Christian counselor Ed Welch says, “Shame is the deep sense that you are inherently flawed, unacceptable, and unworthy of love because of something you’ve done, something done to you, or something associated with you.”
Probably no one in the Bible sensed shame more keenly than the woman who had “a discharge of blood for 12 years,” a polite way of saying she had a disease that produced an uncontrollable menstrual flow. This meant that not only was she sick and likely suffering from severe, chronic pain, but she was also unable to have children and, according to Jewish law, ceremonially unclean.
That means she hadn’t been allowed in public for 12 years. No public worship. No place where others could come in contact with her. It means no one has touched her for 12 years, lest they become unclean—no one has hugged her or laid a hand on her to pray for her.
She is outcast. Lonely. At one point she may have had so many hopes for her life—marriage, family, life in the community—and all of those seem over now.
Luke, the author of her story and a doctor by trade, lets us know that according to medical opinions of the day, she was incurable. And what’s more, he tells us she had spent her family’s entire fortune attempting to find a cure, but nothing’s helped. She’s hopeless. And, she’s nameless. In contrast to Jairus, to whose house Jesus is traveling when he encounters the bleeding woman and whose name everybody knows, Luke leaves this woman’s name out because no one knows who she is anyway.
She is hidden; she is invisible to people. That’s as much her choice as anyone else’s—shame does that to people. It makes them want to hide, lest they just get exposed and more humiliated.
What keeps people like this woman from coming to Jesus is subtle despair. It’s not that she doesn’t know she needs Jesus’ help; it’s that she thinks if he knew the truth about her, he’d never help her.
So she hatches a plot to steal a miracle.
During Jesus’ time there was a legend that the Messiah would be so powerful that even the “wings” of his garments would possess healing power (Malachi 4:2). Maybe she had heard that and thought, “Maybe if I can touch the wings of his garment, I’ll be healed.”
But remember: She’s not even supposed to be in public. If people see her, they will scorn her (or worse). And what would Jesus, the holy man, say?
And so, she clandestinely makes her way through the crowds, and as he passes by, she reaches out, grabbing hold of the hem of his clothes.
And is instantly healed.
She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased.
–Luke 8:44 ESV
But the most frightening part of her story is what happened next. Jesus doesn’t let her steal a miracle. He asks the one question she does not want to hear:
And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?”
Jesus knows who touched him. He knows she wanted to steal her miracle in secret. But he also knows that her physical suffering wasn’t the primary problem. Stealing a miracle might work for the physical, but it won’t lay a finger on the deep wounds of shame. And apparently, Jesus intends to heal her shame, too.
And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.
What happens next might be the most profound moment in the Gospels, because it answers one of the most fundamental questions of all religion: What is it like to be exposed in all of our shame and ugliness and mess before a holy God?
And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
Not “stranger” or “ma’am” or even “sister” or “friend,” but a term of most intimate endearment: daughter. Tim Keller says you should probably read it something like “sweetheart.”
The woman nobody wanted Jesus now refers to as “precious sweetheart.” The woman no one would touch is now being embraced by the arms that shaped the stars. The name nobody else knows, Jesus knows. He’s on more than a first-name basis with her. He’s in the tender-nickname stage.
This is what Jesus does with the unwanted and the abused—he finds them in their pain, calls them beloved, and makes them sons and daughters. He lifts their heads when they can’t lift them for themselves (cf. Psalm 3:3).
You see, the only way for Jesus to send this woman home in peace was for him to take her shame from her. She went home in peace that day, restored to her family, and he headed toward the cross, where he’d be hung up in shame and forsaken by his father.
For those of you who wear the heavy burden of shame, you need to hear Jesus’ response to this woman, because it is his response to you: He calls you “daughter.” He calls you “son.”
This new identity outweighs any other identity put upon you. You are not what others have said about you. You are not what others have done to you. You are what Jesus has declared over you.
You are not what others have said about you. You are not what others have done to you. You are what Jesus has declared over you.
Right now, you may be hiding in the crowd, wondering what it’s like to be exposed in all this mess before Jesus. He is calling you his daughter and son. He wants you to know that you are not damaged, second-rate, unworthy, or unloved. You are a precious and beloved child whom he has created and redeemed specifically for his purposes.
You were precious enough for him to shed his blood to buy you back. He put his Spirit inside of you and destined you to rule and reign with him forever. And it’s time the shame others have put on you gives way to the honor he has declared over you.
The woman went home “in peace”—you can too. Stop listening to others and the voices from your past. Start listening to the voice of the one who calls you his beloved child!