Desperate for Love
In Mark 5, we find that Jesus was a man on a mission. A very important mission. In fact, it was literally a matter of life and death. Jesus was on his way home, having just cross back over lake Galilee (this time their trip was apparently much less eventful). As always, a crowd was awaiting him on the western shore—his foot hadn’t touched dry land but a second before an anxious parent threw himself at the Jesus’ feet.
His name was Jairus, a leader of the synagogue—but he wasn’t there on official church business or for another theological debate. He came not as a religious representative, but as a frantic father. The Bible says that he begged Jesus, pleading over and over, “My daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so she will be healed and she will live” (Mark 5:23 NCV). Jairus was in need of a miracle and Jesus, having a heart full of compassion, was willing to provide one.
As Jesus embarked on this life-or-death mission, though, the crowd went with him. The Bible says, “a huge crowd followed Jesus and pressed him on every side” (vs. 24 GWT). And following Jesus through the midst of the crowd was an anonymous woman—unnoticed and unimportant. But this nameless daughter of Israel was just as much in need of a miracle as Jairus was. Let’s read this amazing story:
When Jesus had gone across by boat to the other side of the lake, a vast crowd gathered around him on the shore.
The leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, came and fell down before him, pleading with him to heal his little daughter.
“She is at the point of death,” he said in desperation. “Please come and place your hands on her and make her live.”
Jesus went with him, and the crowd thronged behind. In the crowd was a woman who had been sick for twelve years with a hemorrhage. She had suffered much from many doctors through the years and had become poor from paying them, and was no better but, in fact, was worse. She had heard all about the wonderful miracles Jesus did, and that is why she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his clothes.
For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his clothing, I will be healed.” And sure enough, as soon as she had touched him, the bleeding stopped and she knew she was well!
Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
His disciples said to him, “All this crowd pressing around you, and you ask who touched you?”
But he kept on looking around to see who it was who had done it. Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and told him what she had done. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:21-34 TLB)
No one had noticed her. No one even cared that she was there. Everyone was far more concerned with whether or not Jesus would be able to heal the official’s daughter. A wealthy man—a religious leader—with a dying daughter. What could possibly distract Jesus from such an important mission? What would drive her to take such desperate actions? Roger Campbell, in his helpful handbook, makes special note of not only her desperation, but also her determination and her deliverance. But it was, without a doubt, her desperation that first drove her to see Jesus.
Although the Bible leaves out the unpleasant details of her “issue of blood,” it was quite likely a gynecological problem—a chronic discharge of blood. Whatever the specifics, the Bible says she, “had been suffering from chronic bleeding for twelve years.” Her condition left her woeful and weak from blood loss—feeble and fading. Luke, himself a medical doctor, adds that her condition was incurable. His diagnosis left very little hope, sadly delivering the news, “she could not be healed by anyone” (Luke 8:43 ESV). Oh, but she tried.
“She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse” (vs. 26 NIV). It was common in those days, when difficult medical situations presented themselves, to seek treatments from multiple doctors. To her detriment though, the medical treatments in the first century were not always sound. Quite the opposite, they were often cruel and painful—more like medieval torture than modern medicine. Add to her hurt, the humiliation and degradation she experience because of the nature of her bleeding. No doubt, she had suffered. And to top it all off, she was worse than she was before these so-called doctors got a hold of her.
Her desperation, however, wasn’t just physical. She had spent every cent she had on doctors who used and abused her and now she was left with nothing. She was completely broke. How would she buy food? How would she pay her debts? Her rent? Everyday was overshadowed by the dark clouds of financial catastrophe and the looming knowledge that it would not get any better. She had no job, no money, and no resources. She was, in a word, desperate.
Sadly, her constant flow of blood also left her in a perpetual state of “ceremonial uncleanness.” Let me explain; the Law of Moses said, “’When a woman has her monthly period, she is unclean for seven days; anyone who touches her will be unclean until evening” (Leviticus 15:19 NCV). This law was actually intended for a women’s protection and respect, probably to “protect a woman with cramps and discomfort from unwelcome advances,“ as well as to “prevent the passing of contagious disease and give the woman rest from family responsibilities…” Unfortunately, it left this particular woman continually unclean—which, to a Jew, placed her on just about the same level as leper.
Socially, she would be an outcast. Anyone who touched her—or was touched by her—would also be considered unclean for seven days. If anyone did notice her in public, the shouting would begin. “Unclean,” they would yell, warning everyone within earshot of her impending threat. Even if she had the money to buy bread, she couldn’t go into the market place for fear of the humiliation and ridicule.
Worse yet—and, yes, it gets worse—she was cut off from God. Her ceremonial uncleanness prevented her from ever entering the Temple. It would be like your pastor telling you you’re not allowed to come to church because you’re too sinful—only worse. You see, Jews believed that the Temple contained the actual presence of God! She couldn’t make sacrifices for her sins. She couldn’t worship God. She had no way to experience his presence.
Physically, financially, socially, and spiritually she was desperate. But desperation, when seasoned with a glimmer of hope, often turns to determination. And she had just been given her glimmer of hope.
The Bible says, “She had heard the reports about Jesus” (vs. 27 ESV). I can almost see the sparkle in her eye when she heard the stories. Perhaps it was her neighbor or maybe a relative who told her about him at first. But why listen when she had been told time and again, “she could not be healed by anyone.” But the reports kept coming.
There’s a man from Nazareth who can make the blind see—and perhaps she raises an eyebrow. They call him a prophet and he makes crippled men walk—maybe she lifts her head just a little. His name is Jesus, they say he is the Messiah—could it be? Could it really be? By the time Jesus came through her home town, sick and downtrodden people from all over the region flocked to him. He was healing people by the hundreds and bringing hope to the hopeless.
Could this really be her chance? After twelve years of suffering, could Jesus really be the answer? With just a little hope, her desperation changed and into determination. Determined to be healed. Determined to see Jesus. Determined to touch him. She determined, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed” (vs. 28). And then came the news—he’s here! Jesus is here! He’s on his way to the synagogue leader’s house, he’ll be coming this way.
So she bandaged herself up and probably covered her face so that no one would recognize her. She took a deep breath and stepped out onto the street. The crowd was so huge and they were all pressing to get closer to Jesus. She could have been trampled. She could have been injured even further. What if the bandages soaked through and someone saw the blood? What if they started shouting again? What would he think of her? Would he be disgusted? Would he reject her too? It didn’t matter. She would do whatever it took just to touch him. And then she would slink back into the crowd unnoticed and unimportant. At least that was the plan.
She pushed and crawled through the crowd, as Jesus was hurrying to the dying girl’s side. Closer and closer. Then, finally, she was within reach. Could she go through with it? Dare she try? Then it happened—she touch him. “She came up behind him in the crowd and touched his coat...” (vs. 27 NCV). And so began her deliverance.
“Instantly her bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed from her disease” (vs. 29 NCV). Can you imagine the relief she must have felt? What was it like? Twelve years of suffering—over, just like that. Her desperation had ended and her deliverance had begun.
Jesus noticed her touch immediately. “At once,” the Bible says, “Jesus felt power go out from him” (vs. 30 NCV). And that’s when he turns around. “Who touched me?” he asked. His followers thought he was crazy. The crowd was pressed against him from all directions. Dozens of hands were reaching out to touch him. Many of them did. How could he ask such a dumb question? But Jesus just kept looking. In a sea of faces he was searching for just one.
At first she tried to slip away, but Jesus was insistent, “Who touched me?” She knew it was her. She knew she had to confess. So, the Bible says, “The woman, knowing that she was healed, came and fell at Jesus’ feet. Shaking with fear, she told him the whole truth” (vs. 33 NCV). The Message paraphrase says, “she...gave him the whole story.” The whole story? Remember, Jesus was on a life-or-death mission here. He was way too busy to stop and listen to one woman’s sob story. Wasn’t he? How long had it been since anyone had listened to her story? How long since anyone cared to listen? Jesus cared. He postponed his immediate mission to listen to the sad story of a lonely woman in need. Jesus showed her a love that is both patient and kind.
And then, after hearing her out, Jesus spoke. His words must have sounded like music. “Daughter,” he called her, “your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (vs. 34 NIV). Had she been able to sneak away, she would still have been healed but she would have missed out on the greater blessing. Jesus called her daughter. He was willing to heal her, but he wanted to do so much more. He wanted to include her in his family—to call her his own. John MacArthur notes, “The form of the Greek verb translated ‘has made you well’ …is the same Greek word often translated ‘to save’ and is the normal New Testament word for saving from sin, which strongly suggests that the woman’s faith also led to spiritual salvation,” not just physical.
She wanted to be healed, but what she received was so much more than she could have imagined. That’s always the way it with Jesus. The Bible says, “With God’s power working in us, God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20 NCV).
Can you sympathize with her desperation? Do you know what it is like to be broke—to have bill collectors calling everyday? Are you familiar with suffering? Have you sometimes felt as though you couldn’t even turn to God? The woman whom Jesus healed represents all of us apart from him. Without Jesus, we’re all broken and desperate. But like her, we can be delivered. There really is hope for the helpless and rest for the weary. Jesus offers grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing, and love for the broken heart.
There were dozens of hands pawing at Jesus that day, but only one hand reached out in faith. This desperate woman determined that Jesus was the way (the only way) for her to be delivered, so she reached out to Jesus. An anonymous woman, unnoticed by so many, was not unnoticed by God.
No man. No woman. No one who comes to Jesus in faith, will go unnoticed. Jesus reached out to people in love and left changed lives in his wake. Can’t we do the same? Can’t we be the hands of Christ, reaching out to the desperate, diseased, and depressed with the love of Jesus?
Remember that genuinely loving Jesus, means learning to love like him; to do what he does. It isn’t enough to receive his love—we also need to give it to other people. Allen Webster tells the story of a lonely man much like this woman, only he able to find deliverance.
James Lee was a young Chicago father who called a newspaper reporter to say he had sent a manila envelope outlining his story and that he was going to shoot himself. The reporter frantically traced the call but was too late.
The police arrived to find Lee slumped in the tavern phone booth with a bullet in his head. They also found a worn child’s crayon drawing, much folded, on which was written, “Please leave in my coat pocket. I want to have it buried with me.” It was signed in childish print by his daughter, Shirley, who had died in a fire five months before.
Lee had been so grief-stricken he had asked strangers to attend her funeral so she would have a nice service. He said there was no family to attend, because her mother died when Shirley was two. The heartbroken father told the reporter that all he had in life was gone. He felt so alone. He gave his modest estate to the church Shirley had attended and said, “Maybe in ten or twenty years, someone will see the plaque and wonder who Shirley Ellen Lee was and say, ‘Someone must have loved her very much.’”
Jesus loves people through his people—through us! How many desperate, lonely people, like James Lee, go unnoticed around us each day? They don’t carry signs. If we are truly following in the footsteps of Jesus—learning to love like him, to love our neighbors as ourselves—then let us to be the ones who are looking for them, listening to them, and covering them in the grace and love of Jesus.