“Now there was a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for years…”
— Luke 8: 43 (NRSV)
In the Jewish culture at the time of Jesus, contact with certain body fluids (like semen or blood) made one ritually “unclean,” unable to worship in the synagogue unless they first purified themselves. Here in this passage from Luke we have a woman in just such a situation, only worse. First, she was a woman in a patriarchal society. Second, she was physically ill, suffering for twelve years from hemorrhages. The cause of the bleeding is unknown. If it was gynecological then you have a debilitating situation that is also potentially embarrassing. Third, she has depleted her savings looking for a cure, only to grow worse as her money runs out. Fourth, because of her “unclean” state, she avoids others because, if she touched them, she would contaminate them, making them unclean as well. It is not out of the realm of possibility to imagine that she had been yelled at and denounced to her face and had been often told to “go away.”
Then she hears of Rabbi Jesus!
Here is someone who might be able to help her, someone who would be able to bring God’s healing to her. But she could not speak to him face to face. It was heartbreaking enough to be dismissed and belittled by villagers, but to have a famous, spirit-filled preacher do the same…unthinkable.
So she decides it would be safe to simply sneak up behind him and touch the hem of his clothes, for it was believed that even the clothes of a holy person could transmit power. She creeps among the pressing crowd and manages to touch Jesus’ garment. Immediately she realizes she has been healed! But she also hears Jesus asking, “Who touched me?” Was he angry? Has her malady infected him? Summoning up courage, the woman publicly approaches Jesus, falls at his feet, and confesses what she has done.
She is not greeted with blows and tirades and further humiliation. The rabbi from Nazareth simply and gently says, “Daughter (a member of the family), your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
Her faith has made her well. Not her courage, not her stealth, not even her physical and emotional need. No, it was faith, belief that, in Jesus, she could find what she longed for. And because of her faith, she received her life back again.
So what’s in it for us? In the eyes of many of our deluded brothers and sisters, GLBT people are “unclean,” “disgusting,” people who should be kept far from “normal” people. And some of us (far too many of us) are infected by such ideas. We begin to believe the lies and begin to view the person in the mirror as someone unworthy of love, respect, dignity, even of God and life itself. And how many have taken their lives with this kind of venom soaked into their minds and hearts?
Along comes Rabbi Jesus!
Here comes God in the flesh, the enfleshed reality of love and mercy and compassion, who intimately knows us down to our very DNA, who blessed us with our sexuality, who suffered the agonies of hell and offered his life to heal us and free us from all chains that bind and blind us.
The woman with the hemorrhages needed a ritual bath to be made clean again. For people broken and harmed by personal or societal sin, there is a ritual bath of sorts available to us: the precious blood of Jesus. That blood that flowed warm and red through the body of the Incarnate Son of God was shed for all the gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people just as surely as it flowed out for anyone else! In the eyes of Jesus, we are not “second class” but “sacred class,” sinners loved and redeemed and called to a life of intimacy with Jesus who beckons us with the words, “Come to me,” and “Do not be afraid.”
The blood of Jesus can heal us and make us whole. His blood can restore our sight so that we may see ourselves with God’s own truth-full vision. His blood can restore our hearing so that we may clearly hear the voice of our Divine Lover as he whispers words of courage and dedication and strength to us. His blood can restore our heavy-laden hearts so that through their rhythmic beats of longing, we may be ever united to the heart of Jesus, cruelly torn open for us so that this cleft may be the doorway to a deeper intimacy than we have ever known.
We do not have to skulk around to achieve a furtive touch of Jesus’ clothing. Let us, instead, reach out in faith and embrace him whose arms are eternally open to embrace our need.
Tom Yeshua is the pen name of Thomas E.L. Cloutier OFS, a transitional deacon who taught theology for 30 years at Nashua (N.H.) Catholic Regional Junior High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., and a master’s in divinity and theology from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass.