A brief incident, sandwiched in the middle of a story of another of Jesus’ miracles (Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:22-43) is unusual in that it tells of a stolen miracle. Unlike other miracles that Jesus freely gave away for the asking (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:24-34, Luke 8:42-48), it was stolen because the woman who stole it was forbidden to touch any man or any object or she would render it unclean. She was a social outcast. It is doubtful that she would appear in public and never in a crowd of men because even if she brushed by a man he would become unclean. Ritual cleanliness was extremely important in Judaism. So this woman could not come out in the open and ask Jesus for a miracle as did the lepers and blind man. (Leviticus 15:25-33) For a woman who was desperate, what were her options?
As the story is told, a woman had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and nothing the doctors tried, healed her. Since women were considered ritually unclean during their menses (niddah) and probably were not allowed to carry on their regular duties until after they had fulfilled the requirement of a ritual bath (mikvah) to restore them to a state of “being clean,” this woman was effectively ostracized from the company of other women as well. Also, she was forbidden by law to have sexual relations with her husband during her menses so this hemorrhage had to have put a strain on her marital life. Not to mention the fact that without sex she could not have children which was a woman’s duty to her husband. This woman had lived in virtual isolation for twelve years.
Imagine what she must have felt about hearing about Jesus and his healing miracles. Might she have thought something like, “Do you think it might be possible that he could heal me? But how can I reach him to ask him? I can’t leave the house? I can’t go openly like anyone else and beg him to heal me. What can I do?” She had heard he had healed others so it was just possible he could heal her. But how to get him to heal her?
So she hatched a plan. If he ever came through her village she would disguise herself so no one would know who she was. She would sneak in and around the crowd, for she knew everywhere he went he drew crowds. She thought that if she could just touch some part of his clothing, the hem of his robe or perhaps his sandals … She did not dare touch any part of his body. But perhaps, just perhaps, anything that had touched him also had the power to heal. It was worth a try.
She believed that Jesus would heal her if he wanted to. Her faith in his healing abilities was strong. She also believed that anything he touched also had healing powers. So her faith in his ability to heal without knowing he was healing was also strong. But she also hoped with a strong hope, that Jesus would choose to heal her as he had others. He could do it, she knew that, but would he? She hoped so.
So she made her plans very carefully towards the day he might come to the village, or even just walk through the village on his way elsewhere. Which is what happened. One day Jesus and his disciples came through her village and he was surrounded by people clutching at him and clamoring after him. There was lots of noise and confusion. “Wonderful,” she thought “it’s now or never” and she ran to get her cloak to disguise herself.
Just as she thought, the crowd was so loud and so boisterous and so uncaring of anything except getting near enough to touch Jesus that she had little trouble, being a small woman, of weaving herself in and out of the people trying to reach Jesus. Finally, exhausted, she was near enough to touch the fringe of his garment. But just as she reached out she was bumped aside and almost trampled. She struggled to get back up and cover herself again and then desperately surged forward to try again and again. She finally got close enough to try again and did grab a tassel, then frightened at her own temerity let go. “What if he found out? Suppose he felt the “tug” – what would he do to her?” Such shame swept over her for even thinking she could impose on him so, she hung back and let the crowd swell around her.
But something happened. The crowd stopped moving. She heard Jesus call out, “Who touched me?” She tried to disappear, to bury herself in the road. She heard Jesus say, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” He was looking around for who had touched him. His disciples tried to reassure him and Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” Jesus persisted that he had been touched in a special way and kept looking through the crowd.
“When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. (Luke 8:47) The woman knew she had violated the most important laws of Jewry. She knew she had been a sneak. She knew she deserved punishment for her sins. She was desperately afraid and shamed before her townspeople. How much more humiliation could she take?
Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
There was to be no punishment. She had been healed. She was returned to society. She was whole again. Oh joy! Oh thank you Jesus! She had stolen her miracle of healing but Jesus said it was okay. He understood why she felt she had to steal. He understood why she had to come in secret. He forgave her and he had healed her. She could keep her stolen miracle.
She was a woman of great faith and great hope. She did what she felt she had to do to get Jesus’ attention. She violated Jewish law to do it but Jesus violated Jewish law on occasion too, when he thought the person was more important than the rule. There are always exceptions to every rule. In this case, since she had been healed of her hemorrhages, all the woman had to do was visit the ritual bath to be made clean again. Jesus had made her clean in body and soul. Now she could return to her proper job of being a Jewish wife. Her marriage was saved and she could return to society. Jesus had given her back her life.