Best of Daily Reflections: The Unclean Jesus Shows Compassion
"If a woman has a flow of blood for many days that is unrelated to her menstrual period, or if the blood continues beyond the normal period, she is ceremonially unclean. As during her menstrual period, the woman will be unclean as long as the discharge continues."
Once again, the laws of cleanness and uncleanness in Leviticus help us to understand with greater depth the shocking compassion of Jesus. Leviticus 15 focus on male and female bodily discharges, specifying how they make people unclean and how people can become clean again. In this context, we read: "If a woman has a flow of blood for many days . . . she is ceremonially unclean. As during her menstrual period, the woman will be unclean as long as the discharge continues." A woman in this condition of uncleanness would not be able to have physical contact with other people. If her condition were to continue for a long time, she would be effectively cut off from her family and her community. It's likely that she would not be married, and would desperately want to find a way to be healed.
With this background in mind, we turn to Mark 5:24-34. While on his way to heal the daughter of a synagogue leader, Jesus found himself crowded by those who were following him. One of these people was a woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years. Ordinarily, she would have avoided crowds, in which she would make others unclean by bumping into them. But this woman was desperate. She had sought medical help, using up all of her financial resources, but had only gotten worse. When she heard about Jesus the healer, she determined to touch him, even though this action would make him ceremonially unclean, something a faithful Jew would never do to a holy man.
Trying to remain anonymous, the woman simply touched the hem of Jesus' robe. Immediately she was healed! But, much to her horror, Jesus sensed what had happened, and asked, "Who touched my robe?" (5:31). At first, trying to hide, finally the woman revealed herself to Jesus and explained what had happened. At this point she was trembling with fear, no doubt because she anticipated Jesus' anger at having been made unclean. Surely the crowd would join with Jesus in rebuking the woman. But, instead, Jesus said, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over" (5:34). Jesus did not appear to be upset that he had been made unclean. Rather, he affirmed the woman and her faith, offering her peace and the hope of a restored life.
The background of Leviticus 15 enables us to see, as we did yesterday, how the healing of Jesus includes more than physical restoration. By making the woman identify herself publicly, and then by accepting her and affirming her, Jesus was restoring this woman into fellowship with her people. By refusing to rebuke her for making him unclean, Jesus demonstrated that ritual uncleanness, established as part of the worship of the old covenant, is no longer operative in the kingdom of God. Rather, grace, compassion, restoration, and healing mark the presence of the Almighty who is here among us.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever come to the Lord with desperation like that of the woman in Mark 5. What happened to you? In what ways have you experienced the power of God's healing, cleansing, and restoration? How might you be able to share God's healing, cleansing, and restoration with others?
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, once again I thank you for the way Leviticus helps me to understand your ministry. I can see how your healing of the woman in Mark 5 was about far more than simply physical restoration.
In your willingness to become unclean so that others can be healed, I catch a glimpse of the amazing grace that will lead you to the cross. Thank you, Lord, for choosing to take upon yourself, not just our uncleanness, but even our sin, so that we might be made whole.
Help me, I pray, to be like you. May I extend your grace to all people, even to those from whom I would naturally back away. Give me your compassion, dear Lord, for those who bug me or even disgust me. May I not only allow them to touch me, but may I reach out to them with your love and grace. In your name I pray, Amen.