Twelve Years Prior
Her name was Rachel, and she was perfect. How could anything that small and helpless and beautiful not be perfect? So what if she wasn’t a boy? If someone offered him ten sons at this moment, he would turn them all down. Because she was perfect.
Her name was Yael, and she was annoyed. Her time was supposed to have been finished five days ago, but she was still bleeding. She had gone past before, but never this long. She wasn’t concerned, but she was certainly getting tired of the extra laundry.
Seven Years Prior
Where had the time gone? It seemed like only yesterday that she was a newborn barely bigger than his two hands. Now she was five years old, getting more and more grown up every day. Her younger brothers idolized her; she could make them do anything she wanted. They had that in common with her father, he acknowledged to himself a bit ruefully. Of course, he’d never concede that to his wife, who accused him of it daily.
Where had the time gone? Although every day seemed like it lasted a lifetime, she realized it had been five years since this had begun. Five years! It didn’t seem possible. How many physicians and healers had she seen in that time? She’d lost count. She thought this one might be number seven. Wasn’t seven supposed to be a good number? Maybe this one would know something.
The Day Before
Her eyes were lifeless, devoid of the joy and laughter that had filled them for twelve years. She was alive, but you could not tell it from her eyes. She had taken ill the week before, and swiftly gotten worse. The physicians had not been able to do anything, and now told him only that her time was near.
He was getting his things together to travel. A cousin of a man in his synagogue had been healed a month ago by a rabbi, on the Sabbath no less. It had caused quite a stir at the time; the synagogue leader had been up at arms for a week afterward. That rabbi was going to be a few miles away tomorrow, so he was going there tonight. Maybe he could convince the rabbi to come here, to his house. Maybe he would be willing to pray over her, anoint her with oil, something. Anything. Apart from the rabbi, he had no hope…
Her eyes were lifeless. Over a decade of isolation will do that to a woman. She wasn’t technically alone; her husband and children were physically in the house, and she had neighbors around her. But she was perpetually unclean, so she might as well have been in Samaria.
She was getting her things together to travel. She had heard stories of a healer who could make someone better just by touching them. Perhaps the reverse was true — maybe she could be healed just by touching him. She could slip into the crowd and touch him and be gone again without being noticed and without defiling anyone. Anyone else, anyway — the rabbi would be defiled by her touch, even if he didn’t know it. Maybe she could just touch his outer garment. For the first time in many years, she had a modicum of hope…
The disciples and the rabbi were eating dinner, and as usual there were several conversations going on at once. What was not usual was that Peter was not involved in any of them. His mind was clearly elsewhere as he aimlessly lifted a piece of food to his mouth.
Jesus had been watching him for at least thirty minutes as he listened to Levi and Simon argue about whatever it was they always argued about. When Levi paused to take a sip of wine, Jesus seized the opportunity. “Where are you tonight, Peter? You seem to be far away from us. Peter?”
Peter started when he heard his name. How long had the rabbi been calling him? “I’m sorry, rabbi, I wasn’t paying attention. What was it you asked?”
Jesus repeated his question.
“I’m thinking about today, about Yairus’ daughter and the woman…” Peter trailed off, unsure of how to describe her. He certainly didn’t want to talk about her condition, but he had no other way to identify her; she had never said her name. He glanced over at Levi, but Levi quickly became absorbed with his food. Great, thanks for the help, Levi.
“Yael. Her name was Yael,” Jesus said, with just a hint of a smile.
Peter knew better than to ask how he knew that. “I was thinking about Yairus’ daughter and Yael. I’ve tried, but I just can’t understand why you stopped today. Yairus is an important man in the community, and his daughter was dying. You obviously understood the urgency, because you went with him as soon as he told you about her. So why did you stop to find Yael? According to her, and you, she was already healed when you began to look around for her. A child was dying, and you stopped to find a woman who’d touched your garment in the crowd instead of hurrying to the child. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
The other conversations had stopped. Peter always attracted attention, even when he wasn’t trying to. It was clear to Jesus that Peter wasn’t the only one thinking about the afternoon. He looked at each of them in turn to make sure they were all listening. They didn’t realize it yet, but this was an important moment.
“That is an excellent question, Peter. Tell me, what was she healed of?”
Peter blushed. He was going to make him say it, wasn’t he? Peter was sure the rabbi looked for ways he could embarrass him.
“Bleeding, rabbi. She had been … bleeding … for a long time.”
“That’s right. Now, tell me, what was her greatest need?”
It had taken him a while, but Peter now recognized one of the rabbi’s trick questions when he heard one. Peter glanced around to see if anyone else was going to help him out. Suddenly all heads were staring intently at the ground.
“I don’t know, rabbi. I would think that if you’re bleeding to death your greatest need is to stop the bleeding. However, you obviously think something else was more important, but I have no idea what it could be. What could have been a greater need than healing her body?”
“Before I answer that, I have one more question — what does the law say about a woman’s bleeding?”
Peter had already talked about this subject much more than he cared to; someone else was going to have to field that question. He stared at Jesus and willed someone else to step in. After a seemingly interminable number of seconds, Nathaniel finally interjected.
“It says that a woman who has bleeding outside of her time of impurity is unclean, and remains unclean as long as she has the bleeding. Everything on which she sits or lies is unclean, and everyone who touches her or her things is unclean and will remain so until evening.”
“Very good, Nathaniel, thank you.” Jesus was still focused on Peter. “Do you remember what she told us, Peter? You said ‘a long time’ just now — how long she had been bleeding?”
“Twelve years.” Peter’s eyes showed a flicker of understanding. “Twelve years — she had been unclean for twelve years!”
“Exactly. For twelve years, she had been unclean. Anyone touching her or even her clothes would themselves become unclean, meaning they could not go to temple. People being what they are, that meant that she was essentially untouchable. For twelve years. What do you think it would be like for a woman to be unclean and untouchable for twelve years? What would that kind of isolation do to her mind?”
“Her body needed healing, of course. And that is all she was thinking of, which is why she tried to go unnoticed in the crowd and just touch my cloak as I passed. But that was far from all she needed. It wasn’t even her greatest need. Her greatest need was to be clean, made whole, to know that not only was she touchable, she was worth touching.”
“Daughter!”, James blurted out. The others looked at him like he had lost his mind. “You called her ‘Daughter!’ I’ve never heard you say that to a woman before.” Jesus smiled; sometimes the “sons of thunder” came out with something that belied their name.
“Yes, and I told her that she was freed of her suffering, all of her suffering.” Jesus paused to take a drink.
“This is important for each of you to understand. People rarely know what they need the most. What they ask for is usually a symptom. Sometimes the symptom is physical. When someone is in continuous pain, it crowds out everything else in their mind. They can’t think, can’t concentrate, can’t consider anything other than getting rid of the physical condition.”
“But often the opposite is true. Sometimes they have accepted their physical condition, to the point that they don’t even consider the possibility of it not being there any longer. They ask for trifles, when what they really need is healing.”
“This means that when you encounter someone who asks you for something, it is imperative that you look deeper than that. It is almost certain that what they really need is not what they asked for, and you may be the only one who can give it to them, because you’ll be the only one looking for it.
Do you understand?”
With various degrees of hesitation and glances at each other, they all nodded. He knew they didn’t really, not yet, but it was a start. They were going to need help, but that would have to wait for another time.
“Excellent. Now let’s finish our dinner. We have a long day tomorrow.”
Peter and John were walking in the city. It was hot, and the road was crowded with people making their way to the temple for afternoon prayer. A few men recognized Peter and nodded at him as they passed. He still wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
Almost to the gate, Peter felt a touch on his leg. He slowed, and John almost ran into him from behind. “Please, kind sirs, can you spare a coin?” Peter looked down and recognized the beggar that was at the gate every afternoon. He probably had walked by him a thousand times and never spoken with him. He wasn’t particularly prepared to on this day, either; they were already going to be late.
As he looked at the beggar, something niggled at the back of Peter’s mind. He reminded him of someone; something in the eyes, maybe. Who was it? He whispered, “John, does he remind you of someone?” John shrugged.
“Please, kind sirs, can you spare a coin?”. Although Peter and John had stopped, the beggar had dismissed them from his mind when they did not immediately offer a coin, and was speaking to the crowd as they moved by. “Please kind sirs, can you spare a coin?”
Something clicked in Peter’s head. It was the desperate look on the beggar’s face as he scanned the crowd hoping for a sympathetic eye. He’d seen that before; what was her name? Jesus’ words from that night (had it only been two years?) flooded back.
“Hey, look at us!” Peter said, perhaps more stringently than he intended. The beggar instantly turned his head to Peter, thinking he had finally found his first coin of the day. His eyes locked onto Peter’s, and Peter held his gaze for several seconds. Satisfied, Peter began.
“I don’t have what you want, but…”