One of my favorite stories about Jesus concerns a woman who struggled through a crowd as Jesus passed through just for an opportunity to touch him. She managed to just touch the hem of his cloak. This story has been interpreted in several different manners for different purposes. It is located in Luke 8:24, Mark 5:25, and Matthew 9:20.
The following is from the Common English Bible, Mark 21-35:
21 Jesus crossed the lake again, and on the other side a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. 22 Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, came forward. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet 23 and pleaded with him, “My daughter is about to die. Please, come and place your hands on her so that she can be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.
A swarm of people were following Jesus, crowding in on him.25 A woman was there who had been bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors, and had spent everything she had without getting any better. In fact, she had gotten worse. 27 Because she had heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his clothes. 28 She was thinking, If I can just touch his clothes, I’ll be healed. 29 Her bleeding stopped immediately, and she sensed in her body that her illness had been healed.
30 At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 His disciples said to him, “Don’t you see the crowd pressing against you? Yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 But Jesus looked around carefully to see who had done it.
33 The woman, full of fear and trembling, came forward. Knowing what had happened to her, she fell down in front of Jesus and told him the whole truth. 34 He responded, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.”
35 While Jesus was still speaking with her, messengers came from the synagogue leader’s house, saying to Jairus, “Your daughter has died. Why bother the teacher any longer?”
The woman sought healing of the body in the story. Matthew Henry pointed to the story to discuss how wonderful it would be if people cared as much about their souls as they cared for their bodies. He saw it as a story of Jesus revealing himself to people. John Gill suggests that people hoped to touch the garments of Jesus in case he did not choose to touch them. Gill focuses almost exclusively on the physical healing that occurred. Gill also points out that we learn some about how Jesus dressed from this story since it mentions the hem of the garment. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary also focuses on the physical healing and the miracle it represents. Some comments reference the Jewish rules that restricted a woman who was bleeding from touching other people. Some other comments reference the fact that women in that society should not have been in the crowd at all. Some suggest the woman may have been a gentile, so that would mean a Jewish celebrity such as Jesus should have nothing to do with her. One commentator considers it to be a lesson about strengthening a “feeble” faith.
For me, the story is an example of faith as trust. The woman trusted Jesus enough to feel that if she could just reach out enough to touch him, she would be healed. In the Jewish culture of that day, the woman was not worthy of coming near a man such as Jesus first, because she was a woman and second, because she was bleeding and therefore unclean. Since she had been sick for a very long time, she would have been weakened. Therefore, the difficulty of struggling through the crowd to touch Jesus would have increased. It may have required all of her strength to reach out to gain from Jesus whatever was necessary to change her life. All she could manage was the touch of his garment, but it was the trust in Jesus that allowed her to heal.
Note that the story of the woman touching his garment is inserted into the middle of the story of another healing so that Jesus was interrupted briefly as he traveled to heal another person. For me, this shows two things. First, God is sensitive to our lives and can notice the important things even when we may think it is unlikely. Second, Jesus shows us by example that the way God is sensitive and able to notice what we need is frequently through a human presence that is prepared to act in a manner that provides the love of God to those who need it. It is easy to forget that Jesus was human. As in many of the lessons in the Bible, part of the lesson here is that it is possible for us to become more like Jesus and thus closer in relationship to God. I believe the primary and most effective way God shares His love is through the relationships that people have with one another.
I have a friend who was passing through a crowd at a basketball game at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky when he felt something leave him. Someone stole his wallet and made off in the crowd. Two of the passages in the Bible say that Jesus noticed that power left him when somebody touched him. This was even though he was passing through a crowd of people who were pressing against him. What was the power? Most likely, your response will be the power of God, but, what is the power of God? It is love. It is compassion. It is the lesson from the most important commandments in Matthew 22:36-40. Jesus’s relationship with God was strong enough that his compassion was very strong. It was so strong, that Jesus could not ignore someone who reached out to him.
It is important to focus on the woman’s trust of Jesus, what is required with that trust in order for it to be meaningful, and the results of that trust. Actual physical healing is not the point of the story. We are shown that the trust is meaningful when the woman’s trust of Jesus leads her to follow him and seek a part of him. She obviously had begun to follow Jesus in order to place herself in position where she could reach out to touch him. Her illness represents the difficulties of life such as sin. The crowd represents her struggle to follow Jesus. The struggle leads to connection or relationship with Jesus. She just needed to reach out and trust that Jesus would make a difference. The results were a greatly changed life. A lifetime of suffering was turned around. I believe the lesson is that one can begin the relationship with Jesus with just a little bit of trust in him, then through following him, that trust can grow into great things in life.
Are there times when you need to touch the hem of his garment? Are you willing to reach out? Can you trust Jesus to show you the way? Dare you touch the hem of his garment?
In our crowded and busy world, in the daily hustle, are you able to sense when somebody reaches in your direction to touch the hem of the cloak of Jesus because they see him in your life? I hope there are times that people can reach out to me and the love of God works within me to provide some comfort and healing for them. I pray that God’s compassion is strong enough in me that I will notice more often where it is needed, even in the most subtle circumstances.
How about you? Are you compassionate enough to see, hear, and feel the needs of those in your life as you pass through the crowd?