Years ago we were returning from a trip, sailing along the turnpike to music on the radio. As we approached a mountain tunnel, we took off our shades and flicked on the headlights. The moment our car slipped into the darkness, the music abruptly stopped and the “seek” feature went berserk.
Station numbers flashed wildly at lightning speed, one after another, as the radio attempted to salvage its lost connection.
There are times, like now, when this is an apt metaphor for my life. Am I the only one less certain these days of my footing in this rapidly morphing culture, a bit seasick from everything happening in our country and around the world?
I rifle daily through TV news and social media, like our car radio in the tunnel, trying to latch onto something that clarifies, enlightens, inspires, anchors. Often I am left exasperated and empty, unable to dial down the noise, lift my despair, turn from the powerfully addictive screen light, or recognize the numb, depressive haze that comes over me when I feed on it for too long.
Every now and then, something special bursts through.
I was getting ready to take a grieving friend to lunch a few weeks ago, and I happened to check her Facebook page when her cover photo stopped me so hard in my tracks, I inexplicably burst into tears.
Some will recognize this painting as the biblical story of The Hemorrhaging Woman, and I will admit that part of what arrested me was that she is black, unlike all the white depictions of her I’ve seen in movies and print. It pierced me deeply to think how I take for granted all the heroes and heroines I’ve grown up with that have skin color like mine, and how non-whites need to see the same. (Thank you, Black Art Depot, for being the first place I landed where I could identify the painting and buy a print.)
If Lady Liberty is a symbol of our country’s freedom and democracy, then The Hemorrhaging Woman – whose name is not recorded and who could be of any skin color – should be in the running for the symbol of our pain and suffering.
We have an incredibly beautiful, great and strong nation. But we are also hemorrhaging from grief, fear, and racism both blatant and so subtle that even caring white folk can barely see it in themselves. We are bleeding from divisiveness and a host of disorienting sins and inequities only God can truly name and judge. How do we stop the bleeding? What signal do we lock onto to keep our bearings?
This woman gives us a clue.
She had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. In her day, menstruating women were considered “unclean” and were socially isolated. With such chronic bleeding, there are no words to describe what she must have been going through. Her body and spirit were most certainly emaciated and anemic. To grind her further into the ground, repeated doctor visits drained her of all the money she had. Nothing helped. She got worse.
Enter Jesus, wildly trending at the time as a healer of the sick. Who, in her condition, wouldn’t summon up every bit of spare energy to find him? She doesn’t dare think herself worthy enough to ask him to heal her. Just touching the hem of his garment will do it, she tells herself.
Jesus has just come from delivering a tortured man of a herd of pigs’ worth of demons. Now he’s on his way, at the request of a synagogue official named Jairus, to heal the man’s dying daughter when all of this happens. Large crowds have attached to him and are pressing him on all sides.
This woman sees the swarming mob with him at the center coming toward her, and her heart beats wildly as she strategizes. She can do this quickly, just touch his garment from behind, without making a big scene. But there are so many people, so many garments! How will she be sure she’s touched his? But here he comes, and she can’t overthink it. She crouches low to the ground, and with a mighty surge of her body, she stretches and makes contact with the hem of his cloak.
She knows immediately that her flow of blood has stopped. But she can’t just steal quietly away with this wondrous, personal miracle. Instead, she causes a startling transfer of divine power.
“Who touched my garments?” Jesus stops and asks, which is a seemingly ludicrous thing to say since everyone is pressing against him. But he knows the power has gone out of him in a particular way, and he wants to know who caused it.
His celebrity eyes lock on hers and she knows she’s screwed. She has caused the scene she didn’t want to, made community headlines: Unclean Woman Has Gall to Touch Popular Healer! Her face flushes and she trembles wildly with fear as she pours out her story, breathlessly and apologetically.
Jesus turns her world upside down – which really lifts her right side up – and calls her “Daughter.”
He tells her her faith has made her well, and to go in peace and enjoy life again as a healthy person.
While he is telling her this, folks back at the house of the dying girl rush to tell Jairus it’s no use for Jesus to come after all; the little girl has passed. But Jesus isn’t out of sauce, and he continues toward their house, telling them not to worry, to have faith. And when he finally gets there, he stuns the family by telling them the young girl is only sleeping. He raises her up from her bed and tells the astonished onlookers to give her something to eat.
Jesus gets such a terrible rap. Some have an aversion to him because of his association with “evangelicals” and “the religious right,” while others say his name so thoughtlessly it slides off their tongues like spit.
We can barely see him anymore for who he is.
This is the man who didn’t have much to do with politics, who said his kingdom was not of this world, and whose humble, servant-hearted life split the human calendar into B.C. and A.D. He said we need to “rend to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” but also to give to God the things that are God’s.
He might just be worth seeking.
When our car rolled out of the tunnel and burst into the sunlight that summer day on the turnpike, the radio quickly recovered its signal and restored the music it had lost.
So have I.