The Hem of His Garment

Three of the four Gospels recount the story of a woman who was healed of a bleeding disorder by touching the hem of Jesus’s garment. You can find the accounts in Matthew 9:20–22, Mark 5:25–34, and Luke 8:43–48. During medieval times, tradition first identified the woman as Saint Veronica, who used her veil to wipe the face of Jesus as he carried his cross to Calvary. The connection is immediately clear: cured of her bleeding, she is now tending to her bleeding Saviour.

We are not told of the nature of her bleeding, only that it had been going on for twelve years. According to Mosaic law, her bleeding would have meant that she was considered ceremonially unclean. She would have been banned from the temple and shunned by others, even her husband and children. If they were to touch her they would also be made unclean. She would have been unable to touch any objects they touched, and would be forbidden to prepare their meals.

She was utterly isolated and desperate on that fateful day she found herself in the crowd pressing toward Jesus.

The crowd surrounding Jesus made moving forward very difficult, but even in her weakened condition she was somehow able to get close to Him. Being in such a close crowd meant that she came into physical contact with many people, so it is safe to assume she hid her condition.

Matthew and Luke specifically say that she touched the “fringes” of the cloak Jesus wore. According to the custom of the day, these fringes were tassels on each corner. As she reached for the corner of His cloak (also known as the wings) she fulfilled Malachi 4:2, “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings.” Perhaps she was familiar with the prophesy, and, believing that Jesus was the Messiah, she knew that touching the “wings” would make her whole. This was not an isolated incident — Matthew 14:34-36 tells of a mass healing at Gennesaret, where all who touched the edges of Jesus’s garment were healed.

This woman had tried many doctors, without success. Perhaps she had depleted her resources and Jesus was her last hope, just as He is ours. Although she had nothing to offer Him, her faith was all He required. Her blood — her life — was flowing out of her, but Jesus was her new life and He was flowing in.

With the crowd pressing in at Jesus from all sides, numerous people were touching Him at any moment. Yet their touches were unavoidable. Hers was intentional, and with faith. When she touched His clothing He instantly knew. Jesus didn’t need to ask who had touched Him, but he asked so that the woman would acknowledge her faith. It gave her a chance to strengthen her relationship with Him. Paul wrote in Romans 10:10 that “it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” By acknowledging her, and forcing her to acknowledge Him, her healing became not only physical, but spiritual as well.

Jewish law dictated that by touching His garment she made Him unclean. But instead, he made her clean. He gave her healing… He offered her acceptance… He called her “daughter”… He might have held her hand…maybe He even embraced her. He commended her for her strong faith. Her faith was so great that she didn’t need to see His face, speak to Him, or even have Him touch her. She believed that He didn’t even need to know what happened. She believed that she need only touch his cloak. She touched Him from behind, but He wanted to see her face-to-face. Just as He does with us.

In so many ways, we are like that pale, weak, bleeding woman in the crowd. We are also unclean, simply because we are susceptible to human frailties. Sin sometimes causes isolation. It isolates us from those we have wronged, and it isolates us from God.

We are never saved unintentionally. Just as this woman intentionally touched His garment, there must be an intentional accepting of the cleansing blood of Jesus as He washes away our sins

At those moments when we find ourselves hanging by a thread, it’s good to know that the thread from which we hang is on the hem of His garment.

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