There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
~Mk 5: 25-29
In this passage, so often used in Ignatian prayer sessions, we meet a very relatable character: a woman who talks to herself. (Amiright?!) Usually the Gospel writers narrate the Jesus story in the objective third person; the action is clear and the context is rich, but the thoughts and feelings of those involved need to be interpreted through the lens of the reader or pray-er’s own imagination.
Here, though, we have direct access to a woman’s interior life, to her personal history of suffering, her moment of resolve, and her miraculous healing. I wonder if this is the only time in the Gospels that we experience this kind of intimate open microphone to a character’s internal monologue. (And yes, good Scripture nerds, that musing is your mission, should you choose to accept it.)
Much has been written about the woman with hemorrhages. In some translations, she is named “The Woman with an Issue of Blood.” This translation contains a fruitful play on words: first, that blood is literally issuing from her, and second, that this blood has become a major issue that dominates her personal, social, and spiritual life. And trying to correct the imbalance, she has “suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors” who offered various solutions, none of which healed her. But one thing is sure: the life was literally draining out of this woman. A natural and gifted function, way out of balance. And then she touched Jesus.
I often underestimate the power of a simple gesture. In a world of awe-inspiring and sometimes horrifying complexity, it is easy to feel lost. But there are two features of this woman’s attitude that inspire me. The first is her perseverance, and the second is her trust. It would be easy, after all of the well-meaning and expensive snake oil she has imbibed, to feel burned out and cynical toward the idea of healing at all. And yet she says to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” (Mk 5:28) This reminds me of the centurion we commemorate every Sunday, who said, “Only say the word and my servant will be healed.” (Mt 8:8)
Jesus himself recognizes these qualities when, after being startled by her gesture and wanting to find out who she is, he says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” (Mk 5:34) I have heard “faith” defined as a combination of trust and openness. In the case of the woman with an issue of blood, this trust and openness towards God’s grace heals her permanently. But this simple gesture of touching Jesus with trust and openness can also be cyclical.
All people can relate to her moment of decision. Have you experienced that moment when you think that you can’t go on, and through God’s grace you find it in yourself to touch Jesus? Do you remember feeling in your body how you were healed of your affliction? Sit for a moment and feel it, let your body remember it. (I owe that helpful exercise to my spiritual director, a Jesuit woman and mother of one.)
In the words of Superior General Arturo Sosa, at this time in history and in our own lives we are receiving “a great call to reconciliation.” We are also called “to do not only the improbable but the impossible because nothing is impossible to God.”
What do you feel is impossible? And is God possibly calling you to seek it?