Have you ever heard this expression expressed by someone to explain why they don’t go to church?
Religion is for people afraid of going to hell…
Spirituality is for those of us who have already been there…
I get it, I do. Many of us bear church scars: some of them deep, some of them rejection and abandonment, some of them a lack of affirmation. Many of us have stopped going to church completely; feeling it is too outdated, or that church no longer speaks to a specific need, or that there is truly no need to go. All I can say is been there, done that; got the T-shirt, baseball cap and the keychain.
I’d like to give you a reason to go, and I want to use the woman with an issue of blood to do it: the story of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. Her story appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke and I am focusing on the Mark 5:25-34 account for this blog post. I think she can be read as very relatable to the Black female experience. Although the Bible is not specific about where she was bleeding from, I suspect her blood issue could have been fibroids. How many of us are familiar with the extra bleeding days that come from suffering with fibroid tumors? The constant need to carry extra protection, wearing black clothes, the weakness and fatigue that comes with blood leaving the body? The erring on the side of caution when it comes to declining invitations where you have to dress up, the needing to keep stashes of sanitary products with you at all times, the extra cost of keeping the company that makes Aleve Liqui-gels in business? Living with fibroid tumors could be just a mere taste of what the bleeding woman went through. Her sickness cost her everything. Consider the loss of money spent on folks who tried to get you well, but couldn’t. And this is not a co-pay we are talking about here; we are talking about funds that are not going to be reimbursed.
Yet, despite all of this, the bleeding woman, let’s call her Portia, heard something about Jesus that made her get up and make her way to him. This is already turning into some serious drama! She hears Jesus is close by; specifically, he is traveling through her village with Jairus to see about his daughter who is quite ill. Jairus, the synagogue leader. That means he is church folk. He has searched for Jesus in the hopes that he can heal his daughter, his baby girl, and here…comes…a…distraction. Imagine this scene playing out in our reality. Think about the lines when Apple drops a new iPhone. Now imagine if an Apple employee came outside and threw free iPhone 7’s into the crowd. Imagine Jesus is that Apple employee. That might be an indication of what the crowd press to get to Jesus was like as he was making his way to Jairus’ house.
Within the world of Judaism that Jesus participated in, he would have worn the dress of first-century Jews. He would have worn “fringes” (see Numbers 15:37-40), something akin to what we know today as a prayer shawl.
Portia, twelve-year afflicted Portia, despite her pain, perhaps even shame, heard something about Jesus that caused a stirring in her that she told herself that all she had to do was touch those fringes…the hem of his garment…and she would get her healing.
Sidebar: can you imagine the look on Jairus’ face when he saw Jesus talking to this woman? Resisting the temptation to tell Jesus, come on, man! Time’s a-wasting! My daughter could be dying! Yet somehow the biblical text offers no dialogue from Jairus as Jesus stops to engage a woman with a crazy notion and a high hope. A woman who refused to let go of her dream of being made whole.
This is a woman who is well acquainted with suffering. This condition has debilitated her. This condition has embarrassed her. This condition has impoverished her. But yet, somehow, this condition has not discouraged her. She still has dreams of being whole.
Twelve years is a long time to be losing blood. Wherever she was bleeding from, it might not have been discreet. You might have smelled it on her. She might have been bleeding through her garments. Every day she has to wear dark clothes and extra padding to absorb the flow…in the blistering heat of the Palestine sun.
Yet, she has heard about a man named Jesus, what she hears gets out of her home and into the crowd where she finds out quick that she is not the only one eager to see Jesus. There is a Star Wars movie-sized crowd of people already ahead of her in line. But even this does not discourage her. She remains convinced that there is something about Jesus that can make her whole again.
Think about her internal dialogue as she weakly pressed her way through the crowd: “I can make it. It’s not much further. If I just could reach for him. If I could just get a piece of his garment…” And then in the midst of that, Jesus turns around and says something crazy: “Who touched me?” Jesus, in a crowd of people so thick he could have been suffocated, asks, “who touched me?” Think about all the distraction. He’s got Jairus buzzing in his ear, reminding him about his daughter, he’s got a crowd screaming for him, reaching for him, pulling at him…there is confusion, there is tension…and Jesus asks, “who touched me?”
Now back to why her story reminds us why church is so important. Her story is so important for us as modern day Christians because she would never have been on that dusty road in the first place if she had not heard somebody talking about this healing rabbi named Jesus. That’s testimony. This woman with an issue of blood stepped out in faith because of something somebody told her about Jesus. I believe that part of the reason that churches across denominational affiliations are losing members hand over fist is because we have neglected listening to and sharing our testimony. And be clear, when I talk about church I mean more than just a building with a great sound system, I am talking about the ekklesia, the Greek word for the gathering of the called out ones.
Something this woman heard about Jesus from someone else changed the trajectory of her life. And that is how church can be so important for us, because when our own lives are falling apart it helps to hear how the Great Spirit is moving in the lives of others. Encouragement is so important to faith building, and yes, sometimes we do and will have to encourage ourselves. But we also need to encourage one another.
I can imagine that a lot of people believed in Jesus based on the bleeding woman’s testimony. The next time someone is going through hell, even if that somebody is you, please consider the story of the bleeding woman. Let her remind you that you can make it.