Walking Our Faith: Our Saint of the Broken Heart
July 6, 2018
Her story is like many people healed in the gospels, not remarkable enough to be given a name, just another person in the crowd. How am I to see myself in her?
Now a woman, suffering from bleeding for 12 years, she had endured much under many doctors. She had spent everything she had and was not helped at all. On the contrary, she became worse. Having heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his clothing. For she said, "If I just touch his clothes, I'll be made well." Instantly her flow of blood ceased, and she sensed in her body that she was healed of her affliction. At once Jesus realized in himself that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?"
His disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing against you, and yet you say, 'Who touched me?'"
But he was looking around to see who had done this. The woman, with fear and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.
"Daughter," he said to her, "your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be healed from your affliction." (Mark 5:21-38)
I have always thought of this story as a lesson in the power of persistent faith. A woman who had suffered with an affliction for 12 years yet persisted in prayers for healing. A woman who pushed through a crowd to reach Jesus. A woman, so sure of Jesus' ability to heal her, that she was certain that only touching his garment would be enough to heal her completely. I believe all of these things are still true. This woman's story inspires my own faith when I falter and grow weary of praying the same prayers.
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However, last Sunday during his homily, Father Stephen Siebert, our new parish priest, went into great detail to explain how this woman's chronic menstrual cycle would have alienated her from her community, which had strict laws on the segregation of women during their menstrual period. How she would have been considered to be constantly in a state of being unclean and untouchable because to touch her would have made that person unclean as well.
Imagine how 12 years of isolation and alienation impacts how you see yourself? Suddenly, sitting in the pew, listening to Father Stephen, I saw myself as that woman and she was no longer nameless or faceless.
How many times have I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, brushing my teeth with eyes downcast, unwilling to look at myself in the mirror because I hated the overweight body I saw there? How many times have I walked by a mirror and turned my face because I didn't want to see a face I no longer count as attractive? I joke that my fat belly insulates me from the cold like a Beluga whale and my jowls are Churchillian, but inside my heart hurts because it has been years since I've been chosen. How many times have I looked in a mirror and thought, "Well, this is why you're still single in middle age."
A part of me whispers, "If only they could see who I am on the inside." I imagine that is what the woman with the blood affliction thought as well. This is why she approaches Jesus from behind. She feels unworthy to be seen. She reaches for the hem of his garment, because she is used to cowering.
In a moment of recognition, I see myself in that woman and I know her intimately. And I love her for her courage as she reaches out in faith for healing, even when she herself and everyone around her, must have told her she was undeserving.
She cowers at Jesus' feet, ready to be verbally or physically beaten, because by touching him in her state, she would have been seen to willfully contaminate him with her uncleanliness.
Instead, Jesus offers her loving compassion. "Daughter," he says to her, "your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be healed from your affliction."
"Daughter." Not a name you would call a woman deemed undeserving of a place in the community. It is a name for a beloved member of the family. That is how we are seen by God, precious daughters and sons. Even when our image of ourselves is warped by our distorted impression, Jesus calls us by our real name. He calls us beloved.
Her broken body, her broken heart are made whole with only a touch, only a word.
Father Stephen mentioned that it is sometimes said that Saint Veronica, the woman who wiped Jesus face with a cloth, as he struggled to carry the cross of his crucifixion, is this same woman of the blood affliction.
We don't know this for sure, but how wonderfully appropriate would it be if she was finally given a name, and an identity as a follower of Jesus. How wonderful that the cloth that wiped the face of God, left the impression of the face of Jesus.
When we cannot see ourselves clearly, Jesus shows us who we are and shows us himself. When we cannot love ourselves, we are loved, by the source of all love.
Suzanne Anderson lives in Breckenridge.
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