By Rachel Mutesi
Matthew 9:18-22, Mark 5:24-34, Luke 8:42-48
Beloved* stood at a distance and watched, trusting the shadows and her head covering to protect her from prying eyes. The crowd milled around, sometimes silent, holding its breath, straining to hear the words of the one they called Jesus. Other times it was restless, murmuring, reacting to something He said.
Jesus of Nazareth. Never before had there been one like this man, one who spoke with such authority and understanding. Rumours and curiosity about Him spread like wildfire, whispers reaching even those on the outskirts of society.
She was one such as this, but she hadn’t always been. Once her life had been full and rich and overflowing with hope and future. That was a long time ago now. Twelve long years ago. Before the bleeding began and would not stop. Before she was put out of the temple, barred from offering sacrifices with her people and worshipping their God. Before her husband divorced her and her friends and family left her, horrified and frightened by her uncleanness. Before the seemingly endless stream of doctors and expensive ‘cures’ always ended in helpless shrugs and piercing words of condemnation, “There is nothing more that I can do. God has seen fit to turn His back on you. You must have done something terrible to anger Him.”
Twelve years. Twelve long years of her body betraying her. Of weakness and fatigue, pain and sickness, all of which paled in comparison to the depths of her loneliness and shame. Because, in some peculiar twist of fate, this blood had revealed her for what she had always feared herself to be.
She had been full, but now she was empty. Her life had been rich, but now she was brought low. She had been in the midst, but now she was on the outside. And the voices in her mind and all around her declared that this was right where she was meant to be. That she deserved this. Hadn’t she lusted after men? Hadn’t she looked on friends with jealousy and envy? Hadn’t she been discontent, always sure that she deserved more? Hadn’t she spoken with rash and bitter words? Wasn’t her heart selfish and self-seeking above all else? She was certain that the truth had been revealed. She was not worthy to enter the gates of the temple of God Almighty. She was not worthy of love or companionship or belonging. She was unclean. Filthy. Shameful. Surely the shadows and the outskirts were her rightful home.
Yet, despite the accusations which railed against her from within and without, she kept trying. Kept seeking a cure. Kept pushing away from these labels she felt sure were rightfully hers. But things had changed. She had run out of money. Her resources and strength were exhausted. She had given up hope.
Then those wildfire whispers had reached her.
Jesus of Nazareth. He who performed impossible deeds and whose words shook everything to the core. Wasn’t that what she needed? One whose words were greater than the painful labels she carried with her? One who could do what no one else had been able to?
There was little consensus about this man. Was He a prophet? A rebel? The Messiah himself? She wasn’t sure, but with everything in her, she knew one thing: this man, this Jesus of Nazareth, was her only hope.
And so, shameful Beloved stood in the shadows, wrapped in robes and hurtful words, and she watched the crowd and the man in whom was all her hope. She had come at great risk. If she was seen and recognised, her condemnation would be great. She dared not enter the crowd, let alone approach this great man. She knew herself to be unworthy of His notice. She hoped only to touch the hem of His robes. Surely that was enough to cleanse her of this blood. And surely no one would notice a stolen healing for an unworthy woman.
As she watched and waited, uncertainty began to creep in. Not that He was unable to heal, that was impossible, but that she had made a mistake. What if she were recognised? And even if she was not, how could she possibly hope to reach Jesus? Blood loss left her faint and weak—even now she was leaning against the wall for support. How could she get through such a jostling crowd? She was not strong enough to get to Him and she was undeserving of healing anyway. This was a mistake.
Lost in her doubts and fears she missed the moment a well-dressed man ran through the crowd and knelt at the feet of Jesus in humility and desperation. Her attention was drawn when, as Jesus stood and began to depart with the man, the crowd swelled and murmured and rose to follow. And in that moment she did not pause to think but stumbled forward, desperate, into the clinging throng.
Twice she was knocked down, the second time barely finding the strength to regain her feet. Weak, dizzy, desperate, she glimpsed His back and with the last of hope’s strength, she pressed forward, fingers outstretched, reaching. Reaching.
Just one touch. That was all she needed. Just the hem of His robe and she would be healed.
Almost there. Knocked back again.
And then—wonder of wonders! joy of joys!—the tips of her fingers brushed against the hem of His robe and she stopped and the world stopped all around her.
She was healed. Washed clean. Her bloody shame was taken away, her life restored, her body made whole. Like a burst of energy dancing through her veins, warm and bright, she could feel it. From the tips of her fingers to the top of her head to the ends of her toes. She was healed. Laughter bubbled up from some long-forgotten spring deep within her.
But in her joy, something rankled. This was a stolen healing. The crowd still pushed around her as she turned to leave but she had barely taken a step before it had stopped. Jesus had stopped. Fear shot through her as she turned to look, and, though she could not see Him through all the people, she could hear Him clearly.
“Who touched me?”
She shuddered with fear and though she willed her feet to turn and walk away, she could not move.
Sensing that something serious had happened, the crowd responded as one, pushing now to move away from Him, to make it clear that they were not the ones to have committed the apparent offence.
His disciple, Peter, spoke for them all, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”
But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
As the crowd moved back, space was cleared, and she found herself looking straight into the eyes of the One who had healed her. He held her gaze, gentle, kind, and His question seemed not an accusation, but an invitation. “Who touched me?” He knew it was her. He didn’t look away. He saw her and he invited her to come to Him.
Trembling, she stepped forward into the empty space between them and fell at His feet and, as her body shook with sobs and her voice came shaky and weak, she poured out her story. She told of the years of suffering, of the doctors and money and cures which now seemed absurd before Him who alone could heal. She told of her shame and her guilt, and her fear and her unworthiness. She told of the rumours she had heard of Him and of her hope and faith. And she told of the touch of His cloak and how, just moments before, she had been healed. As she spoke, she could hear the response of the crowd, their condemnation and disgust, and she dared not look up into the eyes of the One who had healed her. She couldn’t bear to see the contempt she was sure must be there. Her story ended and for a moment all was still and the only sound was that of her stifled sobs.
And then, strong hands drew her to her feet, gentle hands lifted her head, and she met the gaze of the one they called Jesus of Nazareth and saw only love and acceptance.
“Daughter,” He said, “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
A movement behind Him and Jesus was called away, the crowd following after Him. But she stood still, new tears, now of joy and gratitude, rolling down her cheeks.
With just a few words He had made her part of His family, accepted and belonging. He had declared her whole and clean and sent her forth in peace and rejoicing. He had undone everything. He had transformed what was broken and shameful and outcast and had given her a new identity, with good and beautiful labels. He had made her whole. In that brief encounter she was transformed within and without.
Beloved walked, head held high, in her new name and identity, giving glory to the One they called Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of God.
And she lived her days beloved.
*Author's Note: The story of the woman with the issue of blood has always captivated me, even as a young child when I couldn’t understand what it all meant. As an adult, struggling with chronic illness and all the turmoil of emotions and scenarios that come with it, her story resonates all the more. I spent time sitting with it one rainy day during 2020 lockdowns when all the world was raging around me, and as I prayed and sought God in it, one word came to mind again and again. For me and for her. And for you too. Beloved.