In Mark chapter 5, we read about a woman who spent 12 years of her life in solitude. Plagued by an issue of blood, she was labeled as untouchable and incurable by all but one.
During biblical times, women on their period (referred to as “Niddah” in Hebrew) were considered to be impure, and many believed their “impurity” could spread to others through physical contact.
According to the Jewish Women’s Archive, “During a woman’s period, any ritual objects she touches becomes impure, and those she comes into contact with become impure as well.”
In Leviticus 15:19-27, it explains that those who became “impure” after contact with a “Niddah” would be unclean until evening and would need to bathe.
These practices weren’t done to devalue women. In those days, the concept of germs wasn’t clearly understood or talked about. However, even without this knowledge, purity was thought of in the same context as hygiene.
Centuries passed before Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician, discovered that disease can spread through physical touch and taught about the importance of hand-washing.
According to an article written by Leslie S Leighton, a medical historian, Semmelweis made this discovery after noticing that many women died in childbirth because the physicians treated them without washing their hands after conducting autopsies.
Though germs weren’t understood during biblical times, people held a similar belief regarding dead bodies. They believed that “impurity” from dead bodies could spread through direct contact as well as through the air of an enclosed space. This was the worst type of impurity, and those who had direct contact with cadavers had to go through seven-day purification rituals in exclusion.
In a similar way, “Niddah” were also excluded from society for seven days. If no blood appeared on the eighth day, they were deemed “pure” again.
However, if a woman bled for more than seven days, she became a “zavah,” or “one who has a discharge,” and lived in a constant state of “impurity” until the bleeding stopped.
The woman we read about in the scriptures became a zavah. She bled approximately 625 times longer than the normal seven day period. Though I imagine the physical hardships she faced in no way outweighed the emotional pains of exclusion.
She lived in Capernaum, a trading village in Palestine.
According to Tourist Israel, “Capernaum was one of the main trading villages in the Gennesaret area. It was a vibrant and prosperous part of Palestine, home to about 1,500 people many of whom were fishermen. Many travelers, caravans and traders passed through.”
In the busy streets of Capernaum, people avoided her touch and averted their eyes, believing that even the slightest amount of physical contact would make them impure for a time. She likely had experienced little to no physical contact with anyone for 12 years.
In Mark chapter 5, we learn that she visited “many physicians” to seek treatment and spent “all that she had,” yet her condition only worsened over time. I don’t believe the phrase, “all that she had,” refers only to money. She likely was spent emotionally, mentally and physically as well.
As Jesus Christ went about doing good, multitudes of people followed Him, and the knowledge of His miracles spread fast.
During His ministry in Decapolis, Jarius, a local synagogue leader, saw Him and immediately fell at His feet, pleading with Christ to heal his 12-year-old daughter who was lying on her deathbed. Jarius had faith that his daughter would be healed, and Christ went with him.
As Christ followed Jarius to his home toward Capernaum, a crowd gathered around them. The woman plagued by the issue of blood heard of Christ, and had faith that He could heal her.
In a way, she was “in” the crowd but not “of” the crowd. She desired no recognition, pity or fame; she only wished to be healed by the Savior. So, in the midst of the thronging crowd, she quietly reached out in faith and touched the hem of Christ’s robes, trusting that such a simple touch would make her whole.
The part of Christ’s robes she touched was likely the Hem of Garment which bore a sacred meaning.
According to the Bible Dictionary, the Hem of Garment was a tassel that hung over men’s shoulders with blue thread to symbolize heaven. This was an important part of the Israelite’s clothing required by the Law of Moses.
Israelites wore these tassels to remind them to keep the commandments and do the will of God. This law is found in Numbers 15: 38-39.
As she touched the hem of Christ’s garments, the issue of blood she had endured for 12 long years immediately vanished, and she was healed.
Upon her healing, Christ instantly felt “virtue” (power) go out of him. He asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
This question left the apostles perplexed, and they asked, “Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, ‘Who touched me?'”
But even in the midst of a crowded street, with people on all sides of Him, Christ felt the humble woman’s reach of faith.
The woman had grown accustomed to living in the background. Because many viewed her as “impure,” she likely didn’t want the crowd’s attention focused on her.
But after those in the crowd distanced themselves until she could no longer hide, she had no choice but to come forward. “Fearing and trembling,” she fell before Christ’s feet and told Him what had happened.
Maybe she felt embarrassed from the attention, or maybe she felt unworthy of healing after 12 years of being labeled impure and untouchable. But the Savior saw past all of that. To Him, she was a daughter of God worthy of love and healing. It was not her trials that defined her — it was her faith.
I imagine Christ crouching down to the woman’s level and looking into her eyes with pure love, completely void of judgement, when he said, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.”
I personally believe that Christ knew who she was and what had happened before asking the crowd about who touched His clothes. He could have just kept walking, knowing she was healed. But, because she had been excluded from society due to her condition, He wanted everyone to know of her healing and purity. So, not only did He heal her, but He also prepared the way for her to be accepted into society again.
Reaching out to Christ in faith
In such a busy and crowded world, we may often feel unimportant, inadequate or alone, but Christ sees each one of us. The Savior doesn’t let the world’s judgements cloud his view. He sees our souls, knows our hearts and loves us unconditionally.
Whether we are struggling with physical illness, mental health, fear, low self-esteem, doubts or any other difficulty, Christ has the ability to heal us and make us whole. First, however, we must reach out to Him in faith.
Moroni 7:26 teaches us that, “Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.”