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Rachel, the Thief of Virtue

September 5, 2012

The Bible, of course, does not give her name, she is just “a woman.” But it seems to me that “a woman” sounds so generic to our ears. So I have given her the first Jewish name that came to mind- Rachel. In fact, she had something in common with Jacob’s Rachel, as we shall see. Let’s see the story as it is told in the book of Mark:

And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague. Mark 5:25-34, KJV

Before we continue two things must be mentioned: the very last clause is best read “and be free of your suffering; the word translated “virtue” is indeed the Greek word dunamis, which means “power.” The latter the King James translators knew full well meant “power,” but I think that they were on to something when they chose “virtue” instead.

So, our Rachel has an issue of blood. What does that mean? An open wound that will not heal? Even the physicians of that time had regimens that could have stopped that.

Fortunately for us, Alice and I knew a woman who had an issue of blood. Not so fortunate for her. You see, the problem that young women have several days out of each month, she had 365 days a year, with the result that she could not have children. Doctors worked for a number of years to find a solution for her problem and, in the end, she had two children. No such help was available for Rachel.

You need to realize the troubles this caused her. In Rachel’s day, her barrenness would have been considered a curse from God. In a society where women were not held in high regard, the barren woman was at the bottom of the heap. Rachel was born into a world where even the most evil woman in the village could consider herself superior to the barren woman.  The barren woman must have done something that more greatly offended God.

Men had responsibilities also. Rachel’s husband, like all men of that time, were responsible to father children, boys, if possible, to carry on the family heritage and add names to the genealogy that was kept in the the temple in Jerusalem. And Rachel’s husband had divorced her.

“Wait a minute,” you might say. “I don’t see anywhere in the passage that Rachel was married or divorced. Where do you get that from?” A perfectly good question.

You see, in those days, the only money a woman had was that which was given to her by her father to be used in the event that she was divorced or her husband died destitute. It was hoped that it would buy her time to remarry. But, in view of her condition, she was not  remarrying material.

Women who could not find another marriage and lacked a salable skill or had a business, became the victims of unprincipled men or were forced into prostitution.  Many of the prostitutes  and fallen women that sought solace in Jesus’ teaching were of these.

Crueler yet, Rachel could  not even qualify here, because of the prohibition of sexual relations with a woman while she was bleeding, something that would have been strongly felt through out the nation. Rachel is so desperate that she is spending the money that is supposed to be for her food, clothing and shelter on doctors and now she is penniless and without any prospects whatever.

Then Jesus came.

But there are some problems in coming to Jesus. Rachel would have to tell her very private problem in front of the crowd and those who did not know her would then be aware of her “curse.” And what if Jesus said no, that she was just not the right material for His miracles? And, what if He, like many of the rabbis of her time decide to hold her forth as a bad example to the crowd.

Still, she must go. There is no one else, nothing else. So she conceives  of an astounding criminal act! She convinces herself that the power that rested on Jesus must suffuse his clothing and that if she can touch His clothing she can steal from Him His healing power! What boldness!

Surely, as the disciples stated, Jesus must have had many people touch Him before. They were not healed. There was no virtue in His clothing. Still, it worked for Rachel.

But you must understand that Rachel had two problems, not just one. She also has a problem with unworthiness and the sin that she must have imagined had caused her curse in the first place. Rachel needed reconciliation with God. And in touching Jesus’ garment she is proposing something astonishing. She intends nothing less than exchanging the righteousness and holiness of Jesus for her unworthiness, the power of the Holy spirit that was resident in Him – the very essence of the Gospel that had not yet been proclaimed!

Now she has touched Him. Now she is healed. She has not been made the center of attention. Rachel can slip away unnoticed. But, no. Jesus can’t let her get away with it. Rachel must know that He forgives her for taking from Him something He has not yet offered, lest it haunt her later.

Knowing that He knows that someone has done what she has, Rachel is now terrified. Now she is forced to tell her whole wretched story and her healing- her testimony. Then Jesus frees her from her suffering, the abuse of a dozen years.

No one need try to steal virtue from Jesus today. His gifts of forgiveness and healing are freely given, because of His death for our sin. whoever would come to Him and lay there sin and unworthiness at His feet, he will receive. It is only those who refuse to see their unworthiness, like those others who touched Jesus and received nothing, that cannot have what He freely offers.

So this is my case for not speeding through the Bible. Slow down to ask questions. Some will be answered tomorrow, some months from now, some answers are decades in coming. The question not asked cannot be answered. But the questions of the patient are answered.

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