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The Healing of the Woman with an Issue of Blood
by Richard Chenevix Trench
Chapter 7 from The Miracles of our Lord
Matt 9:20-22;   Mark 5:25-34;   Luke 8:43-48
(see original text for extensive footnotes)
IN all three accounts which we have of this miracle it is mixed up with that other of the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and cuts that narrative in two. Such overflowing grace is in Him, the Prince of life, that as He is hastening to accomplish one work of power, He accomplishes another, as by the way. ‘His obiter,’ in Fuller’s words ‘is more to the purpose than our iter;’ His marergon, one might add, than our ergon. To the second and third Evangelists we owe the most distinctive features of this miracle. St. Matthew relates it so briefly, and passes over circumstances so material, that, had we not the parallel records, we should miss much of the instruction which it contains. But doubtless it was intended, if not by their human penman, yet by their Divine author, that the several Gospels should thus mutually complete one another. 

The Lord has consented to follow Jairus to his house, ‘and much people thronged Him and pressed Him,’ curious, no doubt, to witness what the issue would be, and whether He could indeed raise the dying or dead child, to which, thus going, He almost seemed pledged. And yet if it was thus with most, it was not so with all. Mingled with that crowd eager to behold some new thing, and to most eyes confounded with it, was ‘a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, and suffered many things of many physicians, and spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse.’  This woman, afflicted so long, who had suffered much from her disease, perhaps more from her physicians, all whose means had been wasted in the costly but vain quest of some cure, ‘when she heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched His garment; for she said, if I may touch but His clothes, I shall be whole.’ The faith of this poor sufferer was a most real faith; we have the Lord’s own testimony to this (‘thy faith hath saved thee’); while yet the manner in which Christ’s healing power presented itself to her as working, was not unmingled with error. It was a material conception which she formed of it. He healed, as she must have supposed, not by the power of His holy will, but rather by a magical influence and virtue which dwelt in Him, and which He diffused round about Him. If she could put herself in relation with this, she would obtain all that she desired.’ And she may have ‘touched the hem of His garment’ (cf. Mark vi. 34), not merely as its extremest part, and therefore that which she, timidly drawing near, could most easily reach, but as attributing a peculiar sanctity to it. For this hem, or blue fringe on the borders of the garment, was put there by divine command, and was to remind the Jewish wearer of the special relation to God in which he stood (Num. xv. 37-40; Deut. xxii. 12). Those, therefore, who would fain persuade the world that they desired never to have this out of their remembrance, were wont to make broad, or to ‘enlarge, the borders of their garments’ (Matt. xxiii. 5). But the faith of this woman, though thus imperfect in its form, and though it did not, like a triumphant flood-tide, bear her over the peculiar difficulties which beset her, a woman, coming to acknowledge a need such as hers, was yet in its essence most true. It obtained, therefore, what it sought; was the channel to her of the blessing which she desired. No sooner had she touched the hem of His robe than ‘she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.’  

The boon which she had gotten she would have carried away in secret, if she might. But this was not so to be. For ‘Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that virtue had gone out of Him, turned Him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes?’  The Evangelists employ language which in a measure falls in with the current of the woman’s thoughts; yet we cannot for an instant suppose that healing power went forth from the Lord without the full consent of His will,—that we have here, on His part, an unconscious or involuntary healing, any more than on another occasion, when we read that ‘the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for there went virtue out of Him, and healed them all’ (Luke vi. 19). For if power went forth from Him to heal, without reference on His part, to the spiritual condition of the person that was its subject, the ethical, which is ever the most important part of the miracle, would at once disappear. But He who saw Nathanael under the fig-tree (John i. 48), who ‘needed not that any should testify of man, for He knew what was in man’ (John ii. 25), must have known of this woman how sorely in her body she required His help, and how in her spirit she possessed that faith which was the one channel of communication between Him and any human need. Nor may his question, 'Who touched my clothes?’  be urged as implying that He was ignorant who had so done, and only obscurely apprehended that something had taken place. It was asked, as the sequel abundantly proves, with quite another purpose than this. Had she succeeded in carrying away that good which she had gotten in secret, it would have failed to be all that good to her which Christ intended that it should be. For this it was necessary that she should be drawn from her hiding-place, and compelled to avouch both what she had sought, and what had found, of help and healing from Him. With as little force can it be urged that it would have been inconsistent with absolute truth for the Lord to profess ignorance, and to ask the question which He did ask, if all the while He perfectly knew what He thus seemed implicitly to say that He did not know. A father among his children, and demanding, Who committed this fault? himself conscious, even while he asks, but at the same time willing to bring the culprit to a free confession, and so to put him in a pardonable state, can he be said in any way to violate the laws of the highest truth?  The same offence might be found in Elisha’s ‘Whence comest thou, Gehazi? (2 Kin. v. 25) when his heart went with his servant all the way that he had gone; and even in the question of God Himself to Adam, ‘ Where art thou?’ (Gen. iii. 9), and to Cain, ‘Where is Abel thy brother?’ (Gen. iv. 9). In every case there is a moral purpose in the question,—an opportunity given even at the latest moment for making good at least a part of the error by its unreserved confession, an opportunity which they whose examples have been here adduced, suffered to escape; but which this woman had grace given her to use. 

But this question itself, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ or, as it is in St. Luke, ‘Who touched Me?’ when indeed the whole multitude was rudely pressing upon and crowding round Him, may suggest, and has suggested, some profitable reflections. Out of that thronging multitude one only ‘touched’ with the touch of faith. She can scarcely have been the only sick and suffering one in all that multitude; there may very well have been others with complaints as inveterate as hers; but these, though as near or nearer in body, yet lacked that faith which would have been the connecting link between Christ’s power and their need; and thus they crowded upon Him, but did not so touch Rim that virtue should go forth from Him on them. It is evermore thus in His Church. Many throng Christ; His in name; near to Him; in actual contact with the sacraments and ordinances of His Church; yet not touching Him, because not drawing nigh in faith, not looking for, and therefore not obtaining, life and healing from Him, and through these.’ 

The disciples, and Peter as their spokesman, wonder at the question, and a certain sense of the unreason of it as it presents itself to them, breathes through their reply: ‘Thou seest the multitude thronging Thee, and sayest Thou, Who touched Me?’   He, however, reaffirms the fact, ‘Somebody has touched Me; for I perceive that virtue is gone out of Me.’ And now the woman, perceiving that any further attempt at concealment was useless, that to repeat the denial which she probably had made with the rest, for ‘all denied’ (Luke viii. 45), would profit her nothing; unable, too, to escape His searching glance, for ‘He looked round about to see her,’ (Mark v. 32) ‘came trembling, and falling down before Him, she declared unto Him,’ and this ‘before all the people, for what cause she had touched Him, and how she was healed immediately’ Olshausen traces very beautifully the grace which reigns in this miracle, and in the order of the circumstances of it. This woman would have borne away a maimed blessing, hardly a blessing at all, had she been suffered to bear it away in secret and unacknowledged, and without being brought into any personal communication with her Healer.  She hoped to remain in concealment out of a shame, which, however natural, was untimely in this the crisis of her spiritual life; but this hope of hers is graciously defeated.  Her heavenly Healer draws her from the concealment she would have chosen; but even here, so far as possible, He spares her, for not before, but after she is healed, does He require the open confession from her lips.  She might have found it perhaps altogether too hard had He demanded this of her before; but, waiting till the cure is accomplished, He helps her through the narrow way. Altogether spare her this painful passage He could not, for it pertained to her birth into the new life.’ 

And now He dismisses her with words of gracious encouragement: ‘Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole’ (Luke vii. 50; xvii. 19; xviii. 42).  Her faith had made her whole, and Christ’s virtue had made her whole. Not otherwise we say that we are justified by faith, and justified by Christ; faith not being itself the blessing; but the organ by which the blessing is received; the right hand of the soul, which lays hold on Him and on his righteousness. “Go in peace; this is not merely, ‘Go with a blessing,’ but, ‘Enter into peace, as the future element in which thy life shall move ;—and be whole of thy plague,’—which promise was fulfilled to her; for ‘the woman was made whole from that hour.’ 

Theophylact traces a mystical meaning in this miracle. The complaint of this woman represents the ever-flowing fountain of sin; the physicians under whom she was nothing bettered, the world’s prophets and sages, who, with all their medicines, their systems and their philosophies, prevailed nothing to stanch that fountain of evil in man’s heart. To touch Christ’s garment is to believe in his Incarnation, wherein He, first touching us, enabled us also to touch Him: and on this that healing, which in all those other things had been vainly sought, follows at once. And if we keep in mind how her uncleanness separated her off as one impure, we shall have here an exact picture of the sinner, drawing nigh to the throne of grace, but out of the sense of his impurity not ‘with boldness,’ rather with fear and trembling, hardly knowing what there he shall expect; but who is welcomed there, and, all his carnal doubtings and questioniugs at once chidden and expelled, dismissed with the word of an abiding peace resting upon him.