Year B, Pentecost 6
Have you ever felt like an outsider? Maybe it was a momentary feeling. You walked into a room and you realized that didn’t know a soul, or at least you did not know anyone well enough with whom you could stand and chat until you could politely leave. Or perhaps it was something a little more nuanced. You knew most of the people and even got along with them, but you always felt like you were different somehow. I would imagine that most people have felt like an outsider at some point in their life. Even in church, where we try so hard to be welcoming and friendly, there are people who feel like outsiders. Being an outsider isn’t bad in and of itself. Some people embrace it as a choice, as something that distinguishes them. However, there are times when being an outsider is not a choice and it can be incredibly painful when it is forced upon us.
In Biblical times, there were clear boundaries between people. People were divided by religion, ethnicity and gender. It’s still true today, but today it’s a lot more nuanced than it was in Jesus’ day. In the time that the Gospels were written, divisions were the norm. There was no expectation of inclusivity or embracing people who were different. In the Jewish faith there were holiness codes. There were rules on what you needed to do to be clean and unclean. For most people, if they followed the laws they could be ritually clean, which meant that they could be included in the community. Women and men had certain times when they were unclean. For instance, women were unclean after giving birth or during their monthly cycle. However, there were rituals they could take part in that would cleanse them and allow them to enter back into the community.
However, there were some people who suffered from illnesses or diseases that caused them to be unclean for the duration of the illness. In our story for today, we hear of two people who needed healing. One was a young girl who was very sick. The other was a woman who had been hemorrhaging blood for 12 years. That meant that she was physically and ritually unclean for 12 years. She was not able to worship with her community (if she even had one). She was not able to share a bed with someone. She could not even touch someone without contaminating them—making them unclean. It was worse than being an outsider. If you are an outsider, the assumption is that there is a crowd that you can at least approach. But for this woman—she shouldn’t have even been on the outskirts of the crowd, and she definitely should not have been touching someone in the crowd.
Imagine what that would be like, to be that isolated. You’re not just alone, you are dangerous to be around. You’re not just a sinner, you are the sin. That is what this woman had lived with for 12 years. She was desperate for a cure, not just for her body, but her soul. I doubt that any of us can blame her for that desperation. In fact, we might admire her for having the will to keep going as long as she did.
She did what she was forbidden to do. She entered a crowd and she touched someone. It wasn’t just anyone. He was a holy man. He wasn’t just any holy man. He was a holy man on the way to heal the daughter of another holy man. That meant that she wasn’t just putting this holy man at risk of becoming unclean, but she was risking everyone he touched. Maybe that was why she just touched his outer robe. Perhaps she was trying to limit the contamination. She knew that if she could just touch his robe, she would be made well.
She had been to all the doctors. She had said all the prayers she could possibly say. She had followed all the rules until now. None of that had worked. Yet somehow, somehow she had known that all she had to do was get close enough to touch his robe. She was right. As soon as her fingers brushed against the fabric of his robe, the bleeding stopped. Her 12 years of bleeding was over. Her illness was healed.
Of course Jesus knew what had happened. He knew that someone had touched him and been healed. He could have kept walking. He was in a hurry after all. But he knew something else. He knew this woman needed more than a clean bill of health. He asked, “Who touched me?” not because he didn’t know who she was. He was giving her an opportunity. She could have slinked into the crowd. That would have been the smart thing to do. Instead, she fell at his feet and told him the whole truth. The whole truth. I wonder how long that took her, to tell her whole truth. After hearing her whole truth he said to her and to all who could hear him, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
Had she left the scene after the bleeding stopped and not approached Jesus, I am sure her life would have drastically improved. She would have had the opportunity to be ritually clean again. She might have been able to re-enter her community. Perhaps people would have even accepted her again. Yet those 12 years of isolation would have left her wounded. The bleeding would have stopped but the emotional and spiritual wound would have remained opened. She would have still been an outsider.
Yet that is not how the story ended. She found the courage to drop down at his feet, the feet of her Savior, and tell her whole truth. And while her whole truth might have been bloody and perhaps shameful in some way, she told it to Jesus. Because of that Jesus was able to proclaim to her and the crowd that her faith—her faith—had made her well. The Greek word that is translated to “made well” means to be saved. Her faith saved her—her wiliness to drop down at the feet of Jesus and tell her whole truth saved her.
Last week I said that we all have a question that we are yearning to ask God, but that we may be afraid to ask for some reason. I encouraged you to ask the question, even if you are not yet ready for the answer. This week, I want to encourage you to share your truth, the whole truth with God. That doesn’t necessarily mean a confession of your sins. It could, but with this woman, I don’t think that is what her whole truth was. Her truth was her loneliness. Her desperation. Her willingness to break the rules.
We have a God who died for us. He rose for us. He saved us. Not only that. He wants to know our whole truth. He wants to know those parts of us where we carry shame and fear. Then he wants to tell each one of us and anyone else who will listen, “That’s my child and their faith has saved them.”
If we are all children of God, then we are all God’s family. There can be no insiders and outsiders. Jesus was consistent in his message of loving the people who were unloved and who were not accepted. When he referred to her as daughter, he wasn’t just offering her healing and salvation, he was reminding the crowd that the community needed healing and that could only be accomplished by welcoming the outcast. It wasn’t just the unnamed woman who had to tell the whole truth, it was all the people in the crowd. It is all of us today.
We are called to tell our truth and the truth of our community. We are called to do that in a loving way—not intending to shame people. So of much we see right now are attempts to shame people and that might provide a superficial and limited solution, but it never brings healing. What brings healing and salvation is telling our truth (not someone else’s—ours) with love and compassion and remembering that each one of us is a beloved child of God. There are no outsiders.