through societal isolation, legal restrictions, and physical weakness buoyed only by hope that touching the Master would cure her is a feat I can hardly wrap my mind around. What desperate courage it must’ve taken. How exhausting, mentally and physically, it must’ve been.
Sometimes, we are the afflicted, the one in pain, the wounded desperately in need of help. In those moments, our hearts’ deepest need is for His touch.
“Take Me to The King” by Tamela Mann pleads from the perspective of one too weak to make it to the Healer on her own, crying out for a hand to carry her to the feet of the One who is able.
Sometimes, we’re storming the gates of Hell. Sometimes, we’re weakly rapping one-handed on the shutters of Heaven.
But there’s another story that blows me away with its depiction of courage and determination.
And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.
Physical affliction, a crowd of people, a desperate need for Jesus that defeated physical barriers. Healing. Adoption.
But there is a stark difference between these stories:
The role of those who were whole.
[…] They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: […]
For the woman with the issue of blood, those who were whole stood as an impediment to her miracle. The crowd around Jesus blocked her from His touch. Fear of their reaction to her unclean state might have scared her out of even attempting to be made whole herself.
For the man sick of the palsy, four men who did not need divine healing were instead the direct catalyst for their friend’s miracle. Needing nothing for themselves, they carried a grown man across a rooftop, tearing off boards and shingles, risking injury and probably sacrificing good sense to get someone else to the feet of Jesus.
At points in this last year, and particularly this last month, I have felt that desperate need for His touch. Yet my weakness and the near constant torment of anxiety and self-doubt robbed me of my strength to effectively reach Him. But I have friends that have stood in the gap for me. Their prayers, their words of encouragement in my broken moments have carried me to divine appointment with the Great Physician.
Sometimes, we are broken. Sometimes, we are whole.
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
I fall down a lot, literally and figuratively. My mistakes outnumber my accomplishments in dizzying proportions. But I can carry a stretcher. I can chuck some shingles.
We have a choice to make when we are the ones that have already been made whole. We can be an onlooker, standing in the way of someone else’s need. Or we can be the demolition crew, breaking down walls and barriers for those too weak to do it themselves.
Grab a crowbar. Find a stretcher. Somebody needs to get to Jesus.
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak […]