The mural fills an entire wall of the Encounter Chapel, which is built on the first-century stone floor of the marketplace at Magdala by the Sea of Galilee. In it, sandals crowd the floor and linen robes brush against the legs and ankles of the men who throng around Jesus. He is a man on a mission, on his way to heal a dying girl.
Through the legs and robes stretches a hand. It is a woman’s hand, worn by age and care. And where it touches the fringe of the Lord’s garment, at the very center of the painting, a pulse of light unites them.
All three synoptic gospels tell the story of this woman, whose faith saves her from a bleeding condition that has plagued her for a dozen years. Mark tells us she “had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” (5:26). The nature of her illness makes her ceremonially unclean. She can’t enter the women’s court of the Temple or appear in public without letting people know she’s unclean – so imagine her lonely despair!
But then she heard about Jesus.
Getting to him through a crowd would not be easy. Luke draws attention to her fear: she came up behind Jesus (8:44); she tried to escape notice (8:47). I picture her cloaked and veiled, pushing through the crowd, hoping no one recognizes her. She should not be there! But she makes a final thrust forward, reaching for the hem of his garment because it is the safest place to touch without contaminating him.
The result is electric. “Immediately” she feels herself healed. “Immediately” Jesus feels the release of healing power. “Who touched me?” he asks, and the incredulous disciples laugh. Everyone is touching everyone; there’s no way not to in the crush of this crowd. But Jesus seeks the woman out. He draws her from the shadows, has her reveal her secret. The shame of it! That everyone should know she might have touched them. But instead of condemnation, freedom. “Daughter,” he calls her. It is the love of the Father, revealed through the Son. “Your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34).
We don’t hear about this woman again, but her faith reaches out immediately to touch and strengthen someone else who needs it: Jairus, whose daughter dies while Jesus lingers. There are so many parallels and contrasts between the two stories, we’re compelled to read them together:
- Two “daughters,” one ill 12 years and the other alive 12 years.
- One reaches out to touch Jesus; the other needs the hand of Jesus to be healed.
- Both times, someone whose body would defile others does not defile Jesus, but his life floods into them.
“Do not fear, only believe,” Jesus tells Jairus (Mark 5:36) — who has just witnessed her fear transformed to joy.
Back in the Encounter Chapel, I kneel where Jesus may have walked. In my mind I see the crowd disperse, following the Lord to Jairus’ house. The woman stays behind, alone again but this time, because she chooses it. She hugs her shawl around her shoulders, trying to take in the miracle. Her face fills with joy and slowly she starts to dance.
“LISTEN TO HIM”
Spend some time meditating on this story in Mark 5:22-43:
READ Mark’s account of the woman healed and the girl restored to life several times. Pray before you read, and ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart to hear the Lord speak to you through his word. What stands out to you? Say it out loud, or write it down.
REFLECT: Now read the passage again. What else do you notice? Meditate on whatever draws your attention. Ask the Lord to speak into your life. What do you hear?
RESPOND: Allow your meditation to turn to prayer: respond to God.
REST in the awareness of God’s love for you.
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Learn more about the Encounter Chapel and the recent excavations at Magdala at www.Magdala.org. Copies of the mural pictured above are available from their shop.
You might also be interested in this reflection on the same mural that I wrote for the summer book club blog of W.I.N.E.: Women in the New Evangelization: God Doesn’t Do Aloof
© 2016 Sarah Christmyer
Don’t miss “Walk in Her Sandals,” now available from Ave Maria Press, W.I.N.E.: Women in the New Evangelization or Amazon.com. (Read my post about it here)