Soul Talk Advent Series 2019: 'Words to Live a Life by.'
Guest Blogger: Emma Worrall
Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’ Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,” he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed at that moment.“ Matthew 9:20-22
These words are spoken by Jesus to a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. We’re not quite sure what the condition was, but it was a horrible. The woman had paid doctors all she had for a cure, a fix. But nothing worked. 12 years of shame and stigma. 12 years of isolation. 12 years of waiting.
12 years is a long time. Think of all you’ve done in the last 12 years? Tragically, life was on hold for this woman. It must have felt like a lifetime. A prison sentence. Think of all she missed out on. Social interaction; human touch and connection; community life. Life had passed her by. For 12 years she was an untouchable - in fact anyone or anything she touched was deemed unclean, contaminated. She was unwanted, a nobody, sidelined, forgotten. Unseen.
In a remarkable act of sheer desperation, bravery and faith the woman fights her way through the crowded street – breaking every rule in the books of Moses – and touches Jesus.
Thinking about it, this was an audacious thing to do. But what had she to lose? She had lost her respect and dignity a long time ago. 12 long years of pain are washed away as Jesus fixes his gaze on the woman. Jesus accepts her, welcomes her, and gently and lovingly he says "Take heart, daughter". In an instant the bleeding stops. As Jesus spoke those beautiful words, faith and hope consumed the woman. The women moves from unseen to seen. A fleeting, chance encounter with Jesus changed everything, and restored her identity, dignity and hope.
This story reminds me how powerful it is to know that Jesus sees us and knows us.
Earlier this year, I went to northern Nigerian and spent a few days at a trauma centre run by Open Doors partners. I met women with similar stories to the woman in Matthew 9. Unwanted, nobodies, sidelined, forgotten. Unseen. In one of the sessions the trauma care team did a drama on listening. Very simply one part showed someone not listening; and the second someone attentive, empathetic, fully focussed – listening well. The 12 women in the room, who had all been kidnapped, raped, widowed at the hands of Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen began to cry. It was a moment in the room. Later I asked one of them -Naomi -why the session had been so impactful. She said, "Because nobody listens to us". For over 2 and a half years she hadn’t spoken to anyone about her husband being killed by Boko Haram, such was the shame and the stigma, not only from her community, but sadly from her church.
For Naomi, and the other women, the drama on listening was their moment of being seen. It might not have been as dramatic an encounter with Jesus that the bleeding woman had in Matthew 9, but it was as if Jesus quietly whispered to Naomi and the others, "Take heart, daughter I see you." And over the course of a few days Jesus got to work, bringing each woman a renewed sense of identity, dignity and hope.
I’d like to think that the bleeding woman who encountered Jesus was empowered to go and live life to the full, and I really hope she more than made up for the lost years.
After meeting Naomi and spending a few days with her, I know she is strong and defiant and will not let shame and stigma and isolation define her anymore. Naomi came to the trauma programme carrying a heavy burden of pain and grief, but now healing and restoration are also part of her story. I asked Naomi what difference being at the trauma programme has made, she told me “I want to move on with my life and I hope to now become a teacher and work with children. And be the best mum I can be to my daughter Angel.”
This Advent season, like the bleeding woman and Naomi from northern Nigeria, maybe you need to be reminded that Jesus – God wrapped in flesh and bones – fixes his gaze on you, and whispers "I see you." You are seen, known and loved. Take heart this Advent.
(Open Doors’ vision is that every woman who is persecuted for her faith and gender is seen, valued and empowered to reach her God-given potential. They have recently launched the new See. Change. campaign, to restore the hope, dignity and identity of women who are doubly at risk of persecution because they follow Jesus. For more information please visit their website )
Emma Worrall is passionate about creative communication and telling stories well. She's worked for Open Doors for more years than she can remember, and loves sharing the story of those who risk it all for Jesus. She has 3 children. And she is a firm believer in starting the day with a bowl of cornflakes and a cuppa.