A woman who had had internal bleeding for twelve years heard about Jesus. (She’d had a rough time at the hands of one doctor after another; she’d spent all she had on treatment, and had got worse rather than better.) She came up in the crowd behind him and touched his clothes. ‘If I can just touch his clothes,’ she said to herself, ‘I’ll be rescued.’ At once her flow of blood dried up. She knew, in her body, that her illness was cured. Jesus knew at once, inside himself, that power had gone out of him. He turned around in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ ‘You see this crowd crushing you,’ said the disciples, ‘and you say “Who touched me?”?’ He looked round to see who had done it. The woman came up; she was afraid and trembling, but she knew what had happened to her. She fell down in front of him and told him the whole truth. ‘My daughter,’ Jesus said to her, ‘your faith has rescued you. Go in peace. Be healed from your illness.’
I watched the bird take off from the field and, rising quickly into the sky, float and soar on the afternoon breeze. It was free, and expressing that freedom with a kind of light-hearted joy. I wondered, reading this story at the same time, what it would look like if that bird had been tied up, close to the ground, so that every time it wanted to fly free it found it was unable to do so. Even with the brain of a bird, such a poor creature would, we will suppose, be frustrated to the point of despair.
Now consider this woman who had suffered for twelve years from internal bleeding. She will, almost certainly, have been a family person; almost all women in that world were married, and most were mothers. But she won’t have been free to be the wife and mother she would naturally have wanted. The bleeding will have been exhausting in itself, debilitating, sapping her energy all the time. But, far worse than that, she will have been constrained and constricted by a thousand necessary restrictions. These were not just insensitive or demeaning taboos. Good medical policy, granted what was known about at the time, would demand that such a person avoid the risk of infecting others. She was, technically speaking, ‘unclean’. She was like a bird tethered to the ground. She could see everyone else free to live as they wished, but she was anchored, held back, by her seemingly incurable disease.
And yet . . . she made one final bid for the freedom that others had and she didn’t. At considerable risk (because if people knew her condition they wouldn’t have wanted her pushing past them through the crowd) she came up and touched Jesus. Making him, too, ‘unclean’ – according to the normal expectations.
But then the extraordinary thing happened. Instead of uncleanness flowing from her to him, a strange power seemed to flow out of him to her. (That in itself is remarkable. The gospels don’t elsewhere speak of Jesus being aware of, as it were, a reservoir of power, which he could feel being drawn on when things like this happened.) Instead of him becoming unclean, she was cured. And the story all came tumbling out.
Jesus’ response is very telling. ‘My daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has rescued you.’ Your faith! Well, yes, it took a lot of faith to push through the crowd and come and touch him. If it didn’t work, and if people discovered who she was, she would not be popular, to say the least. She had to believe that Jesus really could do what she longed for.
But wouldn’t it have been more accurate, and perhaps theologically helpful, to say that it was God’s power that had rescued her? Perhaps, in one sense. But we are here confronted with the truth that meets us all through the New Testament. Yes, of course God remains sovereign. Yes, of course it’s Jesus who is in charge. But the God of the Bible chose from the beginning to act, wherever appropriate, through human beings. Humans were never meant to be mere spectators of God’s work, or mere passengers, being carried along into God’s future with their feet up. Humans were meant to participate, to worship God and so to be energized to live for him. And that begins with faith. There are many healing stories in which the person concerned seems not to be required to believe in advance. (The larger story which frames the present one, that of Jairus’s daughter, is one such; the little girl was dead.) But there are many where Jesus himself puts the weight on faith. All the power is from God, but the channel by which that is drawn down, perhaps on to the person of faith, perhaps on to the one for whom they are concerned, is human faith.
Stand with me at the edge of the crowd, and play the scene over again in your mind. Go slowly enough to recognize the range of emotions that pass through. Perhaps you know this woman and her condition; what do you feel and think as you see her shoving her way through the crowd? Have you ever felt like that before? And how do you feel, and what do you think, when you see Jesus stop and look round? Are you cross that he’s been distracted from what he was on his way to do? (If you were Jairus, with your daughter on the point of death, you might well be frustrated at this interruption.) And what do you think about Jesus saying it was the woman’s faith that had rescued her? Have you got faith like that? If not, are you just a little bit jealous?
Whatever your thoughts and feelings, seize the moment. Come up, yourself, in the crowd. Come close enough to Jesus so that you can talk together as he walks on towards Jairus’s house. He will have enough time to listen to you, too. Perhaps he will ask you what you most want him to do for you. Perhaps he will challenge you: have you got faith? Do you want to be free, free as a bird?
Give us, gracious Lord, the faith to come right up to you, to touch you in the crowd, to say what it is we need and want you to do for us.