There came a day when a woman, ritually unclean, dared to approach Jesus, and with trembling hand, reached out and touched His rabbi’s garment¹. Defying all convention, disobeying the Law, risking sudden and violent death, she carried within those tremoring fingers years of hope unrealised, nights of anguished tears, and one last act of final desperation.
She hoped, no doubt, that no-one would notice: that she could just brush those fingers momentarily against the fringe of His robe and slink away, face covered, unknown and undiscovered within the pushing, trampling mass of bodies pressing together to see Him, hear Him, and petition Him.
And so she would have if He had been any ordinary rabbi. But He was not.
“Who touched Me?” she heard Him call out as she struggled to make her way back through the crowd. But they, trying to hear what He was about to say, only pushed back harder, enclosing her like a trapped, frightened rabbit in a cage of flesh and human odour. She turned fearfully towards His voice, part of her desperate to hide in anonymity among the swirling mass, another part of her longing to throw herself at His feet begging for forgiveness and mercy.
She had come searching for Him that day in one final attempt to end the misery of her daily life. She had no right to be among this crowd. Indeed, if they knew her condition they would draw back in horror: some would take up stones. She had wondered if that should happen if it could be any worse than returning to this life that was not life that had seemingly become her destiny.
It had been many years since she had felt human touch, even from those closest to her. Like the lepers confined outside the city gates, her condition had made her untouchable. She was unclean and nothing could deliver her from the stigma of that uncleanness except a miracle from this strange and unfamiliar rabbi.
Now He was making His way through the crowd, moving towards her. Without looking up, she knew that He knew what she had done. She knew also that He had healed her, for she sensed the change in her body. Having received her life back, would she now be condemned to lose it? “Rabbi, it was I” she blurted, her voice breaking with sobs as the story of her long shame and despair tumbled out.
We are familiar with the rest of the story. That same day the woman with the issue of blood was restored to her community. That same day the word ‘unclean’ was replaced with another word: “daughter”. And on that day, in word and action, Jesus made clear to all who witnessed, that a woman’s life, wellbeing and dignity were as deeply valuable to Him as any man’s. On that day God affirmed a woman as His own beloved daughter.
On that day a woman touched God and God was not in the least offended.
And yet, there are those in the Body of Christ who would still, by various means, infer that women are in some way ‘spiritually unclean’. “Woman is a temple built over a sewer” stated church father Tertullian, and similar sentiments have been uttered by male church leaders throughout history². Recent statements from influential male leaders such as Mark Driscoll (former pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle), and teachings regularly churned out by others (see here and here) bear witness to the truth that women are still regarded as ‘less than’ by many Christian leaders, who continue to pass on their biased opinions to the crowds who follow them.
This post is not about debating the scriptures that are still regularly used to limit the ministry and gifts of women in church life. Pat Joyce and I have provided a full examination of those scripture passages elsewhere. (Furthermore, there are abundant materials available from respected theological scholars that competently and forcefully challenge the traditional interpretations of such passages for anyone who wishes to undertake a serious study on gender issues.)
But I am moved, when thinking again about the woman with the issue of blood, to ask when will the daughters of God be recognised by some sections of the Body of Christ as full and equal joint heirs in all areas of church and family life?
If Christ Himself was not offended by the touch of a woman, in a culture where a ritually unclean woman may not touch a man, when will women be allowed to touch the spiritual Body of Christ freely and fully, without limitations being put on what they may do and to whom they may minister?
Moses, who was called a friend of God, sought to see God’s face and was granted only a glimpse of His back. But a woman, deemed unclean by her religious leaders, touched God and was received, healed, restored and affirmed as His daughter. It’s the difference between Law and Gospel we are talking of here my friends. It’s the finished work of the Cross. It’s the miracle of being ‘in Christ’ where there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. It’s the power of the Blood of Christ that makes all who will believe clean, worthy, righteous – equally.
To those who still believe they have a right to limit the ministry of women: who taught you that you may call unclean that which God has called clean? Though you may not say it in those words, and may even object loudly at such a suggestion, in effect that is what you do when you continue to dictate exactly what women may or may not do in Christ’s Name, based on your, and their, gender.
A grave injustice is taking place in the Body of Christ. The elevation of male over female is bearing horrible fruit. The tree is bad and thus its fruit is rotten. Women are suffering ongoing abuse because they are ‘biblically’ counselled to remain with violent husbands. Children are suffering trauma and life-long injury at the hands of abusive ‘heads of the family’. Little girls are being primed by extreme submission teaching to enter marriages in which they will suffer emotional, sexual, spiritual and/or physical abuse, and fear of displeasing God will keep them there. All in the Name of Christ.
If you are a woman reading this, whether you are in such a situation or not, know that in God’s sight you are not ‘less than’. God has not limited His love, His giftings, His calling on you because you are female. God does not condone destructive relationships or require that you continue to submit yourself or your children to a relationship in which you or they are unsafe.
Friends, who the Son makes free is free….indeed. It’s time for hearts to be examined, and for the war against women that has been plaguing the Body of Christ for centuries, to be confronted, called for what it is and outrightly rejected.
It’s time for the daughters to go free.
²For more such negative statements about women see here: http://ishshahsstory.com/2014/08/13/who-do-we-think-we-are/
Further Reading: Are Women Also Sons?
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.