(I was asked again to lead a morning devotional for a group of Christian doctors; here’s what I shared.)
Our hospitals here in Iowa is served by a fleet of medical helicopter service aptly named Life Flight. They transport patients from hospitals to hospitals around the area. They are our medical team on wings.
On March 3, 1980 a crew of 2 nurses, and the helicopter pilot was transporting a heart patient to the hospital where I work now. On approach to the hospital, the helicopter suddenly crashed, killing all the crew and the patient.
Today, in the central garden of our hospital, is a life-size bronze statues of women figures, created as a memorial of these fallen medical flight crew, a reminder of their commitment to their job and their service to the community.
Our story for our devotional this morning is not about flight but something about Healing in His Wings.
Let’s read the story in Luke 8: 43-48.
43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.
When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”
46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
The background of the story is that Jesus just arrived from the other side of the lake, and probably landed in the town of Capernaum. Perhaps his boat was still far from the shore when a crowd of people already gathered to meet him.
There was still no social distancing mandate at that time. If you live in Metro Manila, you know what crowding is. Just ride the MRT or the LRT, and you can almost exchange faces with the one beside you.
That was how it must have been when the crowd gathered around Jesus, for the Bible said it almost “crushed” Him (Luke 8: 42). The Greek word used to describe it was sumpnigo. Interestingly, it is the same word that was used to describe the thorns “choking” the seeds that fell on the thorny ground in the Parable of the Sower.
Then a woman, who was sick, pushed through the crowd to get close to Jesus.
Let’s put on our doctor’s white gown and examine our patient.
Who is this woman? We don’t know her name. How old was she? Based on the information from her illness, I would guesstimate that she is between 25 and 50 years old. Well if she has some kind of a women’s bleeding, usually this is worse during menstruating years. If she’s been bleeding for 12 years already, then she’s past 20 but most likely not past the menopausal age.
How long has she been sick? As we said, she’s been bleeding for 12 long years. What’s her illness. According to the Gospel writers she was “subject to bleeding.” We would surmise that is was like having menstruation, but in her case, it was continuous. Maybe not heavy bleeding all the time, for otherwise she would be dead, but could have increase amount during the menstrual period. We would say that her bleeding is not from cancer, for it lasted that long, yet she is still alive. Yet though it is not a malignant disease, it is still a serious condition nonetheless.
If I would pin a diagnosis, I would say she has some form of a uterine growth, like fibroids, that can cause endometrial and vaginal bleeding even between menses, but with heavy bleeding during monthly cycle. If you’re bleeding for 12 years, you would be anemic, weak, and fatigued. Maybe desperate too!
If you have uterine growth like fibroids, no medication can treat it. No kind of concoction would work. Only taking out the fibroid by surgery or doing hysterectomy will cure it.
This woman has been suffering for a long long time. Perhaps in the beginning of her illness she was seeing all the doctors that were recommended to her. From one doctor to another, were only met by disappointment after disappointment. According to the account of the Gospel of Mark, “she suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors.” I pray that we are not that kind of doctors, only interested in profit or the business-side of the practice. I pray that we really care for our patients and their well-being. In the end, this woman used all her money and was broke, but still did not get well.
Maybe somebody out there who is listening right now have an illness that we doctors cannot help? That despite all our medical interventions you are not getting better? Maybe you can relate to the story of this woman. It is my prayer that this message finds you and that you find encouragement in this story.
Besides the physical ravages of bleeding for 12 years there’s another aspect of her suffering. She was socially exiled and emotionally isolated.
According to the Mosaic law, if you have bleeding, you are considered unclean.
“When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. Whoever touches them will be unclean; he must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening.” (Leviticus 15:25-27)
All she touched or sat on was considered unclean. People who had contact with her or with what she touched were considered unclean. This woman had been longing for human touch, and she probably had not received a hug for 12 years!
Why does being soiled with blood considered unclean? It is the Universal Precaution rule. In our work in the hospital we will put on gloves, gown, goggles if we are handling blood or bodily fluids. This is to protect ourselves from contacting disease and also from spreading the disease.
As I mentioned in my last talk with you, long before people discovered and learned about bacteria and viruses, God already provided rules among His people, the ancient Israelites, on how to prevent spreading diseases. That’s why in the Mosaic law, you are considered unclean if you touch a dead person or an animal carcass, or if you touch an open sore. All pots that critters crawled on must be destroyed. God is so wise.
A couple of hundred years ago, doctors who did autopsy in the morgue came to the hospital ward to examine patients without thoroughly washing their hands. They probably just wiped them. This was before the era of discovering the bacteria. Then they have observed that those patients nearer the ward door get sicker or die more frequently than those farther away from the door. Why? Who do you think the doctor touched first after coming from the morgue? The doctors were spreading the bacteria!
Let’s go back to our story. To be considered unclean for 12 long years was like an imprisonment, punished by banishment from humanity. Or she must have gone incognito, and became an invisible woman, that she does not want anybody to notice or recognize her when she goes out of her home. She has become a fly on the wall.
Then she heard about Jesus and His miracles of healing. And she learned that Jesus was coming in this part of town. So she decided to see Jesus. Even though she had no business of going out in a crowd, for all she would get contact with would become unclean. According to the law, if she touch Jesus, she would make Him ceremoniously unclean.
Yet this woman was determined to elbow, push and claw her way through the crowd. Though pale and weak, nothing would stand in her way. She was unshakable on her mission. She believed that if only she could touch Jesus’ cloak, she would be healed.
She finally reached Jesus. She approached Him from behind, and sneaked at Him without Him knowing like a pickpocket. Then she stretched out her hand to touch HIm.
Have you ever been pick-pocketted? What’s their modus operandi? They sneaked at you without you knowing, or they try to distract you, or they casually bump into you.
A few days after I first arrived in the US, I was walking alone in the streets of Morristown, New Jersey, a relatively quiet town, when a stranger greeted me, “What a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I was taken aback. First of all, in Manila where I came from, you don’t talk to strangers on the street. Secondly, nobody in the Philippines talk about the weather, for it is the same the whole year through. And lastly, when a stranger talks to you, check your wallet if it’s still there. But that stranger really meant well, and just wanted to greet me.
If you’re going to touch somebody in a crowd, isn’t it easier to touch the shoulder or back? Why stoop down and touch the hem of the cloak? We may think that like a pickpocket, she does not want Jesus to feel her touch, so the edge of the garment would do. But there’s more significance to this edge of the garment.
In the Mosaic Law, God instructed His people about the corners, or fringes, of their garments. In Numbers 15: 38-39 it says:
38 “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. 39 And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined.
It seems like a strange instruction for us but in the Ancient Near East culture, the corner of a person’s garment represented his identity; it was a symbol of who he was and what he stood for. It is like an insignia, or perhaps a monogramed initials on the shirt.
In the story of Ruth, when she was seeking marriage to Boaz, she asked him to spread the corner of his garment over her (Ruth 3:9). It was a request for him to identify with her. The same Hebrew word means “wing” or “corner of a garment.”
When God spoke of making a covenant with His people, He pictured Himself as spreading the corner of His garment over Israel (Ezekiel 16:8)—a symbol of identifying with her as His bride.
In the story of David when he was running away from Saul, one day Saul fell asleep at the mouth of the cave where David and his men were hiding. David sneaked in and cut off a corner of King Saul’s robe, but “afterward David’s heart struck him” (1 Samuel 24:5). These pangs of remorse seem strange unless we realize that he had defaced an important symbol of Saul’s identity and his God-given kingship.
So important were the corners of a man’s garment for the Jews that the Old Testament closes with a prophecy of the Messiah that references the corners of His garment: “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2 KJV. Again, the same word means both “wings” and “corners of a garment”). At the heart of the Messiah’s identity would be healing for all who have faith in Him.
So when this woman reached out to the hem of Jesus’ coat, it was more than just for healing, but she was identifying with Him and what He stands for. She was embracing that Jesus is the promised Messiah who has healing in His wings.
When this woman touched Jesus’ garment, “immediately” (Luke 8:44) her bleeding stopped. She was healed immediately! And she felt it. But somebody felt it too. Jesus felt it too.
Then Jesus asked around who touched him. The disciples thought that Jesus was being silly. Why asked who touched him when we knew that a crowd of people was almost crushing him. But Jesus said “I know that power has gone out from me” (8:46). The Greek word translated “power” (NIV) or “virtue” (KJV) is dunamis, from which we get our English words “dynamo,” “dynamic,” and “dynamite.” That must have been a power surge that left Jesus. And He was looking for the pickpocket who stole His power.
Why did Jesus want to confront the woman and make her secret known? I can think of two reasons. The first one was to release her from the burden of uncleanliness and to take away the stigma. It was to make known to her and to the people around that He accepted her, and that she does not need to be incognito or invisible anymore. Secondly, to let her know that it was not the magical power of His cloak, but it was her faith in Him that healed her.
Ironically there were many people around pressing upon Jesus. But they have only brushed and casually touched Him. Are we one of those people in the crowd? Always in church, sits in the pew every week, present in all the church’s activities, present in all the Zoom prayer meetings, and yet we have not really reached out to Jesus with that touch of faith.
May we be like that woman – who have that desperate, tenacious and committed kind of faith. And that we reach out to Jesus. Be identified with Him and for who He is. And that we embrace him as our Messiah, our Savior, who has healing in His wings.
This is my prayer.
(*photos from the web)