Today’s reading from the Gospel concerns one of Christ’s healings. The woman with the issue of blood is rightly famous. Much is made by some commentators of the fact that in Jewish law she would be ritually unclean. Indeed we still have traditions about blood in many parts of the Orthodox Church. It is the reason why women between puberty and the menopause do not enter the altar. It must also be said that a priest with an open cut would also not serve at the Liturgy, at least in some churches. In Antioch, however, these rules do not extend to women absenting themselves from Church after the birth of children or to not receiving Holy Communion during menstruation. The reason for this change is a recognition that the rules belong to the Old Covenant with no good reason for their extension into the New. Returning to the Gospel we can see how these blood taboos explain why the woman did not approach Christ directly. Contact with a ritually unclean person also made oneself unclean. It was necessary in some cases for a person to be certified clean; hence the story of the ten lepers being instructed to go to the priests for this certification.
We cannot ignore the profound physical and mental suffering this woman would have endured. I personally know a woman who suffered in this way for years. One can understand why she should have spent a lot of time and money fruitlessly on physicians (“all her livelihood” we are told).
So concentrating on the simple issue of her healing let us explore certain aspects of her condition.
It is interesting to consider that she needed only to touch Christ’s clothing. She was quite right in this, but it is a strange idea to some. We are used in the Orthodox Church to material things being used as vehicles of blessing; a way for God to help and bless us. Other traditions are less happy about this. Most spiritualising heresies make a false division between the “spiritual” and “material” aspects of our lives. Relics, icons, sprinkling with holy water, oil for anointing, all these they may dismiss as superstition or idolatry. We, however, rejoice in them as ways for God’s grace to reach and transform us. The Holy Spirit works through the material world and holy objects. We are also well aware that the physical world was entered by God the Son, taking on our humanity from His Mother who gave him birth, thereby showing that God was clearly active in the physical world. The Incarnation of Christ means that physical things are used by God to bless us.
Let’s look at something from daily life that may help us with this. If you take a handful of nails and a magnet, the magnet will draw a nail to itself. Moreover, a nail in contact with the magnet also acts as its own mini magnet lifting up other nails in a chain. This helps us to understand the power Christ exercised in His healing of the woman with the issue of blood, who in faith touched the hem of His garment. Even the clothes Christ wore became holy and a means of healing for others. Here is where the nails in our example can help us understand. Just as the nails become magnetised by contact with the magnet, we can also become icons of Christ by being in contact with Him in an attitude of faith. We have the Holy Spirit within us, and as such we can draw others to Christ by this power. This is a lot to live up to, and a challenge for us all, but the Holy Spirit empowers us for just such a challenge. As we receive blessings we can become a blessing to those around us. It is how the priesthood of all believers works, just like those magnetised nails join other nails to the magnet which is Christ.
Now, there is a further lesson to be learned in this story of healing. Christ was surrounded by people. St Peter puts it like this: “Master the multitudes throng and press you”. Yet, Christ knew He had been touched. He felt His power being used. This illustrates very powerfully the difference between approaching Christ with a purpose and merely being in a place where one might find Him. There is a difference, for example, in being in a Church building and being there to pray, and indeed praying purposefully rather than merely saying words without proper attention.
This woman’s actions and her prayer were done in faith, expecting and yearning for an answer. We need not just a faith that God exists but also faith in Him, in the sense that we need to trust Him to deal with things that concern us, in the same way that we might expect that a friend or a spouse to care. We need to trust Him. In fact as we reach out to Him He does come closer to us.
She was healed of course as a result of her faith but by God’s power as well and the generosity of His love. Christ said “Daughter be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.”
There is a final aspect to this. The healing was very important to the woman of course. But, was it so important? Imagine you are a doctor in a hospital faced with two patients. One is on the edge of death, the other has a chronic condition, but it is not life threatening. Which gets your attention? I suggest you would devote all your energy to getting to the person who might be dying, and ignore everything else. Now Christ was on the way to Jairus’ daughter who was dying. He did not; unlike a hard pressed hospital doctor ignore the woman who has been ill a long time. He dealt with her. As a matter of divine providence Jairus’ daughter was raised and it was a great example of Christ’s power even over death; but that is not the main point. God helps in all situations. If it is important to you, it is important to God.
This ought to be no surprise. God loves us, and loves us perfectly. We ought not to fall into a trap of thinking things are too trivial or too personal to bother God with in our prayers. God loves us all. I was greatly encouraged by the recent meeting of the Holy Synod of Antioch. One could have understood if they had simply dealt with very pressing issues in the Middle East, and Syria especially. Yet, Christ-like, they also found time to deal with the pastoral care of ourselves in Europe and these islands especially. They did not even take the easy option of just appointing a new Archbishop for the whole continent, rather they considered carefully and we are to have an Archbishop for the British Isles and Ireland. I thank God for the blessings to come as a result of this.
On a personal note a great deal of my prayer of late has involved issues about my house involving a combination of leaking water and, potentially, dry rot in a floor. I am happy to report a positive answer to prayer. God really does care for us.
So God uses the material world and us as Christians in a way to reach out and bless both us and those around us. We need to be open and to trust Him. He loves us and deals with all the matters that concern us. What should we do to respond? The answer is found in today’s apostle reading from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 9 verse 7 onwards-
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” 10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
This section is often quoted about money, and money is included, but in fact it covers more than that. As God blesses us, as He gives us so much love, we need to be cheerful and generous in OUR use of time, energy, talents and money. We need to trust God with everything. In doing that we show forth Christ, and we truly draw people to Him.
In short let us demonstrate the love of God in our lives. May we all be blessed in this and so be a blessing to others.