Guest Post by David Linton, Marymount Manhattan College
Debates about Christianity’s attitudes toward women sometimes focus on Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene and isolated engagements with other unnamed women encountered during his travels. Little is made of a healing scene in the book of Luke(8:43-48) where Jesus had momentary contact with a woman who, in all likelihood, had a severe case of menorrhagia. Here’s how the translation is described in the Revised Standard Version”
“As he went, the people pressed round him. And a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years and could not be healed by any one came up behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!” But Jesus said, “Some one touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
The story is rendered with remarkable efficiency. The stealth of the woman was motivated by her clear understanding that she was a pariah in her community,that she was forbidden by the rigid rules of Leviticus from having contact with others lest she contaminate them. Peter’s response is particularly interesting. Rather than acknowledging the severe violation of the rules and dealing with its consequences (Jesus would have had to go away from everyone to be cleansed), Peter denied that any contact had even occurred. (Does this foreshadow his later denial of even knowing Jesus?)
But Jesus seems utterly indifferent to the rules as he places the well being of a suffering woman above the demands of his cultural prohibitions.
The fact that Jesus’ heroic menstrual encounter has been expunged from the narrative of his life reveals, yet again, just how pernicious the taboos and prejudices are. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Sunday School classes set the menstrual record straight?
To make matters worse, the wonderful gospel song that extols the woman’s faith, first recorded by Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, “The Hem of His Garment” has been similarly sanitized so that she is simply “sick.” The YouTube link that contains the song takes on extra layers of meaning when you listen to it with the thought in mind that it is an unacknowledged story of reactons to the menstrual taboo. The YouTube link also contains an additional Soul Stirrers recording, “Jesus Wash Away My Troubles” – a bonus!