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In Mark 5:25-34, we find a story that is familiar to many of us. Jesus is on His way to heal the dying daughter of a synagogue official named Jarius. There is a large crowd of people walking with Him. Everyone wants to get close to the Miracle Worker, and this mob isn’t giving Jesus much breathing room. Then along comes a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. This makes her unclean according to God’s Laws, and very unwelcome in a public gathering. She used to have money, but she spent it all on doctors and cures that didn’t work. Mark tells us that she “endured much at the hands of many physicians” only to have her condition worsen. This woman is desperate for healing and by now everyone knows that Jesus has the power to do the impossible. Sneaking up behind Jesus’ back, the woman reaches out to touch His cloak, saying to herself, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well” (Mk. 5:28). Her hunch is right, for the very moment she touches Jesus’ clothes, she feels an internal change in her body. She is healed.
Whenever we are studying a story in one of the four Gospel books, we need to check for repetition. In both Matthew 9 and Luke 8, we find briefer versions of this same story. Mark’s account provides the most details about the woman’s background, but Luke gives us the best description of Jesus’ reaction.
And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?” And while they were all denying it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.” But Jesus said, “Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me.” When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason 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.” (Lk. 8:45-48)
According to Luke’s account, the woman was hoping to sneak off unnoticed but Jesus made such a scene that she felt compelled to confess. Was Jesus really caught off guard by her touching Him? Of course not. He knew she was there and He knew what she wanted. Jesus is God. He only feigned ignorance in order to make her interact with Him face to face and describe to everyone what had happened so God would be glorified.
Now usually when someone covers this story, they will talk a lot about the woman’s medical condition, cultural customs, God’s gracious Character, and the power of faith. In this post, we’re not going to talk about any of these things. Instead, we’re going to consider an entirely different point—one which our three Gospel writers didn’t set out to teach us when they chose to include this account in their books.
In this story, a desperate woman treats Jesus like a magic charm. Instead of asking God for healing, she tries to steal some of His power. She intentionally sneaks up behind Jesus and touches just the outer layer of His clothes, hoping that He won’t notice. This is very much a grab-and-run kind of mission. As much as people like to gush over this woman as some model of faith for us all, in reality, her treatment of Jesus is downright lousy.
Now let’s consider what we know of this woman’s background. She’s had this miserable bleeding condition for twelve long years. It’s destroyed her life and put her in the poor house. It’s made her a social outcast. But Who is it that inflicted this woman with this problem in the first place? God, of course. Has she prayed for healing before now? Undoubtedly. We know she’s been doing everything in her power to try and find a cure for her ailment, yet God has been blocking her at every turn. Now, after twelve years of God refusing to give her what she wants, she tries to sneak up behind Him and take it by force. Hm. Should we really be admiring this woman?
If we were to put ourselves in this woman’s sandals, we’d no doubt act just as she did. Jesus was handing out instant cures all over the countryside and not looking any worse for wear. Have you ever been jealous of the way God is blessing other people around you? Have you ever sent up some whiny prayer about how He should get around to blessing you next because you are just as deserving as anyone else? We’ve all done our share of complaining and demanding. Yet just because we all start off as immature, selfish, greedy little brats doesn’t mean we should be content to stay there.
It’s important to think critically whenever we read the Bible. Don’t just nod your head in approval at the bleeding woman simply because Jesus was nice to her. God is gracious. Just because He is generous towards someone doesn’t mean He is promoting that person as a good example. The bleeding woman acted shadily. Instead of respecting Jesus enough to ask Him face to face if He was willing to heal her, she tried to steal power from Him. When she got what she wanted, she tried to sneak away without even saying thank you. It was only because Jesus drove conviction into her soul that she fell down at His feet and confessed what she had tried to do. After she confessed, He spoke kindly to her and let her go on her way. God is gracious, but He deserves to be treated far better than this.
When scary things happen to us Christians today, our first instinct is to start sending up the emergency prayers. Nothing turns our focus to God faster than some dire crisis. This is human, but it’s lousy. God does not enjoy being treated like a 9-1-1 dispatcher. He finds it insulting when we only come to Him when things are going badly. Now suppose He says “no” to our requests and refuses to give us what we want. Then suppose some other person comes along who is peddling a different kind of cure. Sure, some moral compromise is required, but it will definitely get us out of the spot we’re in. Do we take the bait? God is refusing to give us a miraculous save, but perhaps we can sneak around Him and get the same end result using shady means. We tell a few lies in court and the charges against us are dropped. We make up some phony hard luck stories to our creditors and get out of paying off our debts. When a famous healer comes to town who is blatantly using the power of God to promote himself and soaking in the glory for the things that God does through him, we dismiss God’s jealousy and go kiss up to the human. We figure if we can just get those holy hands to touch us, we can steal a taste of God’s power. When a kind witchdoctor offers to intercede with his gods for the healing of our dying loved one, we bring him into the hospital room and let him say his magical chants. We tell ourselves it doesn’t matter because we know all power comes from God. So long as we give Him the credit for giving us what we want, who cares how shady our methods were? God cares. He doesn’t like being disrespected. He doesn’t like it when His kids try to sneak around Him and steal blessings from Him. When we treat God like some automatic blessing dispenser who can be forced into blessing anyone who presses the right button, we are acting like the bleeding woman who thought that Jesus had no control over the power that was emanating from Him. His healing aura was so strong, that even His clothes were saturated with it, therefore all she had to do was touch them and she’d get an instant cure. This is hardly honoring, nor is it anywhere close to accurate. God is always in control of His power, and He is never forced to do anything that He doesn’t want to do.
Jesus knew the bleeding woman was treating Him like some magic charm instead of respecting Him for who He really was. This didn’t please Him, but He was gracious with her immaturity and blessed her anyway. He saw that she had some measure of respect for God in her heart, even though she had a lot of growing to do. Let’s be clear: we all treat God with far less respect than He deserves, and we’re all guilty of trying to manipulate Him in some way. It’s only because God is so gracious and generous that any of us survive long enough to grow past spiritual infancy. But while we certainly want to appreciate God’s kindness in giving us blessings we don’t deserve, we also want to be eager to improve. Trying to take what we want from God is wrong. We need to be willing to wait until He decides the time is right for us to have whatever it is we’re asking for. We also need to be willing to take “no” as a permanent answer.
In Gethsemane, Jesus gave us an excellent example of how we should respond to God when He refuses to give us our way. He shared His heart with His Father. He was honest about His dread of being crucified. He asked for what He wanted three times: to skip the whole nasty affair. But then He said, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” Jesus was willing to accept “no” for an answer, and that is the answer He received. Yahweh insisted that the cross happen. This was devastating news, yet Jesus put honoring His Father above all else and did what He was told. He is the One we need to be trying to imitate, not a woman who goes sneaking up behind God’s back to steal a miracle from Him.
As humans, we can easily identify with the bleeding woman’s actions, but sometimes it’s pretty tough to imagine being like Jesus. When things get desperate and we think we see an opportunity to force God’s hand, it’s pretty hard to resist the bait. Yet in reality, any such opportunity is merely an illusion. No one can steal anything from God. No one can manipulate Him. Some of us foolishly think we’ve figured out how to make God do what we want because we chanted the prayer of Jabez ad nauseam and then some good fortune happened to us. Or because we put extra money into the offering plate on Sunday and the very same week, we got a raise at work. Sometimes God intentionally makes two unrelated events happen close together in our lives as a test to see how well we are listening to His Spirit. It isn’t God who congratulates us for figuring out the secret to controlling Him—that’s our own egos talking and we’d be very foolish to listen to them. No one controls God. No one sneaks up on Him. No one steals from Him.
We mustn’t miss the important lessons that the bleeding woman teaches us. She gives us a good example of how NOT to treat God. Her faith in God is good. Her treating Jesus like a magic charm is not. Quite often the people we love to focus on in the Bible teach us both pleasant and not-so-pleasant lessons. We must guard against only listening to the good while ignoring the bad. Instead, we need to look at the whole truth. Abraham models both faith and faithlessness. Peter models bravery and cowardice. Solomon models great wisdom and great stupidity. The bleeding woman models both respect and disrespect for God. We need to pray as we read these stories, and ask the Holy Spirit to help us absorb all of the lessons He wants to teach us. Yes, we want to have a faith that pleases God. But we also want to treat Him with honor.