The third week of The Great Lent in the Maronite tradition celebrates the Healing of the Hemorrhaging Woman.
I have been that woman.
“Her life flowed out with the blood that flowed from her. Pain and sorrow filled her days. Doctors disillusioned her; healing was a dream she chased and her world was dark as night. Yet she was determined still, so she touched the cloak of Christ, and his love embraced her faith. She obtained a cure at last…” So goes the entrance hymn as the Divine Liturgy begins.
I know those days filled with pain and sorrow. I know the disillusionment. I know what it feels like to think healing is just a dream.
I know, too, determination. I know every day putting one foot in front of the other with no end in sight. So many nights spent in bitter tears wondering if it would ever end. I know the questioning of what I did to deserve the suffering I was experiencing. I know what it feels to offer it up so many times only to feel it crashing down again.
“Jesus Christ our Lord, you are almighty and have power over the universe. To the crowd pressing upon you, you said: ‘Power has gone out from me.’ Then to the hemorrhaging woman who was healed by touching the fringe of your clothes, you said: ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’ Now we ask you to heal us from every sin, that we may stand with purity before you all the days of our lives. We raise glory and thanks to you, to your Father, and to your Holy Spirit, for ever.” So goes the Opening Prayers of the Divine Liturgy.
She was not supposed to be in public. According to the law she was unclean. Twelve years she was unclean, therefore isolated. Alone. Ostracized. She had to sit alone at home with her darkness, questioning everything, hanging onto her faith (was it by a thread, as I imagine it to be?), hoping in salvation that never seemed to come. Those twelve years must have dragged on and on. I can only liken it to the years I spent putting on a happy face, while dealing with deep trauma. Who can you even tell who would understand and not lay the blame at your feet? After all, I had already assigned all the blame in my own heart. I didn’t need anyone to point it out for me.
Isolation is like a parasite. It works in the quiet places, silently eating away until it consumes the host completely. It is self-feeding. The more you are isolated the more you cannot become unisolated. The enemy loves to work in isolation, separating the hurting from the source of their healing.
She wasn’t supposed to be in public. If anyone touched her they would also be made unclean. She would be responsible not just for her isolation, but the isolation of others.
She was supposed to be at home with her suffering. But she knew that there was this rabbi…
She wasn’t going to confront him. She would just slip in and out without notice. No confrontation. No ugliness. No exposing herself to judgment or scrutiny. She would just touch the fringe of Healing. If she could just approach Healing, she would slip away again unnoticed. What did she have to lose?
She stood to lose everything.
“Though cherubim fear the One who is clothed with fire, a woman takes hold of his cloak and is not burnt. Though fiery ranks tremble in awe before their Lord, this woman who kisses his cloak fears not at all. Praise to the One, whose face angels cannot behold, who here below, shows no rage when his cloak is touched. All those on earth and in heaven now worship him. From every mouth he created let there be praise!” So goes the Hymn in the Penitential Rite in the Divine Liturgy.
She pressed in and touched the fringe. And the One who is Healing said he felt the power go out from Him. So many people were pressing Him on all sides, according to his disciples. But this woman touched him with the desperate faith of one who laid it all on the line. She poured it all out in that act of radial heroic faith. She dared to touch.
She upset the principle that when unclean touches clean, the clean becomes unclean. For Jesus it was the opposite. When unclean touch the Clean, the unclean was made clean.
She wanted to do this silently, but guess who always sees? Scripture says, “When she realized she had not escaped notice…” Jesus notices everything. Everyone. He is indifferent to no suffering and responds to every act of faith.
This is of course the story Jesus being the Healer. At the same time it is the story of a woman who through her humiliation persevered in fidelity and her faith still speaks to us 2,000 later.
I am that hemorrhaging woman. I am also the woman told to go in peace.
Dear one, if you are isolated, if you are unclean, if you are drowning in shame, if you are afraid, can I tell you a secret? The Healer is passing by and his cloak is there for the touching. He will not reject you. The power that comes out from him can touch the deepest and most fragile parts of your heart.
“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” Psalm 85:8