Summary: This sermon explores the experience of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and her dangerous, desperate, daring approach to Jesus for healing.
Hillsborough Reformed Church at Millstone
Pentecost III June 5, 2005 Matthew 9:9-13,18-26
¡§The Dangerous Touch¡¨
Have you ever yearned for something, wanting it so much that you were willing to go beyond law and decency for it? For most of us, something we wanted that bad would have to be something very, very important. It would be something like the healing of one of our children. Or an emotional or mental healing for ourselves.
We meet a woman like that this morning.
We know about her because she comes to Jesus.
There is something wrong. This is not how she wants it to be. She doesn¡¦t want us or anyone else to know about her. She wants to keep it a secret.
And no wonder.
Life was a total embarrassment for this afflicted woman. She had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. That is a polite way of saying her period never stopped.
This would be a hardship for any woman today, but it was far worse for a Jewish woman in the ancient world. During the menstrual cycle, a woman was unclean. Unclean didn¡¦t mean dirty, even though it SOUNDS dirty. Unclean meant you couldn¡¦t worship, you couldn¡¦t touch another person, and all your bedding and every chair you sat in had to be ritually purified ¡V until it was purified, it was off limits to anyone.
Imagine now this woman is living in a single room house with her husband and family. The house would be about the size of most of our living rooms. She had to have her own bed, she could not sleep with her husband, she had to have her own place to sit. It would have been forbidden for her children to sit there. She would have to go through the humiliation of scolding her children if they came near her seat. She would hear their plaintive protests, ¡§Why momma?¡¨
Imagine every time she left the house, having to be prepared for the flow of blood. With the primitive hygienic methods of the day, she probably seldom ventured out into the daylight.
The gospels of Mark and Luke also tell the story of this unfortunate, sad woman. In them, we read that the woman had visited every doctor and specialist in the region. Not only could none of those doctors help her, she had bankrupted her family in the effort to be healed.
Here are some cures for menstrual problems from the ancient world ¡V. A dressing with a mixture of chopped onions, mash and pine sawdust should remedy this. you should expose her eyes to the vapor of oriole thighs, then you should see that she eats fresh donkey liver. ¡§To carry about a barley-corn which had been found in the dung of a white she-ass.¡¨ Adding to the woman¡¦s humiliation is to have to walk around in society smelling of animal dung from this bizarre treatment ¡V administered as every woman here would guess, by male doctors!
Jesus healed man people ¡V the blind and the deaf and the lame, but this woman¡¦s case may well have been the most crushing. Women were considered lower than men as it was ¡V imagine being an eternally unclean woman.
She comes to Jesus in secret. She has to. She has hopes from what she¡¦s heard that if she comes into contact with him, she will be healed by his power.
Do you see her problem? She cannot touch a man in public. Jesus is walking by with his disciples ¡V surrounded by men. Jesus is surrounded also by the crowd ¡V who would have all been men too ¡V where were the women? Working! Look at Friday¡¦s New York Times and you¡¦ll see the picture of a very happy Indian man walking along the road by the fields. In the fields are a dozen laborers stooped over planting rice in the muck. Every one of them is a woman. It has been estimated that women do 85% of the physical labor in the world and get ten percent of the wages. According to the UN, the average woman in the Third World must walk two miles a day for water for her family ¡V a trip most make more than once a day.
To reach Jesus, she must get through the gauntlet of men, not touching any lest she make them unclean and gain their scorn and perhaps punishment. And if she is successful in getting to Jesus, she wants to touch his garment ¡V and if she succeeds, she¡¦ll make HIM unclean! Yet she yearns so much for this healing so she can love her husband again like a wife, and sit and laugh with her children again, and go to hear the Torah read again, that she is willing to go beyond law and decency for it.