Longing for the Divine

The Powerful Hold

Matthew 9:20–23 tells the story of a unnamed woman with severe bleeding who had remarkable faith. She believed that merely touching Jesus would heal her. What makes the story so intriguing is that though she was not permitted to touch others in her condition, her solution was to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment instead. Upon touching Jesus’ garment, she was healed. 

The story describes arcane rituals of purity that prohibited people from touching an individual with this woman’s condition, as it would place them in a state of impurity and separation (Leviticus 15:25–31). However, the woman thought it was permissible to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment and that it would heal her, as she had heard that God was with Jesus and that He possessed a source of purity and life that could not be defiled (Roy Gane, NIV Application Commentary: Leviticus, Numbers, 2011). She sought the salvation that was promised to come to those who would “take hold of the hem of a Jew,” the authorized One of God, the Messiah (Zachariah 8:20–23). She had the kind of faith that can only be described as an eschatological event (Galatians 3:23–26).

The “hem” this woman touched comprised the threads that hung from the four corners of the traditional garment Jesus wore. Any Jewish person at the time would have  known that the “hem” referred to these ritual tassels. Jesus is the Jew—the quintessential Jew—whose hem was grasped by this bleeding woman and then by many others (Matthew 14:36). Through Jesus, blessing and healing became a present reality—granted in those who believed.

As God had commanded the Israelites to wear royal blue fringes on the corners of their garments (Numbers 15:38; Deuteronomy 22:12), the fringes served as reminders of God’s authority. Far from seeking to abrogate the commandments, therefore, the woman in this story was reaching for the embodiment of God’s righteousness and life. She reached out to touch the symbol of Jesus’ faithfulness—His expression of holiness and the source of purity and life itself. The woman’s intent is well summed by these words: “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well” (Matthew 9:21, NKJV). She touched the part of Jesus’ garment that represented His obedient life, and the effects were immediately apparent. Indeed, the woman experienced healing power, realizing that she had become well. Jesus then turned to speak to her because He had felt this saving power flow from Him.

The woman’s act was a deliberate grasp of faith. Jesus perceived this touch of faith within the jostling crowd and intently searched for the one who had touched Him. The disciples had been touching Jesus all day, but they failed to understand this woman’s deep touch of purpose. Hers was not a casual touch, but a deliberate reaching out that endured over time. It began when she first heard about Jesus and left her home on a quest for healing, and it continued in her heroic efforts through suffering shame and being shunned. Despite being misunderstood, the woman persisted to reach out in faith through the crowds, probably crawling on hands and knees until she could reach and touch Jesus’ tassel to receive the miracle of life.

Upon this touch, the woman immediately called forth healing power from Jesus, who commended her for her faith. In front of the crowd, Jesus addressed her as “daughter,” demonstrating amazing tenderness and love. Jesus’ endearing announcement affirmed not only her kinship and connection to covenant but also her readmission to the family community. He returned her life to her. She was no longer broken and fragmented. She was healed and restored by her faith.

Such healing goes beyond the power of skilled physicians. According to Jesus, the woman had been “saved” (Luke 8:48, CJB), though her deliverance was not an admission ticket to heaven but a rescue from death. The saving power of Jesus healed the woman’s fragmented and broken layers, offering salvation through healing and wholeness. Jesus’ saving power stopped her bleeding, but the miracle of life restored her spirit. She was made whole both physically and spiritually.

This miracle is immersed in the language of healing, saving, and suffering—the inscrutable forces underlying life and death. In the presence of Jesus, the dreadful flow of blood that fragmented and obscured the life in the woman’s body ceased, rendering her whole again. It was a miraculous moment—a wondrous, life-giving experience that reflects the suffering and bleeding that Jesus would later endure on the cross to reveal the source of life-giving healing and salvation for the entire world.

Jesus is still pressing through the throngs of men and woman today, looking for those who are reaching out in faith to draw saving power from Him. What obstacles, public shaming, and longtime assumptions are we willing to overcome—as did the courageous woman in this story—to touch Jesus and be in His healing presence? Such faith and connection are essential if we are to receive God’s healing and saving power in our lives. He imparts His life-giving virtue and power so that we can experience Him working in us, encouraging us to both will and do according to His good pleasure.

Craig Ashton Jr. 

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