There is a way to leave the Land of the Deadly Ifs. The way involves movement, as any leaving would. But it’s not movement away. It’s movement toward. In…closer…like this:
“The crowds say he’s in the nearby countryside. He’s the one the leaders scoff at, but I hear he’s healing the poor and the helpless. Those like me.
Oh, do I have the courage to go and try? I shouldn’t. I really shouldn’t. The crowd will be so angry if they discover me, and there’ll be so many clamoring around him, how could I ever get close enough?
I must. I have no other option. Tomorrow, when the sun rises, I’ll set out to find him.
I’ll try one touch. Just one.”
Who is she? She’s outcast. To family, friends and acquaintances, she’s an untouchable. She’s suffered physical pain for years, and has spent every penny of her money on useless remedies. She’s full of fear, suffering and self-doubt. Shame wraps her in its heavy blanket, and the whispers of Why Me? and If Only and What If haunt her thoughts. She’s the woman whose story God records for us in three of the gospels:
… And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:24-34)
Her world on that day
She’s one of the most unworthy. Her twelve-year discharge of blood has probably caused anemia, exhaustion, and anger at each sign of fresh bleeding. Not only does she experience physical anguish, but because of Levitical law, she must be proclaimed unclean. She can’t go to the temple. She can’t touch or be touched without also making others unclean. She can’t brush past strangers in the marketplace. She’s defiled, marginalized, incurable.
For twelve years, she’s paid physician after physician. She’s retold details of her embarrassment with each successive visit. She’s left with fresh hope as new treatment plans were offered. (Various toxins and astringents were used by ancient physicians, and the Talmud tells us a woman with a blood-flow should carry an ostrich egg’s ashes in a linen bag in the summer, and in a cotton bag in the winter. Or, that corn gathered by digging through the remains of digested donkey dung would help.) In the end, our friend is left destitute and poverty-stricken. And, in it all, in the end, she has only grown worse.
In her desparation, she seeks Jesus.
She enters into the jostling crowd (v. 27), moving closer to the One who holds the cure. She, full of suffering and ifs. He, full of power and compassion. Knowing she’s prohibited from touching others, does her heart pound with the fear of, “What if I’m caught?” Does she veil her face? Does she almost turn back?
She approaches and touches the fringe of His garment. (God had told the Jews to put tassels on the corners of their garments to signify their status as God’s chosen people.) But hers is not a mere brushing past. She grasps. She clings. She reaches out and grabs Jesus’ tasseled robe.
A breath-stopping moment
And her flow of uncleanness instantaneously ends. Her world forever changes.
Jesus looks around to see for whom the “power has gone out of him.” The word for “looked around” (v.32) is the word we translate as “perimeter.” He perimeters the crowd, scanning the faces. He wants to pull her out, and Luke’s account adds that many in the crowd were saying, “It wasn’t me!”
But the woman. She knows what has happened to her. She guesses for whom He perimeters the crowd. She steps forward. Out from the watching throng she moves, and she falls before Jesus in fear and trembling. Hers is not mere human embarrassment or fear of the crowd’s retaliation (when they realize she’s possibly touched and therefore made them unclean.) Hers is holy fear. She’s afraid, awed, reverent in the presence of the power of God. Her knees give way. Her heart surely pounds with wonder at the mystery of His power, and she falls.
As she finds her voice, she utters her whole truth. No prevarication. No self-preservation.
Instead of reprimand
The crowd watches, some surely disgusted with her as she kneels in the dirt. What will He say? How will He respond? Many expect words of correction and chastisement: “You shouldn’t have come here and tainted the crowd, as dirty as you are. You should have waited and found me in an isolated area.” But, no. Jesus speaks words of compassion. His are words of power-filled kindness.
Instead of reprimand, He calls her “daughter.” Can you imagine the moment of comfort? (This is the only instance in the New Testament when a woman is so addressed by Jesus.) Healing has occurred in her body, and she now hears: “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”
Jesus commands authority over her sickness, but He also has the power to forgive sin. (The word used for “peace” is the word for peace through salvation.) She’s healed physically, but also given eternal salvation (v. 34.) He meets her even-greater need — she can go in peace. His perfect love casts out her fear of ultimate judgment, and his love sets her free.
No matter your pain, your adversity, your self-doubt, go to Jesus. Fall at His feet. He alone gives true peace. His gaze is powerful and awe-inspiring, and he provokes feelings of both fear and joy, yet, for His redeemed daughter, His gaze is ever gentle.
Leaving the Land of the Deadly Ifs
Luke’s gospel tells us that our friend not only tells Him the whole truth, but does so “in front of the whole crowd.” This woman who has been marginalized and probably not spoken to many people in years, speaks out. Her voice trembling, her “whole truth” might have sounded like this:
“Lord, I’ve been unclean for so long I fear I’m unhealable. I’ve felt singled out for pain few others have had to experience. I’m anxious, regretful, fearful. I find myself succumbing to ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ and ‘why me.’ But, I’ve heard reports about you as the One who can do for me what I can’t do for myself. So, I came. I am the one who grabbed your garment.”
Whole truth like that, spoken before the Lord of the universe, moves us from the Land of the Deadly Ifs to a new land. We pass out of that hurtful place and into the Land of Uns. In this new land, a different sort of life-giving language is spoken. In this place of fear-less transparency, we now speak as she would have:
“O Lord, I know I’m unworthy and undeserving. My sin has rendered me unlovely. I’ve been uninvited, unclean, unaccepted. I’ve felt unnoticed, unneeded, unloved. I pour out this whole truth about myself before You.”
And, then in this new land of safety and rest, Jesus speaks words which trump all of our own uttered uns. With vast, unsearchable love, His uns speak thus:
“Yes,” He says, “all this may be true, but I love you, even better than unconditionally. I pay the condition for your sin with my own life, as I take your unworthiness and uncleanness upon myself. I perimeter the crowd, searching for you, in order to give you My cleanness. You are loved unfailingly, and with unsurpassed love.”
When you sense that you’re beginning to dwell in the Land of the Deadly Ifs, speak your whole truth to Jesus, in front of the whole crowd, if necessary. Move toward Him. He hears your cry for mercy. He perimeters your crushing crowd, searching for you, and His all-seeing eye settles on you in love. He calls you, “Daughter.”
You are never turned away. He delights to freely, with compassion and power, rescue you from the Land of the Deadly Ifs.