Recently, I visited Israel on a six-day tour of Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee. During a visit to Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene, my tour group saw the ruins of the first-century synagogue where Jesus quite possibly would have preached. Next to it is the newly-built Boat Chapel, and if you turn right and go down the steps you enter the lower Encounter Chapel. The Encounter Chapel is an impressive sight with its first-century floor and synagogue feel. Upon entering, the eyes are immediately drawn to a large painting by Chilean artist Daniel Cariola, which portrays a bleeding woman reaching out for healing from Jesus as he walks towards the house of Jairus.
You can read this woman’s story in Mark 5:24-34.
Here was a woman living in ill health and shameful isolation for 12 years. In first-century Palestine, such a woman was avoided and considered unclean: anywhere she sat or laid was unclean. Anyone who even touched her was considered unclean, and he or she would be unclean until the end of that day and would be required to perform ritual bathing. In those days, families and extended families lived in small homes with no personal space and little privacy. Women worked together each day preparing food, cleaning, chatting about their families, and sharing stories and hopes for the future. Women in first-century Palestine formed close bonds, but this woman was excluded for 12 years, possibly her whole adult life. Because of illness and shame, she was terribly alone.
Can you imagine her condition? Can you imagine being excluded, embarrassed, unloved, and confused?
Shame is a painfully confusing experience, a sort of mental and emotional disintegration that makes us acutely aware of our inadequacies and shortcomings. It is often associated with a shrinking feeling of failure, and it can be simultaneously self-negating and self-absorbed. Most accurately, philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre describes shame as ‘a haemorrhage of the soul.’
This painting highlights the wonderful moment when ‘love came to town.’ She had heard the stories of Jesus and his miracles, and hope rose within her. After all, hope is a powerful force when it is driven by desperation, desire, and determination. The woman crawled through the crowd, hoping she could reach out and touch the hem of his garment. She was willing to risk it: if she could just touch him, the bleeding would stop. Her mind was spinning: ‘what if I miss him, what if I am noticed, what if…’ She would be breaking the rules to be in a large, public crowd, but she was desperate for healing, desperate to be loved. ’If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed’ (Mark 5:28).
Our tour guide at Magdala told us the rationale behind the artist’s close take on the painting. Cariola did not feel that the crowd had any interest in the concerns of this impoverished women, and as they excluded her he decided to do the same; he painted only their lower bodies and the arm of the woman as she reached out to Jesus. The slight glow around her fingertip suggests the power that flowed from Jesus and into her.
What a powerful moment! After 12 years of illness, the woman was healed, yet it is the narrative after ‘the touch’ that is truly liberating.
Mark 5:33-34 says, ‘Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”’
How stunning! One touch healed her, and with the word ‘Daughter’ she was free from shame. Jesus made her not only accepted but intimately connected to him. He restored her health and her dignity, and he was not ashamed of her.
In the same way, he is not ashamed of you and I; Jesus want to speak these same words to us today. ‘Go in peace and be free from your suffering.’
This story reminds us of three things:
1. God notices every single one of us, even in the midst of a crowd, even if you are crawling in shame and sickness. Jesus noticed the hurting and desperate woman; if you reach out to him today, He is there.
2. God does not put shame on us; He empowers us to take it off!
Colossians 2:13-15 says, ‘You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He cancelled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.’
Romans 8:1 says, ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’
3. God not only brought this woman healing internally but also externally and eternally. Her body is healed, her social status recovered, and her eternal place in the family of God secured. He can do the same for you and I; Jesus is a prayer away.
Micth is the co-founder of Crown Jesus Ministries in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is also an associate evangelist with J.John and the Philo Trust.