Being a bit of a hypochondriac myself, I can appreciate the ancient world’s anxieties about blood and contact with blood. Ancient people typically treated blood as sacred, the repository of life. Being sacred, it was presumed to be dangerous, with all the dread and awe that typically surround the sacred in traditional societies. So the plight of the woman afflicted with hemorrhages for 12 years [Mark 5:25-35a] was much more than a merely medical condition. A whole set of social and religious restrictions would have been involved. Her illness had a public, social dimension, rendering her ritually unclean, effectively excluding her from the community. Anyone she touched or who touched her would also automatically be unclean – although only until evening. Likewise whatever she touched or touched her would have to be washed. Imagine how afraid she must have been of touching people – even accidentally! Imagine living like that for 12 years! Imagine what that would do to her sense of herself – and her relations with others! What happens to a person when the very way one is has been socially defined as evil?
Suddenly, into all this sadness and suffering, into this burdened woman’s world, walked Jesus, famous already for his powerful acts of healing, revealing what kind of God our God really is, a God who (as we just heard in the 1st reading) does not rejoice in the destruction of the living [Wisdom 1:13]. As it says in the Catechism : Christ’s compassion toward the sick and his many healings of every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that “God has visited his people” and that the kingdom of God is close at hand.
Somehow, something about Jesus’ presence empowered her to take a chance. Taking advantage of the cover provided by the crowd, she boldly touched Jesus’ cloak. And immediately her bold faith was rewarded. Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was freed of her affliction.
What the expensive medical establishment could not accomplish in 12 years, Jesus cured in an instant – and for free! And, in the process, Jesus set her free, not only from her illness, but from all its catastrophic social consequences and its oppressive emotional and psychological burdens.
Jesus recognized her as a Daughter of Israel, a member of God’s People. And, because she was a member of God’s People, she deserved to be included as a full member of the community, and Jesus would not permit her healing to remain secret and unnoticed. In that crowded scene, certainly her secretive, hidden touching of Jesus could have remained hidden – had it not been for Jesus’ insistence on asking and his insistence on her speaking up.
Her situation sort of reminds me of the line in a Billy Joel song from, I don’t know, 25 maybe almost 30 years ago: And isn’t that a kind of madness To be living by a code of silence When you’ve really got a lot to say.
Secrecy is seldom wholesome, and Jesus would not be a party to the destructive dishonesty that is both the root and result of secrecy in so many human relationships.
And so she fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. She said what needed to be said; and In response Jesus promised her liberation from her suffering and told her to “Go in peace.”
In a little while, we too will be told to “Go in peace.” Jesus’ words were not meant to comfort just one woman who happened to have been afflicted with hemorrhages for 12 years and just happened one day to touch his clothes!
Jesus’ words are equally addressed to all of us today - whatever hidden or not-so-hidden burdens we bear, whatever sad (or not so sad) secrets define us - to do as she did, to take the chance that she took, and so experience in our own lives (in some instances, perhaps for the very first time) the coming of God’s kingdom – a kingdom of healing and honesty, and so begin to become ourselves active agents of God’s kingdom’s reconciliation and peace.
Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, July 1, 2012.