Updated: Dec 27, 2018
As a student at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, I had the opportunity to spend two amazing weeks in the Galilee area walking where Jesus walked and studying the stories of His miracles in depth. I made my way through the narrow streets of Capernaum and recalled the New Testament account of the woman with the issue of blood in Mark 5, who had been “ritually impure” for 12 years. נִדָּה Niddah, or “menstruation” is mentioned frequently in Leviticus. This law states that a woman is “impure” for seven days until menstrual bleeding has ceased. If occasion occurs that a woman bleeds for more than seven days or has irregular bleeding any time other than her typical period, she can only be determined ritually pure after 7 clean days and a ritual bath in a Mikveh.
When a person is “impure,” they are shunned socially by the people of Israel (Leviticus 20:18). Sexual relations are also prohibited while a woman is ritually impure. (Lev 18:19, Ezek. 18:6, 22:10). The woman with the issue of blood in Capernaum would have been a social outcast in her own community, forbidden from touching anything or anyone without causing that to become impure also. (Kind of like an opposite King Midas effect.)
The following is my personal interpretation of the Woman of the Issue of Blood.
The social and economic circumstances of ritual impurity must have been devastating for this woman. As an outcast, she would not have been able to work and must have depended on the mercy of others for her nourishment and survival. If she was married, she would not have had physical contact of any kind with her spouse without contaminating him—in 12 years. She must have felt that God had stopped listening to her earnest prayers to be healed. People can be cruel sometimes. The whispered insults and gossip of why this woman would deserve god's punishment finally sunk in. Her self-worth was no doubt affected by their hushed comments. She was socially, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted.
A hemorrhage is a very serious medical condition that can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and weakness for the loss of blood. If the bleeding had been caused from menstruation –excruciating cramping, bloating and digestive issues could have accompanied the ailment.
Let’s fill in what the accounts in the New Testament do not record of her day of healing.
Let’s imagine that after prolonged days of dizziness and weakness, she was extremely fatigued from barely doing anything.. She had perhaps been trying to do some household chores to give her some sense of accomplishment, no matter how small. Losing her strength, feeling feeble and shaky, she must have sat in the road to get some fresh air; positioning herself in such a way that the pool of blood flowing from her could not be seen by her down-looking neighbors.
Capernaum was a bustling city in the time of the Savior. Positioned right on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, and near fishing hubs Magdala and Tiberius, Capernaum was the prime location for Peter and several of the apostles to live. As a result, Jesus spent much of his time in Capernaum. It was small enough that community members would at least be familiar with each other. While she may not have had previous personal interactions with the Savior, surely she was aware of Him and His miracles or at least the rumors about them. She could have known that the Savior would be in the city again that day. Perhaps she had tried many times to get Him to notice and heal her. Possibly the Savior knew of her plight- and waited until the woman had the faith to be healed. In any case, the day came, and it was time to answer her faithful plea. Feeling the shame of a social outcast and looking upon one so pristine and undefiled as the Savior, she felt defeated, ashamed and perhaps now lacked the desire to be noticed. Was she even worthy of healing? Would He, a holy, ritually pure, wise Rabbi, working miracles—see her, a person so destitute, powerless and suffering from a disgusting condition as worth healing.
In spite of her shame, she knew that the Savior COULD heal her with His power. I am sure she marveled at His sparkling face, heard some of the words that he imparted to his disciples and the Pharisees as he made his way to through the streets to heal Jarius’s daughter (which is a story for another day). Seeing him approach, she nervously summoned the courage to touch “even the hem of his garment”. She prayed for a private healing that would go unnoticed by both the Savior and those following behind him in the crowded road. Summoning all the strength she had left in her, she reached forward. She only contacted the small strings and knots of the traditional Jewish garment for only a second but to her surprise, the internal wound was sealed up. In that very moment, she was physically altered. The pool was dried up. She was free. Overcome with emotion, she wept. She would be able to return to the life she had before! She could attend the synagogue, the magnificent temple in Jerusalem, and she could return to her family and friends. She would not be looked down upon any more. She could not believe it. Was it really that simple? Just a little touch and she was whole?
But even being healed- she was not finished with her faith-building experience. To perhaps her social horror—the Savior had noticed. “Who touched me?” He said with his sweet but commanding voice. She must have ducked her head as to not be seen among those of the crowd who had bullied her for her impure state. The streets of Capernaum are only about 5 feet wide, with a crowd it would be crazy to believe that one could reasonably walk down them without bumping into someone. However, when observing that all them that were with him had denied it- and with her new-found confidence, she rose up. For the first time in years she stood without fatigue, without a dizzy spell, without having to hide herself for fear of showing blood stains. She stood before him brave, confident, and whole.
“It was I who touched thee”, she said recounting her story. The Savior must have looked at this faith-saturated woman with a glimmer of pride in His eye. “Daughter, THY faith hath made thee whole.” The tingle of the spirit that filled her until overflowing in that moment must have made an impact on her soul that she never would be able to erase.
In this, the Savior taught that not only was it His divinity and power that made her whole- but the exercise of her faith that allowed the access to it. The scriptures say that she had gone to many healers and many doctors- in fact, we know she spent every worldly effort and penny she had in search of that healing. She looked in all the wrong places. She looked to everyone that APPEARED to be a healer. Going to the real healer requires more than just a few shekels- it requires the heart.
Understanding the real context brought a whole new perspective to this story for me. It was not just a physical healing- but an all-encompassing one. In order to have this experience, she had to be pushed to all of her limits. The depth of her depression, the complete social rejection, the spiritual deprivation and not to mention the physical torture that she was going through is FAR greater than any suffering that I have ever dealt with.
Yet- if with one touch, one tiny reach of faith, the Savior made her whole, how much more could he heal me of my sins, my insecurities, and my doubt in following His will? We too can reach out to the Savior, with our “flow of blood”, and our “impurities”. We can have them dried up and say, “IT WAS I WHO TOUCHED THEE.”
Often when I am healed by the Savior, I don’t share my experiences because it means I have to admit that I took a wrong step and needed His help. As a result, I miss an opportunity to stand and testify of the Savior. When we make mistakes and repent we can stand and declare that the Savior has healed us every whit. Occasionally, we are healed by the Savior and yet we doubt it “actually worked”. After the woman was healed, she did not sit and wait to bleed again just to “make sure” she was actually free. She trusted the feelings she’d had, stood up, and confidently declared the reality of her spiritual healing.
In order to be healed we must:
1. Allow ourselves to patiently go through trials, waiting on the Lord for His time to heal us, even if it means being rejected socially for a time.
2. Seek after Him while He is near. Don’t wait for Him come to you. Reach out in faith, even if it is the last bit of faith you have.
3. Believe you have been healed. Do not second guess it or wait for proof that you are whole.
4. When you are healed, stand up in faith and declare that it WAS you who touched the hem of His garment. It was YOU who felt your internal wounds being sealed up. Share your testimony of the Savior and your experience with those around you.