09 May 2018

Curing a bleeder.

Wasn’t actually Jesus who cured her. It was the Holy Spirit.

Mark 5.25-34 • Matthew 9.20-22 • Luke 8.43-48

Smack in the middle of the story of curing Jair’s daughter, where Jesus was on the way to Jair’s house, a woman snuck up behind him, touched him, and the Holy Spirit cured her of an ailment.

I know; you thought Jesus cured her, right? But if you know the story already, you recall Jesus didn’t do a thing. Wasn’t his idea to cure her—and yet she got cured. People naïvely presume this is because Jesus was so charged with special healing power, anyone who touched him would get zapped. But that’s not how miracles work at all. Jesus did things by the power of the Holy Spirit, Ac 10.38 same as everybody. She was cured because somebody chose to cure her—and that’d be the Holy Spirit.

Traditionally the woman’s been known as St. Veronica, even though her name never comes up in the bible. Doesn’t matter. Art and movies tend to depict her as an old woman; after all she had been suffering more than a decade. But Jesus called her thygátir/“daughter,” which means he was older than she. Possibly she’d suffered this illness all her life. Certainly all the life of the 12-year-old girl Jesus was planning to heal. But as a gyní/“woman” in Jesus’s culture, she was at least 13, she hadn’t suffered it all her life anyway.

We also don’t know what Veronica’s ailment was. Here’s the entirety of what the gospels say about it:

Mark 5.25-26 KWL
25 For 12 years, a woman had a bloodflow, 26 and had suffered greatly under many witch-doctors,
spending everything she had, and never improving. Instead she was much worse.
Matthew 9.20 KWL
Look: A woman suffering a 12-year bloodflow,
coming up behind them, grabbed the tassel of Jesus’s robe,
Luke 8.43 KWL
For 12 years, a woman who had a bloodflow, who all her life spent lavishly on witch-doctors,
wasn’t better, with no one to cure her.

Commentators speculate it might’ve been related to her menstrual cycle, though you notice they’ve no basis at all for saying so. But if it did begin at puberty, she would’ve been in her twenties when the Spirit cured her.

In any event her treatments had bled her dry as well. People in the United States are pretty familiar with the idea of healthcare emptying your bank account, so we can kinda relate. (Well, unless we’re rich.)

Other than asking God to cure her, Veronica’s only resort was yatrón, a word the KJV (and many current translations still) translate “physicians.” But remember: Nobody practiced the scientific method back then. These guys didn’t know jack squat about medicine. They practiced folk remedies, some of which were downright silly. Sometimes they assumed evil spirits were the problem (’cause hey, sometimes they were), and tried to take ’em out of you. Sometimes a gentile yatrós might even try to put one of those spirits in you, on the grounds it might cure you—and that was why so many unwell people also needed Jesus to perform an exorcism. But basically these guys were witch doctors, not physicians.

So all these quacks could do was take her money, promise they had a method which provided relief, but she’d get no usable results. Like Luke said, there was no one to cure her. So, same as most people of that day, she had no other recourse but God. And sometimes our doctors can’t treat us, or we don’t like how they treat us, so in desperation we try non-western medicine… which means we’ve resorted to the very same “physicians” Veronica tried out, who took her money but had nothing to show for it. Again, we can relate.

Ritually unclean—in her culture.

Preachers tend to imagine Veronica’s bloodflow caused suffering. After all, if it didn’t hurt, why keep going to the doctor?

But I should point out bleeding created a rather big side effect in Veronica’s culture: Bleeding, no matter the reason, as long as you bled, rendered a person ritually unclean. Lv 15.25 It was the LORD’s way of preventing people from bringing their diseases with them to religious festivals, and spreading ’em around the population. So for Veronica, it meant she wasn’t allowed to worship the LORD with her fellow Jews: She could neither go to temple nor synagogue.

Worse: Veronica wasn’t even allowed to touch anyone. Lv 15.26-27 ’Cause it’d turn them ritually unclean. And Pharisees tried to constantly stay ritually clean, and wouldn’t appreciate it. Her condition ostracized her from everyone in her own culture. Gentiles wouldn’t care, but she didn’t live with gentiles.

Our culture doesn’t always understand ritual cleanliness, and frequently confuse being unclean with being sinful. To be fair, the Pharisees had the bad habit of doing it too. But ritual cleanliness has nothing to do with sin. Anyone could become unclean. Even Jesus. Touch something or someone unclean, even accidentally, and you’re unclean. Fr’instance you’re in the marketplace and you bump into somebody who had sex her husband that morning. Or somebody who had to bury his dog. Or someone who swallowed a gnat. You don’t know. And Jesus regularly hung out with sinners.

Lots of Christians are bugged by the idea Jesus might’ve been ritually unclean at various times in his life. ’Cause like I said, we confuse uncleanliness with sin. Or we equate cleanliness with godliness. Either way we can’t imagine our Lord being unclean. Many Christians teach whenever Jesus touched an unclean person, he was so clean, he magically made them clean. But becoming ritually clean isn’t a magic act. And Jesus even said as much: When he cured lepers, he sent ’em to the priests, because they actually weren’t clean till the priests declared them so. Lv 13.13 Even after he cured that one leper by saying, “Be clean,” Mk 1.41 he still told the guy to go to the priest. Mk 1.44

Because Veronica’s disease made kept her out of synagogue—for 12 years—you can imagine how alienated this might make someone with God: She was suffering from an untreatable ailment which effectively banned her from her heavenly Father.

So it’s a good thing Rabbi Jesus didn’t only teach in synagogue, but out in public. That was probably her first contact with God in years. ’Cause Pharisees would ordinarily avoid such a woman like the plague—touching her meant they couldn’t go to synagogue till evening. Jesus had no such qualms. Maybe she knew this; maybe not. Either way she took her shot.

Now you can see why touching Jesus was a really big deal.

Grasping his tassel.

Christian art tends to put Jesus in a Roman-style outfit: White tunic, blue or red toga draped over him like a sash. It’s as historically inaccurate as putting him in a powdered wig and hose like George Washington, or a frock coat and stovepipe hat like Abraham Lincoln. Jesus wore a tunic, but over it was his imátion/“coat,” his outer garment. Thick or thin, depending on the weather; worn over one’s tunic, and under one’s belt.

Mark 5.27-28 KWL
27 Hearing of Jesus, joining the crowd behind him, she grabbed his robe,
28 saying this: “When I grab him—even his robe—I’ll be cured.”
Matthew 9.20-21 KWL
20 Look: A woman suffering a 12-year bloodflow,
coming up behind them, grabbed the tassel of Jesus’s robe,
21 for she told herself, “If I only touch his robe, I’ll be cured.”
Luke 8.44 KWL
Coming from behind, she grabbed the tassel of Jesus’s robe,
and the bloodflow immediately stopped.

In Matthew and Luke she grabbed the tzitzít/“tassel” of his coat. The KJV renders its Greek translation kraspédu as “hem,” the NIV as “edge,” and ESV as “fringe,” but all are attempting to describe what the LORD dictated the Hebrews put on their clothes to signify they’re his people.

Numbers 15.38-41 KWL
38 “Talk to Israel’s sons: Tell them to make tassels for themselves
for the ends of their clothes, for every generation.
They must put a blue cord on the corner tassel.
39 The tassel’s for you to see, and remember all the LORD’s rules,
so you may obey them and not go follow your hearts and eyes—and go whoring after them.
40 Then you remember and obey all my rules, and be holy to your God.
41 I’m your LORD God who brought you from Egypt’s land to be your God.
I’m your LORD God.”

In Jesus’s day, observant Jews wore the tassels: Pharisees, and of course Jesus. (Orthodox Jews today even wear tassels on their undies.) Wearing ’em meant you followed God. Or at least wanted everyone to think you followed God. You know, like people who wear crosses or carry rosaries. I’ve met many a Christian who wears Christian slogans on their clothing, get Christian tattoos, and have those stupid rubber wristbands with “WWJD” stamped on them. But other than those blatant markings, you really can’t tell the difference between them and pagans. Which is another rant.

The deal with tassels is they weren’t convenient. It’s really easy to get ’em frayed, dirty, and messy, and snag them on things, like the occasional bleeder.

Messianic Jews sometimes claim these fringes were part of Jesus’s tallít, or prayer shawl. Except Jesus didn’t wear one. (I don‘t care what the movie Jesus of Nazareth depicts; they got it wrong.) The Pharisees didn’t need ’em in Jesus’s day; all their clothes had built-in fringes. It was decades later, after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, when fewer and fewer Jews had fringes built into their daily clothes, and Pharisees felt a need for separate garment which always had a fringe built into it. Still, you’re gonna find some art nowadays that shows Jesus in a prayer shawl, praying with his head covered—exactly as Paul said the Jews of his day most definitely did not do. 1Co 11.4 Putting Jesus in a shawl isn’t any more accurate than putting him in a toga.

And Jesus felt that.

Like the gospels say, when Veronica touched Jesus, she was cured immediately. She knew it. And Jesus knew it.

Mark 5.29-33 KWL
29 Instantly her bloodflow dried up, and she knew her body was cured of its suffering.
30 And instantly Jesus recognized power had gone out from him.
Turning round to the crowd, he said, “Who grabbed my robe?”
31 His students told him, “You see this crowd swarming you, and you say, ‘Who touched me’?”
32 Jesus was looking round to see who’d done it,
33 and the woman, in fear and trembling, knowing what was done to her,
came and fell down before Jesus, and told him the whole truth.
Luke 8.44-47 KWL
44 Coming from behind, she grabbed the tassel of Jesus’s robe,
and the bloodflow immediately stopped.
45 Jesus said, “Who’s grabbing me?” But everyone denied it.
Simon Peter said, “Chief, the crowd surrounds you and is pushing in.”
46 Jesus said, “Someone grabbed me. For I know power came out of me.”
47 Seeing this, the woman didn’t hide. Trembling, she came and fell before Jesus.
She explained before all the people the reason she touched him, and how she was immediately cured.

Like I said earlier, Veronica wasn’t cured by a mindless healing power, but the person of the Holy Spirit, who decides on his own what he’s gonna do for people. Here, the Spirit chose to cure her—and contrary to what we’d expect, not tell Jesus about it. Our Lord had to figure out what the deal was by asking questions. Same as we sometimes have to do, ’cause the Spirit doesn’t always tell us what he’s up to either. Not for nothing did Jesus point out to Nicodemus the Spirit does as he wants. Jn 3.8

“Who grabbed my robe?”̦ sounded like a silly question to Jesus’s students. Who hadn’t grabbed his robe? But this is one of those instances where a prophet says something most people totally dismiss as irrelevant—and to the person the message is for, it triggers fear and trembling. After all, Veronica had told herself, “If I only touch his robe…” and it worked. Maybe she was hoping to go unnoticed—touch Jesus, get cured, and get out—but the Holy Spirit wasn’t having that.

I know; you thought Jesus and the Spirit worked a lot more in unison than that, huh? But they did work together. It’s not like Jesus would ever disapprove of what the Spirit did, nor vice-versa. It’s just the Spirit has his own will, saw Veronica’s faith, and chose to be gracious to her. Then have Jesus pick her out of the crowd because he wanted to highlight her faith. And like Jesus said, her faith cured her.

Mark 5.34 KWL
Jesus told her, “Daughter, your faith saved you.
Go in peace. Be free from your suffering.”
Matthew 9.22 KWL
Jesus turned at looked at her, saying, “Take courage, daughter: Your faith saved you!”
And the woman was cured at that very hour.
Luke 8.48 KWL
Jesus told her, “Daughter, your faith saved you! Go in peace.”

His phrasing has gotta annoy Calvinists a little, since they imagine any time a person gets saved it’s entirely the work and will of God. And yes, God does the entire work of saving. But what gets him to save us? Simple: He sees our faith. (Which they try to claim is a gift God gives us in the first place, and yes he does that to a point. Otherwise they’re confusing ordinary faith and supernatural faith.) Veronica had ordinary faith, so the Spirit saved her.

And Jesus felt it necessary to stop what he was doing—even though he was rushing to cure somebody!—and acknowledge what the Spirit had done. Which is what we often forget to do: The Spirit’s actions are profound and all that, but we’re on a timetable. Well, Jesus demonstrated how we properly acknowledge what the Spirit does: We stop, point it out, give credit where it’s due, and then continue with our schedule. And if that freaks people out because it means they’ll be late for Sunday brunch—or in this case, freak out a father whose daughter is dying!—so be it.

When the Spirit performs an act of grace, respond in grace. Not haste.