Shepherdess: A woman's touch

Could Jesus heal her? Years of hopeless visits to doctors told her No. The isolation forced on her by ceremonial law said No. But a glimmer of hope kept her going. Until that fateful day.

Cherry Habenicht, the wife of a pastor in Downers Grove, Illinois, and the author of our monthly Prayers From the Parsonage, has clothed this faith-strengthening Biblical illustration with the garments of first-century Palestine.

The only woman Jesus ever called daughter is the topic of our article this month. Cherry Habenicht, the wife of a pastor in Downers Grove, Illinois, and the author of our monthly Prayers From the Parsonage, has clothed this faith-strengthening Biblical illustration with the garments of first-century Palestine. The added dimensions create a reality that touches the heart. May I suggest you share this story with your minister husband, who may find in it enrichment for a sermon on faith. If peopk ever needed their faith strengthened, surely today is the time. —Marie Spangler.

Veronica1 rested a minute from her sweeping until the wave of dizziness passed. Her steps were slower these days. Some mornings she couldn't make it back home from the market without leaning against a building to catch her breath. At first she had not been unduly alarmed when her monthly flow continued, but now she had to admit that something was dreadfully wrong.

Her close friend, Rachel, listened sympathetically as Veronica confided her fears. "Eat grapes every day. Drink wine mixed with water, and your strength will return," advised Rachel. "Don't be afraid. It is like this sometimes for women."

Huldah, the midwife, prepared a draught of Persian onions cooked in wine and administered it with the summons "Arise out of your flow of blood!" 2 But the bleeding did not cease.

And so Veronica began the first of many visits to physicians. One kept her coming back for three years before he admitted there was nothing he could do. Another gave her regular doses of a nauseous mixture of rubber, alum, and garden crocuses. Finally he recommended a doctor in Damascus who sent her home with an amulet containing the ashes of an ostrich egg.

More than the embarrassment of submitting to the physicians' questions and examinations, more than the inconvenience of extra bathing and laundry, Veronica felt the isolation of her malady: "And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even" (Lev. 15:25- 27).

Forever unclean! Often Veronica wept at the thought. True, she was not forced to live in a cave or declare her disease publicly such as the lepers were, but for the rest of her life she would be unfit, her freedom restricted by ceremonial law.

It was during a visit to Jerusalem (would not the capital have the most up-to-date physicians?) that the sense of uncleanness finally overwhelmed her. Since childhood she had imagined what it would be like to hear the stirring music, to smell the fragrant incense, to touch the smooth marble. In her condition, however, she was not allowed even to approach the Temple hill!

Gazing at the cold, forbidding structure, Veronica had not been able to pray. What did God care about women? He had pronounced curses on Eve and proclaimed taboos on all females.

It is strange, thought Veronica, but what was my greatest tragedy, the death of my husband,3 has become a comfort. At least he has been spared the life of a celibate. He never knew that he could not be a father. The memory of her beloved brought a smile to the woman's pale - lips. Would he have remained faithful? Could he have watched his income dwindle and disappear because of medical fees? Would he have accepted the care of an invalid wife? She believed he would have exhausted every resource for her, but she could not be sure.

Veronica returned to Caesarea4 and reconciled herself to a quiet life. No longer did hope rise at news of the latest medical experiments in Greece. She refused to discuss her condition and paid no attention to the advice of wellmeaning friends.

Then came rumors about a young Galilean who healed the maimed, the blind, and the deaf as He traveled from town to town. This Jesus charged no fee and made no show. Perhaps Rachel would accompany her to Capernaum the next time Jesus was in Galilee. If she could hear Him speak, possibly even witness a healing, she would know whether there was any chance for her.

The two women arrived in Capernaum only to learn that Jesus had crossed to the other side of the sea. Rachel found a shady place where Veronica could wait while she asked questions. General opinion was, she learned, that Jesus would return to "his own city" (Matt. 9:1), but no one knew when.

That night a fearful storm churned the Sea of Galilee into angry waves. Capernaum had weathered many a tempest, but these howling winds seemed like blasts from devils' mouths. As lightning tore the heavens, Veronica wondered why she had not stayed at home and been safe rather than wait in a drafty inn for a miracle worker she had never seen. Then the storm ended abruptly, strangely.

The next day someone spotted Jesus' ship. People thronged Him to ask questions about His trip and to marvel that He'd survived the storm. His close friends had the most remarkable stories to tell: Jesus had stood up in the boat at the height of the storm and stilled the wind and waves with a word! He had stood fearless before raving madmen; He had cast out a legion of devils! No wonder the multitude crowded close so that Veronica gave up trying to push through.

It was Rachel who convinced her to stay a couple more days and then brought the news that Jesus had walked to Levi Matthew's house, where He was now eating. After some inquiry, Veronica and Rachel found the tax collector's impressive home, only to learn that Jesus was now on His way to the home of Jairus, ruler of the synagogue.

"We must follow Him," urged the desperate woman. "Oh, Rachel! To be so near; yet always He eludes us. If I could but catch His eye or call out to Him!"

The crowd moves slowly as people seek Jesus' attention. Now and then He stops to look into a child's face, to heal a feverish man, to say a few words to a tired-looking mother.

"Excuse me, sir. Pardon, madam." The words become a chant as Veronica squeezes closer. People stare at her and stand their ground. A few let her pass, but more press in. "It is no use," protests her logic, but her fervent desire urges her forward.

She sees Him! Quickly Veronica kneels and stretches toward Him through the crowded mass of moving arms and legs. "If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole," she tells herself (verse 21). Straining forward, her fingers brush only the hem of His robe, but in an instant she knows she has been healed. Stifling a cry of joy, the grateful woman steps back into the crowd.

But Jesus' voice rises above the noise. "Who touched me?"

Veronica waits, her heart beating loudly. Surely someone will admit to having bumped against Jesus. There is an uneasy silence until a big man with a weathered face exclaims, "Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?" (Luke 8:45).

Jesus will not be distracted. "I perceive that virtue is gone out of me" (verse 46).

Now the crowd is waiting. Jairus fidgets, wishing Jesus would hurry. A look at the ruler's scowl, and all of Veronica's fears return. Jesus is an important teacher, and she—a worthless woman—has dared to interrupt Him. He is a rabbi, and she has defiled Him! According to law, He will have to enter the nearest house, bathe, wash His clothes, and stay until evening. For a wild moment she imagines the people turning on her.

Jesus turns and looks straight at her, but His gaze holds neither anger nor impatience. Instead, He seems to read her heart, to know her past. His direct look compels her to reveal herself. Trembling, she falls at His feet and tells everything.

Jesus, knowing how this woman's self-confidence has eroded after twelve years of misery and isolation, locates the reason for her healing: "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole" (Mark 5:34). She had every reason to have lost faith in people and in God, but her spiritual sensitivity remained strong enough to believe. In this same city Jesus had previously marveled at the Roman centurion and commented, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel" (Matt. 8:10). Now He acknowledges determined faith in one of His own people.

He does not stiffen and pull His robe together to avoid contact with the unclean woman. Before the ruler of the synagogue, He openly disregards scriptural blood taboos. He does not leave the crowd; neither does He tell the woman to go apart for seven days and then make expiation by the sacrifice of two pigeons. (See Lev. 15:28-30.) Instead, Jesus addresses her tenderly (She is the only woman whom He calls "daughter"): "Be of good comfort... go in peace" (Luke 8:48).

Veronica had long borne the burdens of womanhood without knowing its joys. She had seemed cursed with a perpetual reminder of her womanhood while at the same time being denied the only positions society recognized as giving her value—wife, mother, or a "clean" woman. Now she is whole. Now she is blessed. Now she feels the sense of self-worth instilled by her Saviour. Never again will she be too modest to mention her issue of blood, if it means she can testify of her personal encounter with Jesus.

Notes:

1 Latin tradition has given her this name. In Greek tradition she is called Bernice.

2 The New International Commentary on the New Testament cites this and other cures mentioned in this article as popular remedies for an issue of blood.

3 She "had spent all her living upon physicians" (Luke 8:43). This seems to indicate a certain previous wealth. In her culture, it would be unusual for a woman to be independently wealthy except by inheritance.

4 "About A.D. 320, Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea and a dependable historian, records that when he visited Caesarea Philippi, he heard that the woman healed of her issue of blood out of gratitude for her cure had erected two brazen figures at the gate of her house, one representing a woman bending on her knee in supplication—the
other, fashioned, in the likeness of Jesus, holding out His hand to help her."—Lockyer, op. cit., p. 222.


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Cherry Habenicht, the wife of a pastor in Downers Grove, Illinois, and the author of our monthly Prayers From the Parsonage, has clothed this faith-strengthening Biblical illustration with the garments of first-century Palestine.

March 1983

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