Horizons — The bleeding woman’s encounter

Rosalind Banbury's third reflection on the 2023-2024 Presbyterian Women/Horizons Bible Study.

Sacred Encounters: The Power and Presence of Jesus Christ in Luke-Acts
Lesson 3: Luke 8:26-39

You wouldn’t know it to look at her. She looks fine on the outside, but she is sick. She could be the woman next door or the person on the pew beside you in worship. Many people deal with chronic physical or emotional conditions: depression, addiction, back pain, Lupus, infertility, diabetes — the list is lengthy.

Imagine how tired and depressed the woman would have been whose blood flowed for 12 years! With chronic anemia, everyday tasks are like climbing a mountain with a 50-pound pack on your back. She is poor, having spent all her money on doctors, and she is desperate to be cured. She hears of Jesus’s healings.

Making her way through the crowd, the woman, whose name we don’t know, quietly reaches out for Jesus. We can imagine the internal auto-repeat in her mind: “If I only touch the hem of his cloak, I will be healed … if I only touch the hem, I will be healed.” She does touch, and is healed and, surprisingly, Jesus says, “Somebody touched me.” Trembling and falling down before Jesus, she tells him everything. With tenderness and compassion Jesus replies, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

Her tenacity, her initiative, and her faith are all important factors here. She demonstrates “agency.” That is, she uses what power she has to deal with her condition.

There are countless women of faith and agency who reached out for healing and justice. Many years ago, I had a cassette tape titled “Women of Faith.” I listened to the stories of women like Donaldina Cameron and Frances Perkins, who inspired me as a young, newly ordained pastor. I was the first and only female pastor in the county, and I needed these stories of strong women doing unconventional things.

Cameron (July 26, 1869 – January 4, 1968) was a missionary in San Francisco who took on the dangerous work of freeing some 2,000 Chinese girls and women from slavery as workers and prostitutes. The brothel owners called her the “White Devil.”

Frances Perkins (April 10, 1880 – May 14, 1965) was the first woman to serve on a presidential cabinet. She served as secretary of labor during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. She was largely responsible for the establishment of Social Security and the New Deal. Both her husband and her daughter suffered from mental illness, and she was the sole support for her family.

Throughout the world, there have been and are many women fueled by faith, compassion and determination, who reach out for healing and justice, not just for themselves but for others.

Fannie Lou Hamer was the daughter of sharecroppers in Mississippi. At age six, she was picking cotton. At age 12, she left school, and at age 13, she could pick 200-300 pounds of cotton a day. She loved reading and poetry, and she furthered her ability to read in Bible studies at her church. Hamer went in for surgery to have a uterine tumor removed, but the doctor removed the entire uterus as part of a widespread practice to render Black and Native American women infertile. Hamer became active in registering Black people to vote. Consequently, she was jobless, shot at, harassed, and badly beaten. Hamer became a powerful voice for the Civil Rights Movement, weaving hymns and poetry into her speeches.

I got to know Ginny Moretz before she recently died. Living in Richmond, Kentucky, in 1981, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church talked about Peter Marshall’s ministry to people experiencing homelessness in Washington, D.C. After worship, Ginny said to the pastor, “You’ve talked about Marshall several times. I guess you want us to do something.” Moretz was an energetic organizer who gathered people to host a free Christmas Eve dinner for the community. Widows and widowers, those without homes and those without families were invited. They had no idea how many people would attend, and as people kept coming through the doors, the volunteers worried that the turkey would run out. In walked a man with two fully cooked turkeys.

“These were left over from another event,” he said. “I thought you might need them.” Ginny called it their “loaves and fish miracle.” The dinner continues to this day.

In November 1975, Florida resident Rosellyn Clavert asked God what she could do to help those suffering from hunger and poverty around the world. God’s answer was “two cents a meal.” Though struggling financially, she and her family committed to giving two cents a meal a day for the hungry. In April of 1976, Rosellyn shared with her presbytery the concept of households giving two cents a meal a day as a reminder of those without food and as a giving program. Today, most presbyteries have a similar hunger-awareness and giving programs.

As you reflect on these stories, what do you think and feel about each one?

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