And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years. . .came behind him, and touched the border of his garment. Luke 8:43, 44
For the most elegant litany of all those who lived and died by faith, one only has to read Hebrews 11. Here, the apostle gives names to the Old Testament “cloud of witnesses” who by faith ran with patience the rigorous race set before them, some resisting sin even unto blood.
Abel. Enoch. Noah. Abraham (the great Old Testament hero of faith, which account takes up almost one- third of the chapter), and Sarah, his wife (given strength to conceive! What a comfort for all Israel’s spiritual mothers). Isaac. Jacob. Joseph. Moses. Rahab. Gideon. Barak (how interesting -Barak, whom we consider weak-willed and lily-livered). Samson. Samson? (how difficult to find evidence of faith in his life. His judgeship appears to be all brawn and brashness. Were I writing Hebrews 11, Samson’s godly parents might have been included on this list, but certainly not Samson). Jephthae. David. Samuel. The prophets.
Following this list of faith’s heroes and the sterling examples of faith’s discipline and endurance, comes that moving parenthetical phrase in verse 38, “(Of whom the world was not worthy:)” Just think of it—when you live out of faith, God says, “The world is not worthy of you.” What a remarkable statement! From God’s viewpoint, the simplest saint living out of the most elementary faith is too worthy for this world; he deserves (and will receive) better.
When we were children, we played certain games to hurry along loathsome chores —such as doing dishes. Sometimes we would name all the cars we could think of; sometimes all the cigarette brands we could name; at times, all the rivers we could list, and the like. When that dulled, we made up quizzes. One time we decided to name the strongest thing in the world, concrete. Diamonds. The North Wind, who can stand before His icy blasts?). Iron. Steel. Now, is there anything stronger than steel? We even speak of those with nerves of steel. My sister, desperate to come up with something stronger than steel and with the allotted time running out, blurted, ‘Love. Love is stronger than steel.” Now the contest ran in a different vein. What is stronger than love? “Love is strong as death. . . Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it” (Song of Solomon 8:6 and 7). “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
Undeniably, love is strong. But continue reading Hebrews 11 to discover the strength and power of faith. It can:
- subdue kingdoms
- bring about righteousness
- obtain promises
- stop the mouths of lions
- quench fire
- escape the edge of the sword
- rout the army of the alien
- receive dead ones to life again!
- refuse deliverance from torture
And another scripture says that he that has the faith of a grain of mustard can move a mountain. I ask you, is there anything stronger than faith? To believe something, all appearances to the contrary; to have confidence in someone, sight unseen —that is power, that is strength, that is faith!
Many there were in Christ’s day (and in ours!) who saw with their own eyes the miracles which He performed, who heard with their own ears the truths of which He spake, but turned their spiritual backs on the Saviour. They were not linked to Him with the unbreakable cord of faith. But there were others who feasted on His Word. They brought to Him their diseased, their lame, their blind, their devil- possessed—confident of His power to heal them. And still others (even, and especially, those outside the Jewish faith), did not even seek His physical presence to accomplish the miracle, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8). They were satisfied with the “crumbs which fell for the dogs from the master’s table,” and in so doing were assured that they would sit at Christ’s great banquet table through all eternity.
Such confidence characterizes the unnamed woman whose story is recounted in three of the gospel narratives. But although unnamed, there is scarcely a person alive, be he Biblical scholar, lowly plowman, or hardened agnostic, who is not acquainted with the woman who touched the hem of Christ’s garment.
She was poor. Very poor. It had not always been that way. Before her debilitating illness, she had enjoyed the simple comforts of this life. Nor did she begrudge the coins which had so swiftly slipped through her fingers in seeking treatment for her illness. If only she could get a grip on the good health which she so earnestly sought. For what are the goods of this world, money, houses, or land, compared with the simple gift of robust health? This woman had not known a day of good health for some twelve years now. And although she had visited doctor upon doctor, week in and week out, her disease steadily worsened.
At first she had paid for the expenses incurred in seeking medical help out of her luxury. Gradually, however, she began denying herself certain comforts and pleasures to pay for the many and varied treatments she endured. At long last, she realized that she was seeking help at considerable sacrifice to her own financial welfare. And the day came when it struck her forcibly that she had spent all her living on doctors, no longer even owning her house or the plot of ground in the Galilean hamlet she had for so many years called home.
For twelve years she had sought a cure for her malady. During those years she had subjected herself to many remedies. Poultrices. Oils. Balms. Plasters. Herbs. She had even traveled far to effect a cure from a well-talked-of mineral bath. Amulets, however, the woman did not permit (although there were those in Israel who did), that being, in her mind, a practice of the heathen Amorites. Every remedy known to the physicians of her day, she had tried —and some more than once. Most of the treatments, however, were of an external nature since there was very little knowledge among the Hebrew doctors concerning internal medicine. The Hebrew practice of treating diseases was still in a very rudimentary state, as it is in primitive societies yet today.
Some of the doctors, she was sure, were not even qualified to practice medicine, having had no medical education. Any lowly tradesman or farmer had only to grind an old knife blade into the shape of a lancet, bill himself as a doctor, and thus take up the healing art. How much she had squandered on these charlatans she would never really know. In her desperation to be healed, no price was too great, no doctor too humble. She remembered well the physician who had plainly told her after several sessions that her illness was out of the reach of human skill. She should plead upon the mercies of God. That was her only hope. There simply was no cure for her.
The trying years of failing health were indeed a great grief to her but even more painful to the woman was the fact that for twelve years now, because she was ceremonially unclean, she had not been able to go up to God’s House to worship Jehovah (Leviticus 15:25). She. a dedicated and zealous Jew, had not been able to enjoy the spiritual blessings of temple or synagogue because she was a bloody, hemorrhaging, unclean woman. Considered impure by levitical law, she could not worship with God’s people. As she became grievously ill, how she longed for this communion with God. Now more than ever she needed the comfort, the solace, which God’s House afforded. She was denied this. It was as if she had been excommunicated — perhaps unjustly – from the congregation of Jehovah. Like Job, she could not understand why she was cast off in this way. she could only lament, “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me. . .for the hand of God hath touched me’’ (Job 19:21).
And now, like Job, her soul was weary of her life. Ravaged by her illness, spurned by human companions, ceremonially unfit for the House of God, she had but one hope, but how meager it seemed.
The woman had “heard of Jesus” (Mark 5:27). Her belief in Him was firm enough —that wasn’t her meager hope—but rather, so many obstacles stood in her way to reach Him! It would be embarrassing enough to tell Him of her ailments if she were alone with Him. But Jesus was always busy: He was never alone. The twelve disciples were always near His side and multitudes followed Him at this time wherever He went. Then too, the very nature of her illness, constant hemorrhaging, made it exceedingly difficult to talk to Him about such a thing. No, she lacked the temerity to speak of such matters to anyone, much less to Him! If she could only devise a way to furtively effect the cure. Her faith in Jesus was such that she thought to herself, “If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole” (Matthew 9:21). Just so I don’t have to appeal to Him directly or expose my intimate female difficulties to Him or to the people thronging Him.
And so. she followed Jesus “in the press behind” and in the complete confidence of His wonder-working power reached out to touch the very lowest part of His garment —the hem. Immediately her faith was rewarded, for she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. But the Great Physician turned and looked directly upon her, crouching in the dust fearing and trembling, and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” And though the multitude swarmed Him and His own disciples scolded Him for asking such a mindless question, the woman understood the import of His question. Knowing that she was no longer hid, she knelt at His feet and told Him everything. She did not concern herself with multitudes, disciples, her embarrassing illness, the uncomfortable topic — nothing mattered any longer. She confessed all to Him, telling Him of all her fears, her pain, her sins, her miraculous healing. How silly to imagine that she could “sneak a cure” without Christ’s knowledge; how foolish to assume that she could be restored to health without His divine will. But how strong was her faith in Him! And Jesus, the tender Physician, “touched with the feeling of all her infirmities,” recognized her faith and acknowledged it —in front of all the masses that day, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole. Be of good comfort.”
We must note well: Christ says, “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” He doesn’t say, “I have made thee whole,” or even, “The power which pervades my very clothing hath made thee whole.” Many people jostled Christ that day, and they were not healed nor were their sins forgiven. But to everyone who reaches out to Christ in faith, drawn by the efficacious power of His grace, to that one a complete and immediate cure is assured. The tower of sin which rises up in his life as a monolith of filth is completely and forever washed in the fountain of His blood.
In Luke 18:8 Jesus says. “When I return shall I find faith in the earth?” With the unclean woman we respond, “Yes, oh yes, and yes again.” Great Physician, Balm of Gilead, Healer of the Nations, we need not, we dare not, even look up into your blessed face. Let us but touch the hem of your garment.
’In our eagerness to minimize any innate power in Christ’s clothing, we must not do away with its importance altogether. Jesus used the border of His garment to heal the woman. See Acts 5 where the very shadow of Peter passing by healed the sick, and Acts 19:12 which teaches that handkerchiefs and aprons were brought from Paul’s body to those with diseases and evil spirits to bring about healing.