Every once in a while, I am struck by something in a Sunday Gospel passage for the first time, even though I’ve actually heard the passage read dozens of times during my life as an Ursuline. This Sunday was one of those situations when I heard the part in the Gospel of Mark about the woman “afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.” Why was she not up front with Jesus and just ask for a cure, rather than secretly touch his cloak? Was she afraid that he would rebuke her and add to her shame?

Fear may have been the obstacle. I did a little research about Jewish laws concerning blood in those days. It turns out that there are prohibitions about touching a woman who is menstruating. Such bleeding was considered a sign of the failure of fertility and linked with death itself; and women were supposedly responsible for human mortality, according to interpretations of the mythic Genesis story of Adam and Eve. Such “bleeding” women were anathema to men because any contact with them made the man ritually impure and unable to participate in Jewish practices and celebrations or to enter the Temple.

I look at the woman with sympathy. How hard her life must have been during those twelve years: shamed, ostracized, rejected by those around her. Yet her hope for a cure from Jesus was greater than her fear and embarrassment. She was willing to reach out in faith and take the risk for her cure.

I suspect her surprise and joy came not only from the healing she felt in her body but also from the compassionate response of Jesus to her action. He would have been made ritually unclean from her touch of his clothing; she could rightfully have expected another rebuke and rejection for doing so. Yet he turned and commended her faith and affirmed her healing. In reality, her healing was twofold: the physical healing of her hemorrhage and the deeper healing of the wound of her rejection.

It seems that Jesus is calling me to look beyond the labels I may assign people and see them rather with compassion and awareness that they each hold a much deeper reality than I can ever imagine.

It took a long time, but I finally got the point! I won’t ever hear that Gospel in the same way again.

Sister Elaine Berkopec