Women, Dignity, Choice and Jesus (Jesus pt. 25)

When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Mark 5:27-28  

(Jesus asked) “Who touched my clothes?”  “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ “But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.”  Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mr. 5:30b – 34

In Mark chapter 5, we find a powerful story of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, how she meets Jesus and how He heals her. It is one of my most favorites in all of scripture. Perhaps because it involves a woman at her most vulnerable, with the life literally flowing out of her –  and Jesus at His most compassionate, with life literally flowing out of Him. Perhaps because it is about a woman, dealing with very womanly things – and a man who chose not to play the stereotypical man card and excuse Himself from the situation.

Recently I was teaching at a university student retreat on this particular story to an audience of both young men and women. And that evening, I had one of the most eye-opening, most heart-breaking experiences I’ve ever had as a Bible teacher. I was commenting on how awkward this story is – a bleeding woman. Is there anything more gender separating than this? As I said something like, “You men just cannot understand how this must have felt for the woman…”, a young man piped up and said, “Amen!” Everyone giggled. Ha ha. But this only proved my point.

At that moment, that young man unknowingly did something very destructive, very emotionally damaging. He introduced shame into the room. While trying to get a chuckle, to prove his masculinity, he actually told more than half of the room that it wasn’t ok to be a woman. That the things that give shape to our femininity are not ok.

Yes, I know all about what we mention in polite conversation. Yes, I know all about cultural and social mores and norms. But this story is in the Bible. Jesus wasn’t embarrassed by it. And if Mark, the author was, he still included it in the scriptures.

The passage tells us that she had suffered for twelve years from a debilitating disease with no medical cure. No man could ever understand what this type of vulnerability, wired into a woman’s very body, feels like. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met the man secure enough in his masculinity to even try. And I have to wonder if she was afraid of the men who guarded access to Jesus. I’ve seen men actually take pride in how little they know about women – as if who we are and how we were created is shameful or less than a man. Was this part of the reason why she hid and kept her distance? Is it possible this still happens in our churches today?

She experienced deep shame. The narrative tells us that she came up behind Jesus in a large crowd and touched His cloak. She wanted to “remain unnoticed”. (Luke 8:47) Surely her condition, her gender, her fear, her uncleanness, her helplessness, her poverty-both financially and emotionally, led her to hide, as it does for many of us today. Who among us hasn’t wanted to deal with our issues quietly, hoping no one else has to know?

Into this situation, Jesus does something unexpected. He is busy and actually on His way to perform a miracle for someone else – a respected religious leader who, on the surface, was everything this woman wasn’t. Yet, when He knows power has gone out from Him He stops, asks who it was who touched Him, and refuses to move on until that person reveals themselves. We all know that He wasn’t asking this question because He didn’t know the answer. Of course He knew who it was. He knew her name. Her story. The depth of her pain and desperation. He wasn’t seeking information. He was seeking her.

And He didn’t call her out. He asked for her – then He waited till she was ready to engage Him. He let her choose how she approached Him. He gave her dignity.

As a woman in a male-dominated culture, as a victim of a shame-inducing medical condition of which she had no control, as a non-person according to the culture around her, He gave her a voice. A choice. And choice, or lack thereof is almost always linked to dignity. He chose to wait on her, when we all know He should never have to wait on anyone.

I can see that in my relationship with Jesus today, 2000 years later…even though He still holds all the power, even though my relationship with Him is started and sustained by His grace and not my efforts, even though He knows all about me, my name, where and how I am, even though there are many reasons I could give for hiding or giving in to hopelessness…He asks for me. He waits for me. He doesn’t want me to hide. And He gives me choice in how far I go with Him, in the depth of relationship He and I will have. He gives me dignity. He gives me Himself. As much of Him as I choose.