As Jesus went, the people pressed around him.
And there was a woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased.
And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.
And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”Luke 8:42-48
Luke tells the story of a woman with a chronic health issue. She has suffered for twelve long years. Luke points out that she spent everything on physicians — down to her last dime. She’s tried every cutting edge procedure, every miracle cure. But twelve years on, she has nothing to show for it but an empty bank account. Her pre-existing condition persists.
But at some point she hears about Jesus.
And she’s desperate.
Desperate people hear the story of Jesus as Good News.
Matthew gives us a key detail in his telling of the story. She said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well,” (Matthew 9:21). This is interesting because it flies in the face of the prevailing theological wisdom of her day. Jesus was a rabbi, a miracle worker, a holy man clean and pure. This woman occupies the other end of the spectrum: she would have been considered unclean, defiled, and presumably sinful. The prevailing wisdom of the day was that unclean things ought not mix with clean things. The idea was that the uncleanliness was the more powerful agent, a toxin whose defilement would overcome the cleanliness and contaminate it like dirt in water.
But again, this woman is desperate in heart. And when you’re desperate, you have less use for convention.
No doubt she’s heard all about this great teacher who also commands the winds and the waves, the one who casts out demons and gives sight to the blind and causes the lame to walk again. Jesus said that He came to preach Good News to the poor (Luke 4:18) and after spending all of her money on treatment, she certainly qualifies as a poor woman in need of good news.
And in her desperation, she turns to Jesus. Really, she has nothing more to lose.
“If I could just touch his garment, I would be healed.”
This is interesting for another reason. There is a Jewish idea that the Messiah would have the ability to heal through touch. This is based on Malachi 4:2, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” This was taken to mean that the Messiah would have healing “in his wings,” meaning that even the tassels of His clothing could produce wholeness. To touch even the hem of His robe was to be healed.
Against the purity-culture tradition of her own day and the belief in the overwhelming power of defilement, this woman reaches even further back to the wisdom of God as revealed through the prophets and the desperate hope for redemption. In so doing, she rejects the claim that her physical defilement will contaminate Jesus in any way. She embraces a counter-narrative based on the belief that the Messiah’s healing power trumps her chronic affliction. Rather than contaminating the Messiah, she trusts in His overwhelming power to heal. This is a thoroughly hopeful move and must have required a tremendous amount of faith on her part.
By touching the hem / wings of His garment, this woman makes a definitive statement of faith. She trusts that Jesus is the Messiah sent from God.
And Jesus says this faith has made her well.
The woman in Luke 8 was afflicted with something that only Jesus could heal. In this way, her story matches our own.
We are a desperate people, too.
We often find ourselves desperate for meaning and purpose in our lives. And yet, we’re quick to reject our Creator and His purposes. That leaves us to think that purpose is something we can determine for ourselves. And yet, this seems unsatisfactory. If we could truly find meaning and purpose for ourselves by ourselves, why are so many of us miserable and discontent? We like to play God until we realize that the part is too great for us — which only increases our sense of desperation.
Have you noticed the way people drive these days? I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but in my town, excessive speeding is out of control. Just this morning, the driver beside me ran a red light going 60MPH in a 45MPH zone, completely oblivious to the fact that other drivers had to brake to keep from hitting him. I’ve been thinking all morning: we drive as if there is no authority that controls how fast we should drive. But then again, we do this because we live the rest of our lives as if there’s no authority there as well. And yet, there seems to be some desperation there, as if deep down we know that this isn’t the best way to live.
We are desperate for intimacy, yet we consistently reject God’s instruction on sexual morality. These commands are designed to meet our desires in the context of the covenant commitment of marriage. This is the answer to our deep desperation to connect physically and emotionally and spiritually.
We are desperate for truth, and yet we’ve made our feelings the ultimate arbiter of truth. Nowadays, something is to be considered true simply on the basis of whether I feel it. Descartes’s “I think, therefore I am” has been replaced with “I feel, therefore I am.” People consistently look within themselves for truth and morality, following the Disney spirituality that tells us to simply follow our hearts.
We are desperate for hope, something to which we can cling, but we foolishly put our hope in all the wrong things, that which is temporary and fleeting rather than that which is eternal.
We’ve always been a desperate people, desperately in need of what only Jesus can provide. Jesus Himself says, “Apart from me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5). That’s because we are afflicted with something only Jesus can heal — sin.
The Good News declares that Jesus looks on us in our desperation and He responds with compassion. There is truly healing in His wings. Our Luke 8 woman was right; it’s not that our sin is so great that we can contaminate Him. No, this gives sin too much credit, too much power. Rather, His compassionate love overwhelms our infirmities and washes them away. No toxin of sin will ever withstand the cleansing agency of His blood. When we reach for Him in desperation, He brings total healing to our hearts and souls.
Are you desperate for Him?
Jesus has compassion for the desperate in heart.