A SUFFERER’S LAST HOPE
Now there was a woman who was suffering from a haemorrhage which had lasted for twelve years. She had gone through many things at the hands of many doctors; she had spent everything she had; and it had not helped her at all. Indeed she rather got worse and worse. When she heard the stories about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd, and she touched his robe, for she said, “If I touch even his clothes I will be cured.” And immediately the fountain of her blood was staunched, and she knew in her body that she was healed from her scourge.
The woman in this story suffered from a trouble which was very common and very hard to deal with. The Talmud itself gives no fewer than eleven cures for such a trouble. Some of them are tonics and astringents; but some of them are sheer superstitions like carrying the ashes of an ostrich-egg in a linen rag in summer and a cotton rag in winter; or carrying a barley corn which had been found in the dung of a white she-ass. No doubt this poor woman had tried even these desperate remedies. The trouble was that not only did this affect a woman’s health, it also rendered her continuously unclean and shut her off from the worship of God and the fellowship of her friends (Lev.15:25-27).
Mark here has a gentle jibe at the doctors. She had tried them all and had suffered much and had spent everything she had, and the result was that she was worse instead of better. Jewish literature is interesting on the subject of doctors. “I used to go to the physicians,” says one person, “to be healed, and the more they anointed me with their medicaments, the more my eyes were blinded by the films, until they were totally blinded.” (Tob.2:10.) There is a passage in the Mishnah, which is the written summary of the traditional law, which is talking about the trades that a man may teach his son.” Rabbi Judah says: `Ass-drivers are most of them wicked, camel-drivers are most of them proper folk, sailors are most of them saintly, the best among physicians is destined for Gehenna, and the most seemly among butchers is a partner of Amalek’.” But, fortunately and justly, there are voices on the other side. One of the greatest of all tributes to doctors is in The Book of Sirach (one of the apocryphal books written in the time between the Old and the New Testaments) in Sir.38:1-15.
“Cultivate the physician in accordance with the need of him, For him also hath God ordained. It is from God that the physician getteth wisdom, And from the king he receiveth gifts.
“The skill of the physician lifteth up his head, And he may stand before nobles. God hath created medicines out of the earth, And let not a discerning man reject them.
“By means of them the physician assuageth pain, And likewise the apothecary prepareth an ointment: That his work may not cease, Nor health from the face of the earth.
“And to the physician also give a place; Nor should he be far away for of him there is need. For there is a time when successful help is in his power; For he also maketh supplication to God, To make his diagnosis successful, And the treatment that it may promote recovery.”
The physicians had had no success with the treatment of this woman’s case, and she had heard of Jesus. But she had this problem–her trouble was an embarrassing thing; to go in the crowd and to state it openly was something she could not face; and so she decided to try to touch Jesus in secret. Every devout Jew wore an outer robe with four tassels on it, one at each corner. These tassels were worn in obedience to the command in Num.15:38-40, and they were to signify to others, and to remind the man himself, that the wearer was a member of the chosen people of God. They were the badge of a devout Jew. It was one of these tassels that the woman slipped through the crowd and touched; and, having touched it, she was thrilled to find herself cured.
Here was a woman who came to Jesus as a last resort; having tried every other cure that the world had to offer she finally tried him. Many and many a man has come to seek the help of Jesus when he himself was at his wits’ end. He may have battled with temptation until he could fight no longer and stretched out a hand, crying, “Lord, save me! I perish!” He may have struggled on with some exhausting task until he reached the breaking-point and then cried out for a strength which was not his strength. He may have laboured to attain the goodness which haunted him, only to see it recede ever farther away, until he was utterly frustrated. No man should need to be driven to Christ by the force of circumstances, and yet many come that way; and, even if it is thus we come, he will never send us empty away.
“When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”
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