If I were to make it as a character in a Bible story, I would want to be known for something more glamorous than "the woman subject to bleeding for twelve years." Most men shutter and skip over the content as quickly as possible, highlighting the poor woman's stellar faith. As women, we can all identify with her female issues (maybe not to that severity). She had some bad, bad womanly problems that had the doctors stumped. She was beyond desperate.
I was at store the other day and the woman at the cash register grimaced as she helped me with my items. I asked if she was okay because pain was written all over her face. With tears in her eyes she clutched her abdomen and bent over slightly. "It's my monthly thing, I'm so sorry, I should have called in sick, but it is like this for 4-5 days a month. Pain meds don't even touch it." I completely identified with her problem, even though I do not have symptoms that lasted that long. There are times every month when I can't drag myself out of bed and I lay with a heating pad groaning and moaning for some relief. I felt compassion for this woman who had to go about her job while in crazy, horrible, pain.
We can imagine the woman in the Bible was in some horrible pain as well. Severe bleeding was the only symptom listed and it alone would have been an ordeal in the day before maxi-pads. The Scriptures say she suffered a great deal and I'm inclined to believe them.
I've always heard this Bible story told in reference to her faith because the woman believed Jesus could heal her even if she only touched his coat.
"When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering." (Mark 5:27-29)
She heard about Jesus, she went to him for healing, but the crowds were too big. She pushed her way through the crowd knowing that just touching his clothing was enough for his healing power. Her faith was amazing and Jesus even said, "Daughter, your faith has healed you." (Mark 5:34)
I thought of this story in a different light recently. I was having a monthly suffering bout and was feeling really sorry for myself that no one felt sorry for me. Okay, I wanted my husband to know
Try as he might, my wonderful husband cannot know the extent of discomfort that goes along with my monthly cycle. That got me thinking about this woman in the Bible and her problems. Hers were definitely "woman" problems, undiagnosed by a string of doctors and yet she went to Jesus to be healed.
And as we all know, Jesus was a man.
Not a woman.
Jesus had compassion for her. "Daughter," he called her. It is a term of endearment and tenderness. And he referenced her pain next when he said, "be free from your suffering." Jesus was fully God and fully man, but he had never experienced this woman's suffering.
Compassion is defined as "a feeling of distress and pity for the suffering or misfortune of another, often including the desire to alleviate it" (Collins English Dictionary). Experiencing another person's misfortune isn't a requirement for compassion. We can receive compassion from anyone who wants to give it, even a well-meaning husband who doesn't know the true meaning of "cramps." Or the Savior of the World who felt such distress for a woman's suffering that he saved her from it and alleviated her problem.
Allowing ourselves to receive compassion is humbling. The woman in this story threw herself at Jesus in complete abandon, her only goal was to let her fingers come within touching distance of his clothes. Receiving compassion requires intimacy. The exchange between Jesus and this woman is beautiful, "Daughter," he says to her tenderly. Theirs was a brief encounter, but so profound. It never would have happened if she was courageous in her humility. We live so often in fear of being real with anyone. Taking the step of faith to allow someone else to give compassion is healing as well as humbling.
And on the other side of the scenario is giving compassion. Giving compassion shows our Christ-likeness. Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). Everyone will know because how we live and show compassion to those around us that we are good-different. We can't live behind the myth that some people are more compassionate than others by genetics. I heard a friend off-handedly say, "I'm just not a compassionate person," as an excuse to judge someone instead of feeling pity for the misfortune of another. Compassion is a choice and we should do it because Christ did.
The woman who was subject to bleeding for twelve years leaves an impression on the pages of the Bible. Through a short exchange with Jesus, her life was changed forever. She had faith that he would heal her and she had the courage to receive compassion. Whether giving or receiving, compassion is something we can all stand to do a lot more.