Compassion and the Healing Ministry of Jesus
An anonymous woman, who had been suffering for 12 years, approached Jesus one day (Mark 5:25-34). Greek tradition has given her the name Bernice. Latin tradition calls her Veronica. Some even say this may have been Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, but that is pure speculation. Continue reading . . .
An anonymous woman, who had been suffering for 12 years, approached Jesus one day (Mark 5:25-34). Greek tradition has given her the name Bernice. Latin tradition calls her Veronica. Some even say this may have been Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, but that is pure speculation.
Let’s take a moment and think about this lady and what she had endured.
This woman’s predicament is almost unimaginable in terms of the pain she suffered on a variety of levels. And by the way, there is a reason why I’m going to describe this in such graphic detail. So be patient.
There is first of all the physical dimension of her suffering. How can we even begin to understand or identify with her anguish; the daily discomfort over 12 years; the inconvenience of her incessant bleeding.
Then there is the relational suffering she endured. This is such a personal and private matter that would have been indescribably embarrassing for her in the first century. Her world wasn’t the one we live in where virtually every bodily function known to man is openly discussed on TV and products designed to cure every imaginable sexual dysfunction or other physical problem are unashamedly described. Simply put, she was humiliated by her condition.
Third, we are told here of the financial devastation this condition had created. To put it in contemporary terms, she had no health insurance coverage; no family to bail her out; no government on which to rely to pay her bills; no local charities. She had been examined and treated by every doctor in the community; had traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and to Johns Hopkins in Maryland. Nothing worked. She didn’t have a dime.
(There were 11 treatments for this affliction mentioned in the Talmud: carry the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen bag in the summer and in a cotton bag in the winter [she attempts to board a plane and security asks to look into her purse: “What’s this?” “Oh nothing, just the ashes of an ostrich egg!”]; drink wine mixed with a powder made from rubber [“What a nice Cabernet. Would you mind grinding up some rubber and mixing it in?”]. If that sounds odd, get this: another remedy is that she carry with her a kernel of barleycorn found in the dung of a white female donkey!)
Fourth there was the religious and spiritual suffering she endured. Her affliction rendered her ceremonially unclean. She couldn’t attend synagogue. She couldn’t participate in any of the religious services that occupied everyone else in Israel. To put it in contemporary terms, she would not be allowed in a church building or at a small group meeting.
Add on top of all this, fifthly, the social depths of her pain, that is to say, this woman would have been treated like the leper described in Mark 1. No dinner invitations, no birthday parties, no conversation over coffee at Starbucks. She was an outcast and probably for the 12 years of her suffering had never experienced the physical touch of another human being lest she render them ceremonially unclean.
It doesn’t stop there. A sixth dimension to her suffering was psychological. The damage done to her mental and psychological state of being is beyond words. Try to envision how something like this would have affected you.
A seventh factor to consider is the emotional devastation she endured. She undoubtedly felt ashamed and guilty. She was most likely told by many that her disease was the result of her sin. She undoubtedly bore a heavy burden of self-condemnation and contempt and false guilt and paralyzing shame.
So why have I gone into such detail about her condition? It certainly isn’t because I enjoy thinking about things like this. I only tell you this to point out that in spite of it all, she still had faith! She still had faith! She hadn’t lost her confidence in God or his goodness! I would have. I’m being honest. Twelve years of this kind of agony at so many levels, I think I would have told God to take a hike. But not this woman. I’m sure her disappointment was profound. With each failed attempt by physicians and friends and religious leaders to help her, the disappointment intensified. But evidently it never led to disillusionment. She was in all likelihood profoundly broken in countless ways, but her brokenness never became an excuse for bitterness. Yes, she was devastated, repeatedly, but never so intensely that she quit. She never quit.
She hadn’t lost her sensitivity either. Notice that she came up behind him in the crowd, hoping to touch his garment without being noticed. She obviously didn’t want to embarrass him or to render him ceremonially unclean (neither of which, of course, was even possible). But such was her gentleness and respect for Jesus. [By the way, Jewish men wore woolen tassels sewn onto the four corners of their outer cloak (Num. 15:37-41). This is what she touched.]
Some have accused her of being superstitious in thinking to herself, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well” (v. 28). But Jesus calls this faith! News had undoubtedly spread that healing power came out of Jesus by merely touching him (see Mark 3:10).
Several things are important to note here:
First, because of her physical contact with Jesus, she “felt” in her body that she had been healed. Not always, but often when the Spirit touches someone you can feel it. There’s nothing weird or bizarre about this.
Second, Jesus himself felt “power had gone out from him” (v. 30). This “power” is the Holy Spirit! Virtually always in the gospels, especially in Luke, power = Holy Spirit. Jesus healed people through the power and presence of the Spirit with whom he had been filled. Not by his own divine nature or power, but through the Spirit!
Third, Jesus “felt” this in his body. Notice: the Holy Spirit present in Jesus goes out of Jesus’ body and into the body of another and both feel or perceive it! Magic? No.
Fourth, Jesus’ question strikes the disciples as silly. “What do you mean ‘who touched you?’ Everyone touched you! The crowds are pressing in and grabbing at you from all sides!” But Jesus knows the difference between “touching” and “touching”! He knows the difference between the mindset of those who are seeking him for a thrill or for a show and those who are desperate and humble and who’ve put all their hope in him alone. Not everyone who touched Jesus was healed or helped. He was later seized by Roman soldiers, but nothing like this happened to them!
Fifth, the poor woman was paralyzed with fear (v. 33). Maybe it was fear that if she didn’t own up to what she’d done she might lose her healing. Perhaps it was fear that Jesus would publicly rebuke her and embarrass her. Perhaps it was fear over the consequences of having rendered him ceremonially unclean.
Sixth, our Lord’s response is beautiful, and again highlights his compassion. In Matthew’s version Jesus says, “take courage” or “take heart” (9:22). Here in Mark he addresses her with the tender term, “Daughter” (v. 34). Jesus doesn’t reveal her affliction publicly. He doesn’t expose her to ridicule. He blesses her: “go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
Bring up the name of Jesus in mixed company, if you dare, and ask them: “What is the most impressive characteristic he displayed?” My guess is that most would appeal to his supernatural capacity to perform miracles. They might even point to stories such as the stilling of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Others might argue that his wisdom and insight as displayed in his teaching is the most impressive thing about him. Some might point to his authority and the way he challenged, rebuked, and put to shame the religious leaders and legalists of his day.
But I would hold fast in my conviction that the most impressive characteristic about Jesus was his compassion. By compassion I don’t mean that sort of spineless tolerance that refuses to make moral judgments or to call out sin and evil when it is necessary. The compassion of Jesus isn’t the sort that ignores heresy or refuses to speak the truth because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.
The compassion of Jesus that I have in mind is the sort we see in Mark 1 where Jesus dares to do what no one in the ancient world would ever have done: he actually touched a leper, and in doing so made him clean! The compassion of Jesus is the sort we see in Mark 5:1-20 where Jesus refuses to be repulsed or offended by a naked maniac who cut himself with sharp stones and screamed incessantly because of the demonic torment he endured.
["Compassion" (splanchna; splanchnizomai) = lit., inward parts, entrails, bowels (heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, intestines; also used of the sexual organs, but especially of the womb). It came to be applied to one's deepest feelings, inward emotions, passions, etc.]
This compassion of Jesus, his most impressive feature, the most stirring and life-changing of all that might be said about his personality, at least in my opinion, is once again on display in a truly remarkable way here in Mark 5:25-34.
Know this: Jesus isn’t any less compassionate today than he was in the first century. The fact that he no longer walks the earth with human beings as he did then doesn’t mean he feels any differently about their hurts, their struggles, their disappointments. Just because Jesus has died, has risen, and is now glorified at the right hand of the Father doesn’t mean he has changed in his heart or attitude about you and me.
Sadly, when most people are elevated and promoted and praised, they tend to lose sight of people they regard as beneath them. The compassion and love they once felt are often diminished and replaced by the expectation that now everyone should look to them and their needs. Not Jesus. Yes, he is glorified. No, he is no longer exposed to the humiliation and scorn of people as he was when he was alive on the earth. But none of this has changed this simple and glorious truth: he cares deeply and passionately and profoundly for you and your ultimate spiritual and physical welfare.