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32. Touching the Hem of Jesus' Garment (Luke 8:40-48)
James J. Tissot, detail of 'The Woman with the Issue of Blood' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, New York.
Jesus and his disciples have returned to Galilee from the land of the Garasenes, but as their boat lands on the western shore of the lake, probably at Capernaum, a crowd is waiting. They have seen his boat from afar and have massed on the beach to welcome him.
"40 Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. 41 Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus' feet, pleading with him to come to his house 42 because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying. As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. 45 'Who touched me?' Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, 'Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.' 46 But Jesus said, 'Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.' 47 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. 48 Then he said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.' (Luke 8:40-48, NIV)
The Press of the Crowd (Luke 8:40-42)
Location of Capernaum (larger map)
We'll leave the mention of Jairus, the synagogue ruler, for now and consider him in the next lesson. But as Jesus heads for Jairus' house to heal his daughter, the crowd is especially thick. The NIV says "As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him" (8:42). The word translated "crushed" or "thronged" (KJV) is Greek sumpnigō, a hyperbolic expression for "crowd around, press upon," something like "almost crush."272 It is the same word used by the Gospel writers in the Parable of the Soils (8:14) to describe the thorns "choking" the wheat and making it unfruitful.
As Jesus moves toward Jairus' house, the streets are utterly jammed. I imagine it like the crowd moving out of a sports stadium at the end of the game, except that Capernaum's streets are not designed to handle these kinds of crowds. Jesus is able to push forward only with difficulty and progress is slow. Jairus at his side is ever-mindful that his daughter's life is slipping away every moment that is wasted.
The Woman with the Hemorrhage (Luke 8:43)
"And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her." (8:43)
Among the pushing, shoving, elbowing crowd this day is a pale woman. For twelve years she has suffered from uterine bleeding and she is weak. Mark records, "She 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" (Mark 5:26).
"On one leaf of the Talmud not less than eleven different remedies are proposed, of which at most only six can possibly be regarded as astringents or tonics, while the rest are merely the outcome of superstition, to which resort is had in the absence of knowledge."273
Even today, with all our medical skill, a hysterectomy is the only treatment that helps many women. But in her day, nothing was really effective.
Have you been sick for an extended period of time? Have you experienced the hopelessness of having physicians do all sorts of tests, put you through all sorts of treatments, charge huge medical bills, and leave you worse for all their doings? Occasionally, this lady's friends would tell her of some doctor they had heard of in another town. When she was younger, she might make the journey to consult with them, but no longer. She is broke and hopeless. Why go to a doctor when nothing helps? Her faith in doctors' remedies is long since gone. There is no hope for her.
But her problem is compounded by the way she is viewed by Jewish law -- as ceremonially unclean. Women were normally considered unclean during their period.
"When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. Whoever touches them will be unclean; he must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening." (Leviticus 15:25-27)
Anyone who knew about her illness would shun her. She couldn't go about in society and mingle in the marketplace with the other women, since a touch from her would make someone unclean. She couldn't attend ceremonial occasions, or synagogue worship. And so she resorts to secrecy. Probably she isn't even known in Capernaum. She comes incognito, her condition carefully concealed. But she comes with determination.
Elbowing Her Way to Touch the Master's Clothing (Luke 8:44)
"She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped." (Luke 8:44)
Word of Jesus' astounding acts of healing has spread all over Galilee, even to the village where this woman lives (Mark 5:27). And she determines to find him and be healed. When his boat is spotted coming towards shore, she is among the crowd waiting. When Jairus prostrates himself before Jesus begging for his daughter's life, she is not far away. And when Jesus begins to move through the crowd toward Jairus' house, she is not far behind.
To reach Jesus, she must push and shove and elbow her way between people when tiny openings occur. She is weak; her strength is drained, and yet she will not give up. She must reach Jesus, and so she continues to wedge her body through the crowd until she comes up behind him.
She has decided in her heart, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed" (Mark 5:28). She doesn't want to confront him in public. She is too ashamed to admit the nature of her illness, and perhaps even be rebuked for mingling with others in her unclean state. She must do this without revealing anything. But she must touch him. She must.
First Century Clothing
Typical clothing for a man in the first century seems pretty foreign to Westerners.
Tunic, the Chaluq, Kittuna, or colobium, a long, close-fitting tunic made of linen or wool and worn next to the skin. It had an opening for the neck and sometimes sleeves. It was worn long, perhaps to the ankles, and fastened with a girdle or belt of linen or leather around the waist or under the breast. We know that Jesus' garment was seamless (John 19:23).
Cloak, the Tallith or Goltha. This was a square garment that bore tassels at the corners in fulfillment of the commands in Numbers 15:38-39 and Deuteronomy 22:12 as a reminder to obey the laws of the Lord. The strands that made up the tassel probably included at least one of hyacinth (light violet to moderate purple) color and several strands of white. In Luke 8:44 the outer clothing is expressed by the Greek word himation, "cloak, robe."274
Head-gear, possibly a turban, or a covering for the head, back of the neck, and shoulders. There is some dispute about whether men wore these in Jesus' day, since there is no mention in the New Testament.
Sometimes Bible commentators refer to undergarments and outer garments, but the inner garments were not like our underwear that is worn invariably under our other clothing. In Jesus' day the tunic was visible under the cloak. It was more the "layered look" that was fashionable around the turn of the twenty-first century.
Where Luke records, "She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak" (8:44), the word translated "edge" is Greek kraspedon, "edge, border, hem" of a garment. But it can also refer to the "tassel" that Israelites wore on the four corners of the cloak.276 We're not exactly sure which is referred to in this verse.
The Touch that Taps into Jesus' Power (Luke 8:45-46)
Whichever the lady touched, the effect was powerful and immediate.
"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 against you.'
But Jesus said, 'Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.'" (8:45-46)
Mark says that immediately "she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease" (Mark 5:29). Jesus feels it too. Though the press of the crowds against him is jostling and bumping him constantly, their touch doesn't have any effect. But when the woman touches him, Jesus is suddenly aware of it: "I know that power has gone out from me" (8:46). The Greek word translated "power" (NIV) or "virtue" (KJV) is Greek dunamis, from which we get our English words "dynamo" and "dynamic," and means "power, might, strength, force."277
Jesus felt the flow of power out of him. I've had that experience on occasion when praying for individuals. Not always, but sometimes I have a sensation in my arm, and often this corresponds with God doing something specific in the person I have prayed for. Of course, whether I can feel God's power or not has nothing to do with its effectiveness. And whether it is a physical sense or spiritual sense or no sense at all depends upon how God is working through the person doing the praying. I'm just relating that sometimes it IS possible to sense God's power moving through us to another person.
The irony of this story is that dozens of people had been touching Jesus in these few minutes of moving towards Jairus' house, but only one had touched Jesus with faith that released saving power -- a sick but determined woman. It is quite possible to be in the immediate vicinity of Jesus without receiving his salvation through faith.
The Healing Power of Holy People and Holy Objects
Let's pause a moment. As a Protestant, I have trouble with physical objects being touched in order to receive healing. Perhaps the huge number of relics of the saints in Europe that prompted pilgrimages of the faithful and a kind of unchristian superstition are behind my unease. But, I have to admit that the New Testament does seem to give two or three cases of this sort of healing taking place:
- The hemorrhaging woman is healed by touching Jesus' cloak
- Peter's shadow is said to have healed those whom it touched as he passed by (Acts 5:15-16).
- Handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul brought healing (Acts 19:11-12).
I'm uncomfortable with all this because of our human tendency to worship and venerate people and objects who are not God. The Second Commandment is designed to prevent this:
"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God...." (Exodus 20:4-5).
But the subsequent history of Israel and of the Christian church indicate that people will readily offer to objects the worship due to God only. We have held Christian leaders endowed with spiritual power in such esteem that it can border on worship. We have sometimes allowed bones and grottos, statues and painted icons to draw to themselves the worship that should be directed toward God. Nor are we Protestants are exempt, for the veneration of the Bible and sale of paintings of Jesus is alive and well. Whereas the intent is for an aid to worship and faith, too easily objects can become the object of worship and faith. That is the danger.
The best explanation I've heard to put this all in perspective was offered by Oral Roberts, an Oklahoma healing evangelist whose heyday was in the 1940s through the 1960s. He healed in Jesus' name through the laying on of hands, sent anointed prayer cloths to his followers, and encouraged listeners to place their hands on the radio as a "point of contact" for people's faith. Now while this may seem hokey to you, God blessed and healed many people through his ministry. And I think he's right on this point. We sometimes need a physical "point of contact" that helps us exercise our faith in God. That is what the hem of Jesus' cloak was to the hemorrhaging woman. However, we must guard carefully against attributing to objects and persons the glory and power which is God's alone.
Your Faith Has Healed You (Luke 8:47-48)
"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.'" (8:47-48)
The unclean woman who has secretly pushed her way next to Jesus to touch his cloak has no place to hide. She is suddenly afraid and trembling. What will people say? What will the rabbi say when he finds out that an unclean woman has deliberately touched him? But she falls at Jesus feet and tells her story. She has no choice.
Why has Jesus' exposed her secret? Luke's account doesn't tell us, but I see two reasons:
- This is the first step in removing the terrible burden of uncleanness from the woman. Jesus accepts her. He isn't angry. He blesses her with God's peace. He tenderly calls her daughter. This both helps restore her own self-esteem, but also her standing in the community, if she is from Capernaum.
- Jesus is clarifying what had happened so that it wouldn't fall into the realm of magic and superstition. "Your faith had healed you," he acknowledges. Her faith surely wasn't in his clothing. It was in God's working through Jesus. The clothing didn't impart healing, he is saying, her faith in God has brought that about.
Pushing-Through Faith versus Propped Up Faith
When I think about this story, I am amazed by this woman's faith. It is a pushy faith. An elbow-my-way and don't-take-no-for-an-answer faith. It is a faith that doesn't quit. And I think that Jesus was pleased. Later in our study of Luke, we'll look at two parables Jesus told about prayer and faith. In both parables we see a bold, persistent faith that Jesus seeks in us:
- The Friend at Midnight (11:5-8) needed bread to feed his late-arriving guest, and kept knocking until the door was opened.
- The Unjust Judge (18:1-8) has probably taken bribes to influence him to cheat a widow out of her land, but he finally gives in because she won't quit demanding justice.
The disciples were to learn from this "that they should always pray and not give up" (18:1). "Ask and it will be given to you," Jesus is saying to us disciples. "Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened" (11:9-10).
In this lesson we're looking at the story of a determined woman whose pushy faith in Jesus brought her the salvation she sought. In the next lesson we'll consider the story of Jairus, whose faith in Jesus took a blow when reports reached him that his daughter had died. In his case, Jesus propped up his faith with the words, "Don't be afraid, just believe."
Jesus is seeking to produce in you and me the kind of faith that motivated the hemorrhaging woman to touch the hem of his garment. But if we aren't quite there yet, he is entirely willing to prop up and encourage our faith until it can grow some more.
Faith is often expressed in us at that raw, growing edge of life that is acquainted with fear but not overcome by it. Our woman has spent twelve years in sickness, embarrassment, and frustration. But she has pushed through. She has just been powerfully and instantly healed, and she is aware of the healing. The next moment Jesus stops, asks "Who touched me?" and she is trembling again. How true to life.
Dear child of God, Jesus loves you and is fully aware of the vulnerability of your faith. But he is encouraging you to take courage, put your fears aside, and "go for it." If you falter, he is by your side and he will help you. He is teaching you to trust in him. And he says to you, as he said to the sick woman who pushed through her fears, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go forward in peace."
Father, you are so patient with us. I pray that you would grow pushy, courageous faith in me today. I feel you with me. I am trusting you to nudge me back in the right direction if I get off the path in this faith journey I'm on. Bring me to the place where I will reach out for your promises with the same vigor as the sick woman in this story. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
"Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace." (Luke 8:48)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- What things did the lady in our story have going against her?
- Do you think she was superstitious about touching Jesus clothes? How would you assess the quality of her faith?
- Why did Jesus stop? Do you think there was an actual transfer or flow of power?
- Why do you think Jesus caused her the embarrassment of having to tell her story openly?
- Few people have had the gumption and nerve to push their way to Jesus the way this woman did. Why is this so? Why do many fail to receive answers to their prayers?
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.
 Sumpnigō, BAGD 779.
 Edersheim, Life and Times 1:620. He cites Shabb. 110a and b.
 Himation, BAGD 376.
 There is a detailed description in Edersheim, Life and Times 1:622-25. See also Leona Glidden Running, "Garments," ISBE 2:401-407. Also Madeleine S. and J. Lane Miller, Harper's Encyclopedia of Bible Life (Third Revised Edition; Harper & Row, 1978), p. 54.
 Kraspedon, BAGD 448.
 Dunamis, BAGD 207-208.
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