The Sensitivity of Jesus
February 17, 1991
This is how Luke tells the story:
As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing around you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
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. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
This story captured the heart and soul and imagination of the early church. It was told and retold so often that it eventually found its way into three of the four gospels. Over the generations a large tradition arose around this story, including the name of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. In the Greek church her name was Bernice; in the Coptic and Latin church it was Veronica. Eusebius says that she was a Gentile from Caesarea Philippi and that when she returned home after her healing, she erected a statue of Jesus in her front yard. All these things amount to interesting speculation, but none of them are verifiable. They do, however, point out the hold this story had on the first-century church.
What we really have here is a miracle within a miracle. In all three accounts (Matthew 9, Mark 5, Luke 8) this miracle takes place within the context of the raising of Jairus’ daughter. It happened like this. One day as Jesus was teaching in one of the villages along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, a man named Jairus came begging Jesus to come to his house and heal his 12 year old daughter who was desperately sick. As Jesus began to walk with Jairus toward his house, hundreds of people begin to press in upon him, many of them no doubt hoping for their own cure, many others listening to his every word, still others attracted by all the commotion.
If you have ever been to the Holy Land, you know how narrow and crowded the streets are. In some places you can almost reach out and touch the buildings on both sides of the street. So we know the scene must have been chaotic and confusing–Jairus on one side of Jesus tugging at his sleeve–”Hurry, Lord, my daughter is dying”–the disciples forming a moving wave like bodyguards for a rock star, hundreds of eager people pushing, milling, shouting, stretching out their arms to touch him as he passes by. Meanwhile, totally unnoticed, a frail, stooped, sickly woman pushes her way through the throng. Her face is partially covered so no one will recognize her. Her arms are thin, her hands shake as she stretches them toward Jesus. Now she is only a few feet away. Now he is passing right by her. No one notices as she reaches out to touch the blue and white tassel on the corner of his cloak.
AN ISSUE OF BLOOD
The Bible is not very specific about her problem and the translators handle it in different ways. The King James Version says she had “an issue of blood” for 12 years. The modern translations speak of a hemorrhage of blood. Most commentators agree it was some kind of chronic uterine bleeding. Whether continually or periodic, it was not normal and in those days, there was no cure for that condition.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Leviticus 15:25-27 contained certain regulations for women with an uncontrollable flow of blood. It basically says that such women are to be considered unclean and defiled as long as the flow of blood continues. Furthermore, anyone who touched such a woman would themselves become unclean and defiled.
In a practical sense, this meant that this poor woman had become an outcast in her own village. G. Campbell Morgan describes her situation:
By the law of Moses this woman was not allowed to touch any human being, and no human being was allowed to touch her. The law demanded that a woman suffering in this way should be segregated… . For twelve years this woman had been excommunicated from the Temple and from the synagogue, form every religious place of assembly… . (She was) divorced from her husband, shut out from her family, ostracized by society, and treated as a pariah. (The Gospel According to Luke, p. 115)
She had endured incurable illness, social isolation, constant pain, financial poverty and personal humiliation. It is hard to imagine a more pitiful situation. In the words of one writer, she had been among the”living dead” for twelve long years. Now at last, Jesus has come to her village.
In Mark’s version of this story, he includes one detail that Luke omits. Mark 5:26 notes that this woman “had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” Why do you think Luke left that detail out? Probably because he was a physician and he didn’t want to make his own profession look bad!
Actually, that verse doesn’t imply that the doctors back then were all quacks. What it means is that they simply didn’t have any effective treatments for this kind of chronic hemorrhaging. As a matter of fact, the Talmud lists several “cures” for this problem: 1. Drinking a goblet of wine containing a powder composed of rubber, alum and garden crocuses. 2. Eating Persian onions cooked in wine administered with the words “Arise out of your flow of blood.” 3. Carrying the ash of an ostrich egg in a certain cloth. With “cures” like that, it’s no wonder this woman was not getting any better.
It’s also no surprise that she had been to many doctors and had spent all her money. The Mishnah (the Jewish oral commentary on the law) contains this frank opinion on doctors by one Rabbi Judah: “Ass-drivers are most of them wicked, camel-drivers are most of them proper folk, sailors are most of them saintly, but the best among physicians are destined for Hell.”
The doctors simply could not help her. For 12 years she had suffered from this “issue of blood.” Her prognosis was grim. Without a miracle, there was no hope.
TOUCHING THE TASSEL
Now at last Jesus has come to her village. The word spreads like wildfire–”He’s here.” “Who’s here?” “Jesus, that man from Nazareth who heals the sick. He just came to town and Jairus is talking to him.” With that, this poor woman makes the decision that somehow, some way she must get through to see Jesus. If only she could touch him.
Perhaps there was a bit of superstition in her faith. Perhaps she thought there was some kind of “magic” in his clothing. Who knows? In her mind, she thinks, “If only I can reach out and touch the hem of his garment, perhaps that will be enough.” In truth, her faith was immature and incomplete. And yes, it is mixed with a kind of folk magic. But it was enough to make her risk public rejection. It was enough to make her reach out with a sickly hand to the Son of God.
But there’s something else at work here. She did not speak to him because she was embarrassed and ashamed of her condition. After 12 years of public humiliation, she wouldn’t risk exposure and the taunts of the crowd. She thought to simply touch him, receive her healing and then slip away unnoticed. After so many years, she was used to coping with life that way.
Now she reaches out and touches Jesus. The old versions speak of “the hem of his garment.” That’s certainly an acceptable translation, but the Greek word probably refers to one of the four tassels all Jewish men wore on their outer garments. Numbers 15:37-41 specified that tassels must be sewn on the four corners of the cloak and each must contain a blue thread. The tassels were visual reminders to obey God’s commandments. No matter the design of the cloak, at least one of the tassels would always hang from the back of the wearer. It was this tassel that the woman touched as Jesus walked by.
The text is very clear on what happened when she touched the tassel. Two different words are used. She was immediately (vs. 44) and instantly (vs. 47) healed. The text even specifies that at the moment she touched the tassel, the bleeding stopped.
It was a vast miracle. Jesus is going the other direction, Jairus tugging and talking and crying all at the same time. Meanwhile, the crowd is so tightly packed in the narrow alleyway that you could hardly breathe, much less move. The disciples are trying to do crowd control, but they are swept along with the flow. No one sees this wretched woman off to the side, no one notices as she elbows her way to the center, no one pays attention as she reaches out her hand, no one speaks to her and she speaks to no one.
Here comes Jesus! Even he does not notice this woman. As he passes by, her hand brushes his tassel. Something like an electrical shock moves from her fingers through her hand, up her arm and into every part of her body. Only it is not an electrical shock, but the infusion of some mighty power with which she was not familiar. And in less time than it takes to tell it, her weary arteries, her shrunken veins, her diseased organs, her withered muscles, her shattered nerves were filled with health and life and strength. The disastrous decay of twelve years is instantly halted and then reversed.
She is well again! Healthy again! Whole again!
She turns to go, not ungrateful–no, not at all–but fearful lest she call attention to herself and respectful of the greater work Jesus must do. She must not bother him. With a smile on her face, the first real smile in a long, long time, she turns to go home.
“WHO TOUCHED ME?”
But just at that moment, Jesus stops, turns and surveying the crowd asks, “Who touched me?” It seemed to Peter and the other disciples like an absurd question. Hundreds of people milling around and he wants to know who touched him? Everybody was touching him. There were so many people crowded around Jesus it could have been anyone. Besides, what difference does it make? A touch is a touch is a touch.
But that’s not true. In the gospels there are three kinds of touches. First, there is the touch of hostility. That’s the touch of the religious leaders when they beat him at his trial. Second, there is the touch of curiosity. That’s the touch of the crowd milling around. Third, there is there is the touch of faith. That’s the touch of this poor woman. If the disciples couldn’t tell the difference, no matter, Jesus could. He knew that someone had touched him in faith. He felt the faith in the passing brush of her fingers on his tassel.
Please note that he did not ask the question for his own benefit. He knew before he turned who had touched him. He’s the Son of God, after all. He asked not for his sake, but for her sake and for the sake of the crowd.
He asked for her sake so that he could raise the level of her faith. If she went away without a further word, she might actually believe there was some magic power in his clothing. He wanted to assure her that it was her faith in him that made the difference. Furthermore, he wanted her to know that the healing would be permanent. Finally, he wanted to establish a personal relationship with her. To do all those things, she needed to identify herself to Jesus and to the crowd.
He also asked “Who touched me?” for the sake of the crowd. So that Jairus would know what Jesus could do. So that the curious onlookers would see his power fully displayed. And perhaps most importantly, he wanted the crowd to know that he wasn’t ashamed to be touched by the untouchable.
This woman had taken a real chance by touching Jesus. According to the law, her touch could make Jesus unclean. But because he was the Son of God, his power of healing overcame her uncleanness. But she did not know that when she touched him.
What a crucial point this is. Our Lord Jesus was not ashamed to be touched by the untouchable and he was not embarrassed to be publicly identified with the outcasts of this world. He was at home with publicans and sinners, he ate supper with gluttons and drunkards, he welcomed the prostitutes, he touched the lepers and, in this story, he is not ashamed to be touched by an unclean person.
Not ashamed? No, not at all. Delighted, I think, and glad to identify himself with her. Delighted that she had the courage to reach out and glad that he could heal her. And he didn’t care who knew about it. No, that’s not strong enough. He wanted the whole crowd to know what he had done.
Why is this so important? Because with our Lord there are no “untouchable” people. In Jesus’ eyes, everyone is touchable. Thank God, there are no hopeless cases with him.
AIDS COMES TO CALVARY
Do you know what happened here yesterday? Some of you do; most of you don’t. Yesterday we hosted the Midwest Conference on AIDS Ministry. Two hundred people came from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas and Missouri. They came to learn how they can minister to people suffering with AIDS. By our best estimate, at least 30 of those attending the conference actually had the disease.
I was asked to give a brief greeting and prayer at the beginning. I told them that a year ago we never would have dreamed of holding a conference on AIDS ministry at Calvary. That’s quite literally true. It was no part of our plans. But in the last twelve months God intervened and changed our agenda.
It occurred to me that a year ago I had never consciously spoken to someone with AIDS. But God sent someone with AIDS to Calvary and in the last year I have learned how to hug a friend with AIDS and say, “Brother, I love you. And I’m going to stand with you all the way to the end.”
It’s not easy because that doesn’t come natural to me. Mercy is not my spiritual gift. I’m still learning what compassion is all about. I’ve learned a lot from many people here at Calvary who know a lot more about it than I do.
I think God has been teaching many of us about compassion and caring in the last few months. We’re not there yet, we’re in process, and I suppose we’ll always be learning and growing in this area. But I’m so proud of our church for hosting this conference. That’s the direction we need to go in the future–Being unashamed to identify ourselves with those the world calls “untouchable.”
Yesterday, a woman stood up in one of the workshops and told an unbelievably sad story. She’s an evangelical Christian from Saint Louis. She had been attending one of the largest and best churches in that city. A year ago she was raped and contracted AIDS as a result. Now her church has rejected her. One Sunday morning she arrived early, sat down and began to pray. A fine young family sat down next to her–the wife, two children and the husband. When he saw her, he said, “Get up. We can’t sit here.” His wife said, “What’s wrong? These seats are just fine.” He said, “Just get up. We can’t sit here.” Then he pointed at the girl and said, “She’s got AIDS.’
Great God in heaven! What does it mean to be a Christian church if we only welcome the lovely, the clean, the pure and the safe? How can we even call ourselves Christian if we refuse to welcome people because they don’t meet up to our standard of cleanliness?
That’s not how Jesus lived his life. He wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed to eat with sinners, to embrace the shameful, to consort with the unclean and to touch the untouchable. It didn’t bother him that some people were bothered by his lifestyle. He just went ahead and loved everyone who crossed his path.
Let us not talk about following in his steps or walking where Jesus walked until we are willing to do what he did and identify ourselves with the untouchables of this world.
“POWER HAS GONE OUT OF ME”
But I must warn you in advance that it’s easier to say these things than it is to do them. It will cost you dearly. If you do what Jesus did, what happened to him will happen to you.
Notice his words. “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” These strange words mean at least this much: That Jesus was conscious of God’s power flowing out from him into the body of the woman who touched his garment. Power that had been his passed from him to her. It resulted in her healing, but the power had to go out from him first.
There is a universal truth here. If you follow Jesus and get involved with the needy people of this world, you will be conscious of power flowing out from your life as well. By definition those in need lack the strength necessary to face the challenges of life. The only way they can get strength or power is from those who have more than they do. Ministering to such people means that power or strength or virtue will flow out from your life to theirs. It will cost you something that you will not easily replace–the very strength of your own life.
Many years ago T. DeWitt Talmage said it this way: “There is no addition of help to others, without the subtraction of power from ourselves.” Then he elaborated:
Now if omnipotence cannot help others without depletion, how can we ever expect to bless the world without self-sacrifice? A man who gives to some Christian object until he feels it, a man who in his occupation or profession overworks that he may educate his children, a man who on Sunday night goes home, all his nervous energy wrung out by active service in Church, or Sabbath-school, or city evangelization, has imitated Christ, and the strength has gone out of him. A mother who robs herself of sleep in behalf of a sick child, a wife who bears up cheerfully under domestic misfortune that she may encourage her husband in the combat against disaster, a woman who by hard saving, and earnest prayer, and good counsel, wisely given, and many years devoted to rearing her family for God and usefulness and heaven, and who has nothing to show for it but premature gray hairs, and a profusion of deep wrinkles, is like Christ, and strength has gone out of her. (Sermons by T. DeWitt Talmage, pp. 142-143)
This truth explains something that many people have puzzled over. When Jesus was finally crucified, why did he die so quickly? The Romans assumed that when they crucified someone it would take 24-48 hours for that person to die. But Jesus died after only six hours on the cross. Why? Was it not because he had spent his life giving himself for others and when he finally came to the end, he had given and given and given, and from a human point of view, he had given all that he had? May that not be at least part of the explanation? Sometimes we say (in a sentimental way), “He died of a broken heart.” There is at least this much truth in that statement: When he died, he was exhausted from giving himself for others.
If you follow Jesus, the same thing will happen to you. You will give and give and the power will go out from you. You can help people, but it will cost you something. Not just time, not just energy, not just money, but your very life. Strength will go out from you into the lives of the people you help. They will grow stronger; you will grow weaker. In the end, like Jesus, you too will be exhausted. You may not live as long as you would like. But when you die, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you lived your life for others and that the strength that has gone out from you has not been wasted on the trivial pursuits of this world.
“GO IN PEACE”
Our little story is almost ended. When Jesus asks, “Who touched me?”, the woman knows he is talking about her. Luke says that she came trembling and fell at Jesus’ feet. Then she publicly declared what Jesus had done for her and how she had been instantly healed. I imagine there was clapping and cheering all around and Jairus saying, “That’s good. Now come on, Jesus, my little girl needs you.”
But before they go on, Jesus looks at her and says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” The word for “daughter” is unusual. It’s the only time the gospels record Jesus using this particular word. It’s a term of affectionate endearment, something like “Maiden” or “Little girl” or even “Sweetheart.” Then he said, “Go in peace,” or literally “Go into peace,” meaning “Go from this place and walk in good health. You are healed forever of your disease.”
TWO ENDURING PICTURES
Before we close the book on this story, we ought to focus on two enduring pictures that remain from this story. They are images of Jesus and of this woman that encourage us along the way.
1. The Sensitivity of Jesus. A few days ago I heard on the radio that Playboy magazine has said that the ideal man of the 90s will be the sensitive, caring man who isn’t afraid to show his feelings. They also said that the selfish bachelor of the 80s is out. Well, they should know about these things.
But I’ll tell you something that Playboy magazine doesn’t know and wouldn’t find out in a thousand years. The most sensitive man in all history is Jesus Christ. No one ever cared about people like he did. No one ever gave of himself like he did. No one ever felt the pain of others like he did. He is–and was–and always will be–the most truly sensitive man to ever walk the face of the earth.
As he walked down a crowded street, hundreds of hands reached out to him. Yet he felt the thin, sickly hand of faith. He felt it! He felt her touch … He stopped … He turned … He spoke to her.
He was not offended or angry at her. Nor was he too busy or too tired to bother with her. Think of it. He whom all the forces of Hell could not stop was diverted by the touch of a sickly hand! This woman did by her touch what Satan himself could not do. She stopped Jesus in his tracks.
And he spoke to her as if she were the only person in the crowd. When he turned, it was just Jesus and her. No one else mattered.
He loves you as if there was only one person in all the universe to love. He hears you as if you were the only one speaking to him. He attends to your needs as if yours were the only needs in all the universe. What a Christ!
All that touches you touches him. If it is pain, then he feels the pain. If it is sorrow, then he feels the sorrow. If it is rejection, then he feels the rejection. If it is loss, then he feels the loss. If it is failure, then he feels the failure. Whatever it is that hurts you, he feels it. If it touches you, it touches him.
That’s what the writer to the Hebrews meant when he said, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” (4:15) Thank God it is so. If it hurts us, it hurts him.
I do not preach to you a stolid, uncaring Christ. Nor do I preach to you a preoccupied Christ who is too busy to notice your problems. Thank God, we do not have an unemotional Christ who runs the universe like some high-powered businessman. No, I preach to you a sensitive Jesus who as the hymnwriter says, “feels our deepest woe.”
2. The Power of Feeble Faith. This story reveals to us a second picture. In this poor woman we see the amazing power of feeble faith. She didn’t have a huge amount of faith and what she had was partially misdirected. But she had a mustard seed and through it, God moved the mountain of her illness.
This story means that we don’t have to agonize over the “correct” way to come to God. You don’t have to worry about crossing all your “t’s” or dotting all your “i’s”. You don’t have to know the Bible before you come to God and you don’t have to have a degree in theology. You don’t even have to be a member of a church. Those things are good, but they aren’t the main thing. If you come to Jesus Christ in simple faith–even though your faith be as feeble as this woman’s was–he will not turn you away.
Do you ever feel as if your problems keep you from coming to God? Do you ever feel so dirty and unclean that you think Jesus would not have anything to do with you? Do not despair. Jesus is not offended by your problems. He’s seen it all before. I say it again. He will not turn you away.
How simple it is to come to Christ! Only a touch and this woman is healed. Not by her toiling, not by her promises to do better, not by an offer to do something for Jesus if he would do something for her. No deals here. She reached out a trembling hand and in an instant, she was healed. It’s not even a long process. It happened so fast that it could only be called a miracle.
That’s what feeble faith can do. Coming to Christ is not difficult. The hardest part is reaching out with the hand of faith. If you want to touch Jesus, all you have to do is reach out to him.
“CAN I BE A CHRISTIAN?”
A few weeks ago I received a very unusual letter. It came from an international student who has been attending Calvary for a short time. This is what she said:
Dear Dr. Ray Pritchard,
I have come to your church about two months, and I like (it) there a lot. I began to read the Bible by myself, and I want to be a Christian. However, I don’t know how I can be a Christian. I want to talk to you about it, but I am a little shy, so I write to you. Can I be a Christian? Would you tell me how I am able to be a Christian?
I am looking forward to hearing from you. Thank you very much.
(I”m sorry, my writing is not too good.)
How do you answer a letter like that? Even though she is just learning English, you can sense the deep desire of her heart coming through those simple words.
This is part of my reply to her:
You asked, “Can I be a Christian?” The answer is Yes. You can be a Christian. The most important thing I can say to you is that being a Christian means having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
How do you get to know Jesus Christ personally? There must be a desire in your heart, which there already is. And you are already reading the Bible, which is God’s message to you about Jesus Christ. So the good news is that you are not far from being a Christian right now!
In order to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you must trust him as your Savior. Does that sound strange? I hope not. Already you know much about Jesus. You know that he worked many miracles and helped many people. But the most important thing to know about Jesus is that he died on the cross for your sins. That is, when he died on the cross 2,000 years ago, he took your place. You should have died there. But he died in your place, as your substitute, and by his death he paid the price for all your sins.
That’s a lot to think about, and you don’t have to fully understand it (no one fully understands it), but you do have to believe it. That’s what trusting is. It’s believing, really believing in your heart that something is true. Trusting is what you do when you get on an airplane. You trust your life to the fact that the airplane will safely take you up in the air and then safely get you back to the ground again. That’s trust. It’s staking your life upon something you believe to be true.
Trusting Jesus Christ means staking your life upon the fact that when he died on the cross, he really did pay the price for your sins and he really did take your place.
So, do you believe that Jesus Christ died for you? Are you wiling to stake your life upon that fact? If you are ready to say Yes, then you can be a Christian.
Let me give you a simple prayer to pray. This prayer is not magic. You should only pray it if it expresses the real feeling of your heart. But if it does, then you can pray this prayer:
Dear Lord, Jesus,
Thank you for dying on the cross for me. Thank you for taking all my sin away. I believe you are the Son of God and the Savior of the world. I gladly take you as my Savior. Come into my life and make me a Christian. Please help me to live a life that will be pleasing to you. Thank you for hearing this prayer. Amen.
That’s simple, isn’t it? If you will pray that prayer and mean it from your heart, you can become a Christian right now. I hope you will just stop right now and pray that prayer to God.
Did you pray that prayer? I hope so. If you did, I would be honored if you would tell me so. On Sunday, if you do not feel too shy about it, you can just come up to me and say, “Pastor Ray, I prayed that prayer.” I would be so happy if you would do that.
I put that letter in the mail and wondered how my friend would receive it. Would it make sense? Would she understand it?
The very next Sunday she came up to me after the second service and said with a shy smile that she had gotten my letter. I asked her if she had read it. She said yes. I asked her if she had prayed the prayer. She said yes. I asked if she understood what the prayer meant. She said yes. I asked if the prayer expressed the desire of her heart. She said yes.
Then I said, “Welcome. You are now a Christian.” She said, “That’s all I have to do be a Christian?” When I said yes, the most beautiful smile I have ever seen lit across her face from one side to the other.
REACH OUT AND TOUCH HIM
That’s the power of feeble faith when it is directed toward the right object. You don’t have to have strong faith. You can have weak faith so long as it is resting upon a strong object. And who could be stronger than Jesus Christ himself?
How simple it is to come to Christ! Just a touch, that’s all it takes. If you have the strength to stretch out your hand to him, his mighty power will flow into your life. Just a touch and Jesus himself will enter your life.