IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.
In the city of Caesarea Philippi, which lay at the base of Mount Hermon, the fourth-century Ecclesiastical Historian Eusebius writes that there was a site of pilgrimage which consisted of a home and two bronze statues which sat outside its gates. One statue was of a woman kneeling with her arms raised in supplication and the second was of a man, clothed in a double cloak, standing and facing the woman with one arm stretched out towards her. The woman was she who had an issue of blood as narrated in the Gospels and the man was Christ. Eusebius says that the statue bore the exact representation of Christ. Eusebius’ work is one of the earliest literary accounts to articulate the Christian veneration of images and of holy places sought out by Christians at which to pray and beseech their Savior, at the places where Heaven united with the earth, in the lands upon which he walked and taught and at the sites where miracles were performed. Today’s homily is about this miracle.
This account of the woman with the issue of blood is present in all the Synoptic Gospels and she is the first woman to come to Jesus in public. From the Gospel of Luke, which we have just heard, we learn that this woman had a constant flow of blood coming from her and despite seeking medical treatment, found no physician who could help her, and she spent all her livelihood trying to find help. When this story is recounted in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark, the authors add that this woman is aware that she need only touch Jesus’ clothes, or the hem of his garment, and she will be made well. Upon doing so, she was healed. Being aware that “virtue” (δύναμις) as the Gospel of Luke describes it, had gone out of him, Jesus turns to find out who had touched him and the woman, trembling, admits that it was she, after which, Jesus responds: “Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.”
I. The miracles performed by Jesus that are recorded in the Gospels are ones that are willed by Him whether they are requested of Him, (i.e. those possessed of a demon and requesting it, or others who have some infirmity or sickness and requesting healing, or for that of another) or whether He has sought someone out (i.e. the man born blind and the paralyzed man at the Bethesda pool), however, in this case it seems as though it is apart from His will and intention. Nonetheless, as He indicates at the end of his conversation, it is the woman’s faith in Him which has healed her of her infirmity.
II. This infirmity is stated simply as a “flow of blood” which has now lasted for twelve years, yet, because of this particular type of infirmity, she is continuously unclean, meaning that not only is everything she lies on or sits on is unclean, so is anyone who touches those objects, but also anyone who touches her is unclean as well as anyone she touches, the consequence being that those who are made unclean by her must wash their clothes and themselves while still being considered unclean until that evening (cf. Leviticus 15.19-31). If she was to abide by the Levitical laws then she could have no human contact, no touch of friendship or intimacy, no touch for consolation, no consoling shoulder to cry on, no warm embrace for joy, no firm hand held for compassion, only distance, and to be an exile, supposedly being cursed by God more so than any childless woman.
III. If we assume that this woman strictly followed the Law then with what agony of conscience she hides herself in the crowd which surrounds Christ bumping into them and also being bumped by them until she comes close enough to Christ to touch not his hand or foot but only the very edge of His garment. Unlike the lepers who are unclean and had to live amongst themselves with their visually obvious infirmity, this woman’s infirmity is hidden from view and therefore she could hide amongst the crowd although she knows she is unclean, she knows that she defiles everything she touches and yet she seeks out Christ if only to touch the hem of his garment.
Here, though, may those who reject icons and relics and holy objects take note: this woman touches only Christ’s garment, knowing in herself that this is enough to heal her, an inanimate object which has touched the Messiah she knows to have the power of God to heal her. Afterwards, the Apostle Paul’s handkerchief and apron would also heal (Acts 19.12), as well as the Apostle Peter’s shadow (Acts 5.15). These instances contribute to the reason why we venerate such objects, knowing that God not only works through prayers but also through inanimate objects which have become animated by the grace of God, by the uncreated energy of God. It is the presence of God the Son which gives power to inanimate objects which are lifeless and prone to decay, yet when the Son of God wills even the stones will cry out, and lifeless objects will exude healing properties for souls and bodies. However, if God does not open our eyes to see such things what are we to do, as St. Gregory of Tours noted regarding his initial doubts, “Because of the foolishness of my closed mind I was never motivated to believe these stories until that power which is at present being revealed reproved my slow-witted hesitation.”
IV. Not only was this woman unclean and in perpetual exile but she was also poor having spent her whole livelihood on physicians with the hope of finding healing for her malady yet found no confidence for her hope, being left with this persistent ailment and now in constant poverty. The Gospel of Mark describes her circumstances saying not only that the physicians were unable to help her but more so that she had suffered many things from various physicians with no improvement, and even grew worse. (cf. Mark 5.25)
V. Now, secretly and cunningly, she approaches the Savior, attempting to remain concealed, seeking only to touch His clothing and be healed and then leave, however, the Lord does not let her. Note also that she does not hesitate, and she does not doubt. There is no indication in the text that she believed that she would not be healed, therefore she approaches Him and touches His garment. Despite it afflicting her for twelve years, exiled from her community, banned from the synagogue, bereft of friends and family, she does not hesitate, and she does not doubt.
Knowing that “virtue” has gone out of him, Jesus seeks to find who has taken it. Trembling, the woman comes forward terrified and full of dread, however, Christ does not expose her to publicize Himself to the crowd; instead, He seeks to announce the faith of this broken, damaged, traumatized daughter of the King. As St Ephraim the Syrian poetically describes this scenario: “She drew near to his divinity and was healed by it, while his divinity drew near to her and was proclaimed by her.”
St. John Chrysostom says that the reason for drawing attention to the woman, instead of letting her silently leave, is three-fold:
- In the first place [Christ] puts an end to the woman’s fear, lest being pricked by her conscience, as having stolen the gift, she should abide in agony.
- In the second place, He sets her right, in respect of her thinking to be hid.
- Thirdly, He exhibits her faith to all, so as to provoke the rest also to emulation; and His staying of the fountains of her blood was no greater sign than He affords in signifying His knowledge of all things.
VI. The account concludes with Christ saying, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.” But then He adds one more sentence. To this woman, He does not say to not speak of this miracle, He does not say to go present herself to a priest and make the requisite offering; nor does He counsel her like one of our secular poets because He does not say:
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
No, He says: “Go in peace,” and only one other time does Christ say this, and it is to the woman who was “a sinner,” who washed His feet with her hair: “Go in peace.” Go in peace.
Go in peace, you who have been exiled by your community.
Go in peace, you who have been subjected to poverty.
Go in peace, you who have suffered with this infirm health all these years.
Go in peace, you who have been failed by all physicians.
Go in peace, you who make everything and everyone you touch unclean.
Go in peace, you who have persisted in unrelinquished faith.
Go in peace, you who have persevered in resolute hope.
Go in peace, you who know your Savior.
Go in peace.
THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF OUR HOLY FATHERS, LORD JESUS CHRIST OUR GOD, HAVE MERCY ON US.