The Barrel - Year B
by The Rev. John H. Pavelko
The Touch of Healing


She had heard about the Rabbi. A man claimed that he was once blind but could now see after the Rabbi from Galilee had touched his eyes. She had heard another man tell her that he had been paralyzed until the man named Jesus commanded him to walk. Someone else showed her his hands and told her that they had been once been scared by leprosy. A friend told her that the Rabbi even cured an older woman of a fever and the woman’s son-in-law was now counted among his followers. Other reports from relatives and friends from Capernaum were always the same. This man had special powers; maybe just maybe he could cure her.
He was not hard to find. She just looked for a large group of people, getting close to him would prove to be more difficult. There were no ticket marshals to organize people into an orderly line. Everyone wanted his attention. People were pushing to get close to him. They were shouting and calling out his name. She wondered how she could get near enough for him to notice her. She was not strong enough to fight through the crowd. People were not going to step aside and allow her to approach. 

No time for me

In all the commotion of the crowd, she heard the news. Jesus was going to the house of Jairus the ruler of the synagogue because his daughter was sick. She was not surprised. Jairus was an important man in the community. He had prestige and money. Everyone respected him. He looked after the synagogue. He devoted many hours to the upkeep and maintenance of the building. With the local Rabbi, he conducted the Sabbath service. Of course, Jesus would give time to such a man but with this news, her heart was saddened because she realized that Jesus would not have time for the likes of her. He would be too busy. The young daughter of a synagogue ruler was more important than an old woman. Besides, the young girl was dying. Jesus could not be delayed. Her problem could wait. She had been bleeding for twelve years and could bleed for another twelve. Her illness did not posse a threat to her life. No one else was effected by her suffering. Even if it took her life, who would grief? For a moment, she wondered how she could get his attention. Then she had an idea. She would not need his attention. She would not even need to talk to him. All she needed to do was touch the hem of his garment.

A superstitious faith

If it worked, this remedy would be a lot easier than the others she had tried and a lot less expensive. Once a priest had given her a piece of gum from Alexandria, a portion of alum, and a crocus. He told her to press them together and put them in a glass of wine that had a drop of blood. The mixture looked strange but she drank it. When her bleeding did not stop another holy man gave her three pints of Persian onions to boil in wine. When she drank it, he said “Arise from thy flux.” The cocktail tasted sweet but the bleeding continued. Another holy man then led her to the corner of two intersecting streets. He asked her several questions. That was nice. It had been a long time since anyone asked her to tell her story and she was very lonely. However, while she was talking another man sneaked up behind her and yelled, “Arise from thy flux.” Startled she jumped and then realized that the questions were just part of the ceremony to distract her. The holy man was not really interested in hearing her story. On the advice of a friend, she feed a white she donkey barley corn. She returned to the stall later that evening and removed the half-digested kernels of corn from the droppings of the animal. She carried them in a pouch for several days but her bleeding continued.[1]
After trying all these remedies from the Talmud, she restored to the doctors who charged a fee. She was once a wealthy woman but now she was nearly penniless. The doctors were expensive but not very effective. They had an unlimited number of ideas but their ideas only depleted her purse and the blood continued to flow. Jairus could afford to bring this traveling Rabbi to his house but she could not. She would have to rely on a simple touch of his garment.

The right place, the right time

She decided that rather than fight the crowd, she would position herself in his path. She ran ahead and found a spot further up the road, on the way to Jairus’ house. He had to walk by her. The crowd began to move toward her, they wanted her to move but she stood her ground with a resolute firmness. Maybe some of them knew who she was and did not want to touch her, maybe some were courteous to an old woman, and maybe some sensed her determined spirit. Whatever their reason the crowd did not push her aside or trample her. As the Rabbi walked closer to her a crack in the wall of people appeared. When he got within her reach, she stretched out her hand. For a brief moment, time stopped for both Jesus and the woman.
In a vivid technicolor moment which lives in her eternal memory, she felt healing course through her body, and she was whole! Without a word Jesus’ power completely healed her in the anonymity of the jostling throng. The same power which he used to make the sea instantly lie flat and to restore the raving demoniac healed her long-standing illness.[2]
Jesus realized that power had gone forth and someone had been healed but he was not going to let that person go unnoticed. He called out, “Who touched me?” The disciples were stunned. They may have thought the question stupid but not one of them would say it, instead they responded by stating the obvious. “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mark 5:31) But Jesus would not accept their answer. He wanted a name and he wanted a face to go with the name.
The woman’s heart was throbbing with joy and fear. Her eyes were tearing. The Rabbi was asking her to stand before the crowd. She wanted to run and hide. Why did he want to single her out? Why did he want to embarrass her? He kept looking around to see who had done it. Finally, their eyes met. His penetrating gaze was upon her. She could no longer hide so she stepped forward.

Time for Everyone

By his action, our Lord tells us many things about faith and healing. First, God has time for everyone. The woman was not an intrusion into his schedule. Jarius may have been chomping at the bit. The ruler of the synagogue may have thought that he was wasting time while the seconds of his little girl’s life were ticking away but Jesus had time for every person. For our Lord, the poor and marginalized were just as important as the rich and powerful. During this coming week, we will be celebrating the birth of our nation. One of its founding principles is the equality of all people. I wonder if we really believe it. Do we really believe that God has time for each of us, regardless of our political or financial status? Unfortunately, we see examples of the reverse even within the Church.
A pastor in Canada once noted that the moderator of the United Church of Canada was having a profound influence on the rich and powerful and had even been invited to speak to parliament. When asked why he had been invited to speak by a reporter the moderator said, “I think people are really looking for strong, bold leadership that is rooted in the caring, compassionate values that we do hold and they're not getting. That's why a guy like me is striking a chord.” However, the Canadian pastor noted that he and several other people have written letters to that very moderator on behalf of the little people victimized, and impoverished by the rich and famous. The moderator has not answered one of those letters. I guess he did not have time for the very people for whom he was crusading.[3]
Jesus did not just talk about the poor, the weak, and the needy. He talked to them. He truly lived out his teaching that the “last shall be first and “the least, the greatest.” He ignored no one. We are called to do more than just talk about God’s concern for the hurting. God is calling us to go and listen to them share their stories. They are not intrusions into are busy schedule, they are the priority of our ministry as disciples.

Miraculous Not Superstitious Faith

By drawing the woman from the crowd, Jesus also helped her understand that her healing was not a mishmash of magical superstition and charms. Healing begins with the person of faith not through a ritual or technique. Notice that Jesus does not even claim to have healed her. Healing is the result of the action of faith not ceremony. Jesus did not anoint her with oil or lay his hands on her. At times, these may be meaningful practices but they were not needed for this healing. Healing does not come in what we do but in whom we believe. Unless we place our trust in the Great Physician all of our attempts at curing a disease are nothing more than superstitious religion.

The Healing Presence of Community

By calling the woman from the crowd, Jesus also healed her from the lonely isolated existence of her past. The book of Leviticus stipulates that if anyone touches a person with a flow of blood, they are to be considered unclean for 7 days. They must isolate themselves from contact with others. They cannot eat at the same table or sit in the same chairs. They must live alone until the time of purification was completed. While based in superstition these laws protected the Jews from certain communicable diseases but they had a devastating impact on people.
In a society that specialized in hospitality, the sick and the diseased were ostracized. They were excluded from the social life of the community. Separated from their friends and family they suffered a terrible state of loneliness. Imagine eating alone for twelve years or never having a hug from a loved one. No one was there for this woman to hold her hand when she cried or give her a soft touch on the shoulder to remind her that she was not alone.
By bringing her before the crowd, Jesus not only told her but also announced to all of her friends and family that she had been cured. She was healed. She was available for dinner invitations. They could now hug her and rejoice together.

Your Story

Can this story be your story? From what I can tell there is a lot of bleeding in people I met every day. Life is ebbing away every day. We feel alone. We do not think that anyone has time for us. We do not want to distract people from the more important things of their life. We would like a magic cure to our problems. Maybe if we just wave our Bible over our heads, the problems will vanish, our children will be more obedient, our job will be more rewarding or our life will have more meaning. How many more remedies will we try before we are willing to place our faith and trust in the Rabbi from Nazareth?
(During the closing prayer, I asked people to hold a small piece of cloth that I had previously given out. Then using a guided imagery exercise, I asked them to see themselves as the woman trying to touch the hem of his garment and to feel the healing of their “flow of blood.”)

[1] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, NICNT, Gordon D. Fee ed., (Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1974), 190.
[2] R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus Servant and Savior, Volume I, Preaching the Word Series, (Weschester IL, Crossway Books, 1989), 128.
[3] Barry J. Robinson, “Keeping the faith in Babylon,” Online: