Her story had all the makings of a modern medical nightmare. Not for one, not for two, but for twelve long years this woman had suffered from a hemorrhage. You don’t have to be a female to imagine how this condition would have defined her everyday existence, especially in a first century Jewish culture where such bleeding would have rendered her perpetually unclean. She had tried doctors. And what did they do? We’re told she “suffered much” from many of them (Mark 5:26). I don’t even want to know what that means. Use your imagination. And just like today, it’s not as if doctors collect a fee only if they cure you. No, you get charged an arm and a leg even if you stay sick, even if you die. So with her, she “had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” Finally, having exhausted every other option, she crafted this outrageous plan that bordered on sacrilege. Imagine if a prostitute, her body teeming with STDs, snuck into your church one Sunday morning through a back door, crawled in her miniskirt unseen behind the altar, reached up, dipped her finger in the chalice, and touched that sacred wine to her lips. And imagine if, at that very moment, she was discovered and stood, in all her unclean glory, before the pastor and congregation. That scenario, as shocking as it would be to us, is not as audacious as our friend’s plan was. This woman, who wouldn’t have even been allowed in the courts of God’s temple because she was ritually unclean, snuck up behind Jesus in a mass of people, and touched the hem of his garment. An unclean woman touched the holy, holy, holy God. If she’d made a wild dash into the temple’s inner sanctum, she wouldn’t have been closer to Yahweh than when she got her hands on Jesus.
What is even more astonishing is what happened next. I’m not talking about the fact that her hemorrhaging stopped. I’m not talking about the fact that Jesus felt power going out of him. No, the most astonishing part of this story is the Son of God’s response. He says, “Who touched me?” And when she comes forward, fearing and trembling, and tells him the whole truth, he says, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,” (5:34). He utters not one word of rebuke. He doesn’t go all fire-and-brimstone on her for daring to put her unholy hands on him. In other words, Jesus does what he always seems to be doing: he welcomes the outcast, embraces the pariah, and gladly and willingly pours into her his holy and healing love. What to others might seem sacrilege, to Jesus is just one more opportunity to exhibit his scandalous, transformative, sanctifying grace.
We can add this woman to the long list of others rejected by many but whom Jesus welcomed with open arms. The hated, traitorous tax collectors. The “sinful” women who sold sex to put food on the table. The woman nabbed in the act of adultery. Those with horrific skin diseases. The Gentiles. Indeed, Jesus says that he did “not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” (Luke 6:32). He invites the “weary and heavy laden” to come to him for rest (Matthew 11:28). He doesn’t travel around Israel looking for the right kind of people to believe. If anything, he seems to be calling to himself the wrong kind of people. Gathered around him are people with enough skeletons in their closet to stock a cemetery. They flock to him because they see in him what they never dared dream before: a God who has no qualms about sitting down in the gutter with you, a Savior who’s happy to have a prostitute weep on his feet and dry them with her hair, a Friend who’ll share a meal with the most infamous folks in the community.
The church that Jesus founded is where he’s still doling out this scandalous grace to everyone. There is no list on the front door that spells out the requirements for entrance. All are welcome: addicts, ex-cons, prostitutes and pimps; lawyers and politicians; the homeless and mentally ill; runaways and castaways; the LGBT community and the haters of gays. Amazingly, in his church Jesus even welcomes sinful heterosexuals, happily married couples, and—believe it or not—even religious leaders.
Jesus preaches the same message to all of them: repent and believe the Gospel. Leave behind a life that is a lie, the life in which you pretend you can be your own god, establish your own truths, earn your own way to heaven. You’re lost. You’re unclean. There is no hope for you inside of you. But there is abundance of hope in someone else. There is cleansing and forgiveness and peace and wholeness in the one who bleeds and dies for you. He will turn no one away. How could he? He died for them, one and all. His grace heals all wounds. His love welcomes all sinners.
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!