I am not the crispest lettuce in the salad so I never gave intense consideration to the biblical account of the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:24-34) beyond pity, and relief for her happy ending.
Last month I read it again, and when I got to verse 33—But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth—my soggy brain said “I know why she was afraid.”
Before revealing the brainstorm, here is the rising action (also told in Matthew and Luke):
For twelve years a certain woman had some sort of hemorrhage. She paid all her money to doctors, but ended up worse off than before. She heard about Jesus. She toiled through the crowds surrounding Him because she KNEW she just needed to touch His clothing and she’d be well.
She was right. She touched the hem of his garment and was cured. INSTANTLY.
Jesus stopped. His disciples stopped. His groupies stopped. He demanded to know who touched him. The woman knew she wouldn’t get away with joining in the chorus from the exasperated pragmatists who, in essence, asked, “Are you kidding? Who hasn’t touched you?”
But she knew He knew and came forward in fear to face her Healer.
Here is where I paused. Why the fear?
Because she knew she wasn’t supposed to be among people? Or touch a man?
A Jewish woman with a twelve year issue of blood—any issue of blood—was unclean, physically and ceremonially.
No one could touch her.
She could touch no one.
She couldn’t even enter the temple to worship.
Everyone had turned from her. Family, friends, even, it seemed, a holy God. No money, no hope, no future. Just her and her issue of blood.
Physicians had failed. Remarkably, though they couldn’t take away her bloody discharge, neither could they take her faith. Or courage, or determination. My pity sprouted a seedling of respect.
This lonely, fragile, destitute woman gathered her shreds of clothing and her shards of faith, and dragged her unclean, untouchable self through a milling, chattering, surging throng of humanity. She reached Jesus of Nazareth and reached out to touch the bottom of his garment.
That was all she needed. One touch and the flow dried up immediately. She wasn’t just on the road to recovery, she was ALL BETTER. For the first time in a dozen years the blood pumping from her heart could gallop through her pulmonary valve and artery, dash to her lungs for oxygen, made a quick stop back to her heart, (beating firm and strong and steady) and leap on through valves, ventricles, aorta. Hemoglobin-drenched, it was finally put to optimal use instead of wasted in discharge.
She felt it. Full and healthy and whole and CLEAN.
But then, before she could melt back into the crowd, Jesus called her. And she had to come. Shaking.
So. Was she fearful because she knew she had violated the Law? Maybe.
But I know why I would be trembling as I drew nearer.
Those brief few moments with life in her blood and blood giving her life had been too good. Too good to last. He was going to take His healing back. She had tasted completeness just long enough to remember how lovely it was and now she’d be punished for stealing His power.
That’s why I would be afraid. Not because I had defied the law, or touched a man. But because, although faith and hope had accomplished what I sought, it would be snatched away from me. I know my unworthiness. I know the depth of uncleanness in me that has nothing to do with a body prone to blood loss and everything to do with a heart prone to deceit. Those beautiful, complete, unsoiled moments were already more than I deserved and the healing would be snatched away. I would be worse off than before.
That would be me. Not daring to love the gift too much, because I wouldn’t be able to keep it.
Whatever made her fearful, the woman who for a brief moment had been able to stand tall, fell to the ground before her Physician. She confessed everything and waited to once again feel her lifeblood drain away.
“Daughter,” the Giver said. Then she knew she would be whole and pure forever.