Matthew 9:20-22 Jesus Heals a Desperate Woman

woman reaches out to touch Jesus clothes

The hem of His garment

(Sorry in advance. This is a bit longer than usual)

Yesterday we took a look at the story of Jairus that sandwiched the story of today; the woman with the issue of blood. Today we are going to take the time to meet her personally. As a woman I hate nearly everything about my monthly cycle and am reluctant to even talk about it, but for this woman’s sake I am going to step into her shoes and walk a few miles in them today with you beside me.

We don’t have a lot of information to go on when constructing a story about this woman. I believe she was between the ages of 24 and 50. I get this because of the usual age of onset of menses is about 12 and she has suffered with her issue for 12 years, making her at least 24 years old. She is probably not over 50 because that is roughly the age when menopause begins. So we are somewhere in between.

She is destitute because she has spent all her money on doctors. So we know she had to have some kind of money or income before this all began. I don’t know how she could have survived starvation if she didn’t have some kind of regular income, unless she became a beggar. I don’t know of any other story in the bible about a female beggar though. She couldn’t be a prostitute with her condition, so that income is out. She could have been married and had a husband that, though he couldn’t touch her, still cared enough about her to give her enough money or food to simply stay her alive. Did she receive support from the church like the widows were supposed to? Her original money could have been her dowry.

She was isolated socially and religiously. When a woman was in her cycle she was considered unclean by the law. She was not allowed to touch anything or be touched by anyone without them being made “unclean” (Lev. 15:19-30). This lasted 7 days PAST the last day of her issue, regardless how long that was. So for 12 years this woman had had no physical contact, could not touch anything without it becoming unclean, and was herself considered unclean.

With these constructs in mind, I want to build her story. I’m imagining her as a young woman just prior to marriage. She has been given her dowry by her father but not entered into the formal marriage. I kept her unmarried because there is nothing said about a husband in the bible. I’m also going to give her the name of Ester.

Ester has been planning her wedding since she was seven years old. She has envisioned every aspect of it, right down to the veil she is to wear. She is six months from recognizing that dream. She continues to embroidery on her wedding dress. Tomorrow she will have to put it away for her time of uncleanness is due to begin the following day. She is taking no chances on spoiling the dress she has worked so hard on. She feels sad that she won’t be able to work on it for two weeks, but the law is the law and she will not violate it or risk sin creeping into her marriage before the vows are even exchanged.

It has been two weeks now since Ester’s cycle began. Why has it not stopped? She has had slightly longer cycles before but nothing lasting this long. She looks longingly at her dress folded in the corner but she knows it will have to remain there until her cycle and her days of purification are over. She wishes this would hurry up and end.

Ester’s cycle has been going for a month now. She has an appointment with her doctor tomorrow to see what is going on. She is nervous about talking about such a private issue with anyone else. Her mother was helpful in the beginning but even she has become warry of Ester’s unclean state. During this whole time, Ester has been given one chair to upon, one place setting, has been confined to her room, and has had no contact with anyone besides her mother. She is not even permitted to touch her mother because it would make her mother unclean too.

It has been a week since the doctor’s visit. Ester was required to provide a sampling rag for the doctor and the priest to examine. They both agreed that she was definitely unclean by the color on the rag. The doctor gave her some herbs to take. There has been no change. Ester continues to hold out hope though. She has even asked her mother to continue the work on her wedding dress because she needs it to be ready for the marriage. Ester’s mother reluctantly consents to her request; after all the wedding is now less than 5 months away.

Ester’s dress is ready for the wedding, but she is not. The wedding is now two weeks away. Ester’s cycle HAS to stop! She has been to the doctor twice since the first visit and neither time has the doctor’s potions and ministrations had any positive outcome. Ester’s cycle must end at least 8 days before her wedding day or she will not be allowed to consummate this union. She wouldn’t even be allowed to take part in her wedding because of her condition.

Ester’s wedding day has come and gone by over six months now. She is a broken woman. Ester wept bitter tears on her wedding day and for weeks afterwards. Why was God doing this to her? Why didn’t He answer her prayers? Her mother had even made a sacrifice at the temple for her and nothing helped. Ester’s father says it is God’s curse on her. He demanded she leave her home so she wouldn’t bring God’s wrath on the rest of the family. Her father gave her the dowry he was supposed to pay to her husband and arranged for her to stay in a small one room dwelling near her physician’s home. Rather than defile himself by touching her belongings, he hired a street urchin to transport them for her. Let him be unclean for a time.

Ester has lived alone for eleven years now. She has spent every penny of her dowry in search of a cure. Her father continues to pay for her dwelling and her mother brings her bread each week. She can’t even go shopping. She has learned to live on what is dropped at her door. She is weak and pale from being shut in for so long. She goes out nightly to draw water from the creek behind the physician’s home. She dare not go to the well as she is still unclean and would be defiling the town’s water source with her touch. Her only enjoyment and interaction with the world is through her window. She sits on a stool by her window where she can watch the rest of the world. She used to even have a few friends who would visit with her through the window in the beginning, but after so many years even they have stopped coming.

For over a month now Ester has heard people conversing as they pass her home that has become her prison. Many of them are talking about this man named Jesus. She has heard talk of Him healing a man of leprosy, one who was paralyzed, and many others while here in Capernaum. Her hope and faith has been growing with each new overheard account. Surely He could heal her! The people say that He lives nearby and passes through town very frequently, but how would she get to Him? Surely He wouldn’t come to her. Ester decides that she HAS to somehow get to Jesus. The next time her mother comes to drop off bread Ester will ask her to bring her an old cloak or blanket. If her mother questions her she will say her old one is no longer sufficient to keep her warm.

Ester’s mother dropped of an old cloak yesterday. Ester is sitting by her window listening for news of Jesus. Someone called out to a friend that Jesus had just arrived in port about an hour ago and was now headed this way. The first person said that Jesus was in the company of the ruler Jairus and they were on their way to Jairus’ home. That meant they had to pass within a mile of her home! This was her chance!

Ester wrapped herself in the cloak her mother had brought, making certain to hide her face. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around so she slips out of her house. Keeping to the shadows she walks quickly to the mouth of the main road into the city. As she approaches she sees a very large crowd moving in mass along the street. She knows she can’t approach Jesus directly because of her unclean state. She would be arrested and probably killed if she was found out. But if she could sneak close enough to just touch His garments she KNEW she would be healed.

As the crowd proceeds past her Ester slips in. She keeps her head bowed and presses between people towards the center of the mass. From the descriptions she has overheard she recognizes Jesus. He is walking right beside Jairus. She is so close she can smell the sea on the clothes of those around Him. She sneaks a hand out from under her cloak and reaches out quickly. She strokes the hem of His sleeve once, and then drops back into the crowd. Jesus stops in His tracks, turns around and says, “Who touched Me?”

At first Ester wants to hide but she feels something inside her has changed! Jesus’ disciples are shocked by His question because of the actions of the crowd. Of course people were touching Him. Jesus tells them that He felt power leaving His body and knows that someone deliberately touched Him and received something from Him in return. Ester is undone by Jesus’ perception. She pushes to the center of the crowd and falls at Jesus feet. She knows she is healed and her exile is over! She tearfully tells Jesus the whole story. As she relays her story the crowd looks at Jesus to see how He is going to react to this unclean woman touching His clothing. He could have had her arrested. He could have stripped His cloak off and declared it unclean. He could have yelled at her. But He didn’t do any of these things. He quietly waited while she told her whole story. He looked her in the eye. And He told her that her faith had made her well. He told her she was healed of her disease. She had already felt a shift inside her but now He said she was healed!

Some of those hearing her story were appalled at the audacity of this woman. Some felt pity for her. Some may have even recognized her from her window or the stories about town. But Jesus recognized her courage and her faith. His was the only opinion that counted.

Right after Ester finished telling her story Jesus had His disciples disperse the crowd. That was very helpful for her because she could now slip away to her home and wait out the remaining days of her required uncleanness. In eight days she would make the required sacrifice and bathe in the required manner. The next day her life would begin again.

Jesus, thank You for stopping to hear this woman’s story. Her life had been so restricted and lonely. You not only healed her body that day but You set her free! You showed her love and mercy when You didn’t recoil at her touch. You spoke into her heart words of encouragement too. You told her that HER faith had made her whole. Her decision to seek You out. Her deep conviction that You would heal her. Those are what released Your healing power into her life. You performed the miracle but her faith channeled it into her life. She risked death to get to You and was rewarded with new life. You provide that same new life for us when we have faith in You. We leave death behind us when we fall at Your feet. You then wrap us in Your arms and walk with us the rest of the way home. I wish You could have done that for this woman but understand that You had not finished the required work yet. Thank You that I don’t have to wait like she did for another eight days to be clean. You clean us immediately when we come to You. I hope to meet “Ester” someday in heaven and hear her story from her own lips. I wonder how close my version comes to hers.

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2 Responses to “Matthew 9:20-22 Jesus Heals a Desperate Woman”

  1. Victoria Nimmo Walters says:

    When I was a young girl I once had a cycle that lasted 21 days. In just that short length of time I became anemic, and after the 12th day began receiving hormone shots each day–any one of which should have been strong enough to have stopped the bleeding. Long story short–my Uncle Jay White came to Dinuba, CA to hold a revival at the church where my mom’s Uncle Olen and Aunt Genevia attended. My parent’s took me there for him to anoint me with oil and pray over me. That ended the cycle.

    Many, many, many years later I began having 7 day cycles with only 2-3 days in between. That lasted for nearly six months before my doctor indicated the only cure would be a hysterectomy, which I had in 2006.

    I said all that to say, this is one of the Bible stories that I relate to most easily.

    • avincent says:

      Wow! That would have been awful! I had a cervical infection that resulted in a discharge for 3 years. My final solution was a hysterectomy too. I too identify with this woman. If she had lived in our day she would certainly have received the same final cure we both did.

      I wonder what she would have been diagnosed with in our time. I wonder if she had cancer? Just me thinking through my fingers.

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