Summary: The woman with the hemorrhage teaches us about the power of faith if we will not only believe, but also act on that belief.
As many of you are aware, I grew up in Oak Ridge. And of course, as a city founded in support of the Manhattan Project, Oak Ridge is very much a center of science and technology not just in East Tennessee, but around the world. With a population just over 25,000, there’s not tons to do in Oak Ridge, but there is a pretty impressive museum right in the center of town called the “Museum of Science and Energy.” Now, as you can imagine, as a school kid in Oak Ridge, I went on plenty of field trips to the Museum of Science and Energy. We learned about the history of our town and the making of the atom bomb. We learned about the different kinds of research being conducted at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and we had the opportunity to do lots of “hands-on” science.
I remember when I was in elementary school, the museum underwent a fairly significant renovation, updating some of their displays and bringing in new ones. And one of the new things brought in at that time was this electromagnetic machine. Well, that machine quickly became the most popular attraction at the museum as far as we kids were concerned. We loved it because it made you look funny. Here’s how it worked. One or two people at a time would go up and put their hand on this electromagnetic contraption, and it would start sending electricity through the body. Eventually, the electricity would build up to the point that it made the people’s hair stand straight up on end!
Certainly, that is a very obvious example of the power of “touch.” But touch is powerful for other reasons, isn’t it? For years, psychologists tried to speculate how children might develop if they were completely cut off from human relationships. Well, tragically, they had an opportunity to observe just that in the 1980s when numerous orphanages of Ceausescu’s Communist Romania were opened to the world’s eyes after his fall from power. This dictator had mandated these bizarre social policies that had resulted in thousands of unwanted children. Many of these children ended up in vast, underfunded, state-run orphanages where they were completely isolated, often receiving no love, and in fact, no human touch at all. Sadly, although the children grew into physical human creatures, they did not become human persons. They could not speak. They could not relate to others. They could not give or receive affection. All because they had never been touched, they had never been loved.
We all know the assuring and healing power of touch in our own lives, don’t we? We know how reassuring it is for someone to hold our hand when we are trying to hold back tears. We know how comforting it is to be hugged at the end of a long, bad day. We know the joy that comes when we can greet our children and our spouse with a morning hug and a goodnight kiss. I’m sure that we have become so accustomed to touch that there are times that we don’t even think about what is happening, but if it stopped altogether, we would certainly notice, wouldn’t we? Touch really does have the power to heal us, to change us, to restore us, even to transform us. And this woman who had been bleeding for twelve years knew that.
So let’s take a moment to learn a bit more about the woman at the center of today’s passage. Like the Samaritan woman at the well last week, the Bible does not give this woman’s name. We don’t know anything about her family, but that may very well be because she has been separated from them. Her continual bleeding has made her ritually unclean, which means that she was likely separated from her family, not to mention the rest of society, and lived in some sort of community outside the bounds of her town. Matthew’s statement that she “had spent everything she had without getting any better” would imply that she was a woman of a least some means, but who was made poor in all her efforts to get better. Without a doubt, we can conclude that this woman is desperate to end her affliction. She wants to stop the physical pain and suffering, but I’m sure she is also ready to be a part of society again; to fetch water at the well with the other women, to fix meals for her children or family, and to sleep in the same house as her husband each night. Could you imagine how you might feel if you were suffering from such an illness, and your family couldn’t even be near you to take care of you and comfort you in your pain? You’d be anxious to get well, too!