Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

The Woman Who Would Not Stop Bleeding

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Adapted from a Bible Study delivered by H.G. Bishop Youssef

There is a remarkable story of a woman whose physical disease resembles very closely a spiritual ailment we all feel at one point or another. It is of a woman (recorded in Mark 5) who one day found that she had a strange bleeding which was outside the boundaries of a woman's normal physiological routine. After the first shock of discovering the problem, she might have assumed that it would soon resolve itself, as we usually think of a new spiritual dilemma. But as the days and weeks and months rolled by, her body would not cure itself. Instead of her immune system performing an easy, automatic repair, she found herself feeling worse and worse; ulceration, pain, malaise, were all possible symptoms of this poor woman's condition, including an ever-diminishing store of energy due to the loss of oxygen that always follows an anemic state. The physical illness which seemed might last only a few days was drawn out into years of suffering.

So she did what any sensible person would do: she embarked on a quest to find the greatest physician or greatest healing technique that would rid her of her plight. The first physician she found doubtless expressed confidence that he understood perfectly well about her condition and had the potion or lotion she needed. After that failure, she sought others, one after the next, each time her hopes rising less and crashing down with ever heavier force. But who can blamer her? We repeat almost the exact same pattern in our spiritual struggles! We first turn to the easiest "solutions"—coping mechanisms. Drugs, alcohol, self-mutilation, denial, distraction with entertainment, and lazy surrender are all candidates for our "healing". But as each one fails, we turn to the next, until in the end we have no hope left. We exhaust our mental and emotional resources, as the woman exhausted her money, to find a way out.

And at the point at which she was about to throw up her hands and despair of life, a real turning point came: she "heard about Jesus". It is a touching phrase, symbolic of the first step into the light for a person who had been living in a dark cave for twelve years. She had probably heard about many of the ailments which the Lord Jesus had healed—blindness, deafness, paralysis, insanity. But one disease in particular gave her hope; Jesus had healed a man with leprosy. The uniqueness of her problem was the she was declared "unclean" by Jewish law due to her blood flow; and to her physical pains was added the piercing grief of social exclusion. It is likely that not even her "physicians" were not willing touch her, but rather treated her from a distance. But Jesus, she heard, in order to heal a leprous man "Then the Lord put out His hand and touched him" (Matthew 8:3). "Good heavens!" she must have thought, "such a unique physician must be capable of healing my unique disease."

She asked diligently where this Healer was teaching and rushed to meet him. Of course, to her dismay, she found a crowd of maybe 20,000 souls (as in the miracle of the loaves and fish) thronging Jesus, each wishing to capture a glimpse of the new Prophet from heaven. She came from behind and, with that particular faith that had lost all hope except in God alone, managed to touch the edge of his robe, and "Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction" (Mark 5:29). After twelve years, the bleeding is healed in a moment!

Jesus turned suddenly and asked an unusual question: "Who touched My clothes?" (Mark 5:31). If our Pope were to walk among a crowd of a hundred Copts all pressing to touch him, and he were to suddenly ask, "Oh, who just brushed my arm?" would not the accompanying bishops be at least mildly surprised? Now here was a mass of 20,000, and the perplexed disciples could only ask the question of why He asked that question. But He spoke for a reason; He knew what had happened. He desired that the woman would make a public testimony of her healing; and her story must have spread very quickly, for the next chapter reports that whenever He entered any village, city, or country, all the sick would beg Him "just to touch the hem of His garment" (Mark 6:56), and they who touched Him were rewarded with the same blessing the woman received.

Our Lord also desired a confession of faith from her, which is an integral part of the spiritual healing process in Christianity. The robe that covered our Lord's body symbolizes the priesthood who surround the Church (the clergy have been traditionally called "men of the cloth"). It is through their guidance, love and pastoral care that each one of us is to seek the healing for our spiritual illnesses. And the woman's story shows that confession is not meant to be an "embarrassment session" with the priest but rather a time to confess, to testify, to declare the loving-kindness of God in His forgiveness and generosity with me, the sinner. A person who tries to resolve his own spiritual problems without a spiritual father is like a lost sheep which tries to find its way back home without a shepherd and without a path to follow.

Our Lord's question reveals another thing. Although thousands came to see and hear Him, she alone came for a reason worthy of His notice. They came mainly out of curiosity, to see the new talk of the town, or maybe just for the social spectacle but she came to be healed. The numbers give us a startling fact: that when many gather in His name, only few come for a correct purpose, that is, only few are healed. A youth Holy Bible study may be packed wall to wall, but who is coming for the small talk and refreshments, and who is coming for the Lord Himself? This question is not an invitation to judge our neighbors in a group, but only to judge ourselves. Thousands surrounded our Lord, but only one received the strength that flowed from Him. The Lord turns no one away, but He grants special grace only to the few who put forth an exceptional effort to reach Him.

The woman came, "fearing and trembling" (Mark 5:33), and told the whole truth. These words do not refer to an emotional fright so much as to a feeling of awe and wonder. If a patient in a hospital who had suffered from cancer for twelve years had all his symptoms disappear in an instant of total healing just by touching a holy man, he would probably also feel tremors ripple through his body and his lips quiver as he attempts to thank his healer through his tears.

Our Lord Jesus always practices holistic healing: soul, mind, and body. He said to the woman, firstly, "Daughter, your faith has made you well" (Mark 5:34). Thus He heals her spiritually before He heals physically. A strong spirit will strengthen every other part of life. "Go in peace..." (Mark 5:34). With these words He restores to her mind—which has been racked with pain, confusion an guilt for twelve long years—the psychological balance and well-being that she has sought for so long. "...and be healed of your affliction" (Mark 5:34). Finally, the bodily healing she was seeking she received. After many years and many trials she found the only real path to total health is a personal encounter with Jesus, even it is just touching the hem of His garment. "Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you" (Luke 11:9).

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