By Horatius Bonar
Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve 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 from that moment. Matthew 9:20-22.
Here, we may say, we have the record of one who had learned to do justice to the love of God, and to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not of many can this be said, in a world of unbelief like ours; but here is one. We do not know her name; no other part of her history is told us. She is brought before us simply as one who trusted in the Son of God, who had tasted that the Lord was gracious. Like a sudden star, she shines out and then disappears. But her simple faith remains as our example.
It is not the great multitude "thronging" Christ that here draws our eye. It is the woman and the Lord; the sick one and her Healer; the sinner and the Savior. From everyone else our eye is turned, and fixed on these. In this brief narrative concerning them, we find such things as the following:
I. The way in which these two are thrown together. The Lord has just received the ruler's message concerning his little daughter, and he is hastening to Capernaum. His direct errand is about the dying child. But, on his way, the Father finds much for him to do; and, by chance, as men say--this sick woman crosses his path and detains him a moment; for it is only sickness, or sorrow, or death, that either detain him or hasten him on. In his blessed path as the healer, he is ever willing to be arrested by the sons of men; counting this no detention, no trouble, no hindrance--but the true fulfillment of his heavenly mission. Opportunities such as these were welcome to him; nor was he at any time too busy, too much in haste, to take up the case of the needy, however suddenly brought before him. To him no interruption was unwelcome which appealed to his love or power.
These by-errands of the Son of Man were often his most blessed ones, as at Nain, and Jacob's well, and the sycamore of Jericho. I know not whether we prize our own by-errands sufficiently, our "accidental" opportunities of working or speaking for God. We like to plan, and to carry out our plans to the end; and we do not quite like interruptions or detentions. Yet these may be, after all, our real work. Little can we guess, when forming our plans for the day, on what errands God may send us; and as little can we foresee, when setting out even on the shortest journey, what opportunity may cross our path, of serving the Master, and blessing our fellow men.
Whitefield, on his way to Glasgow, is drawn aside unexpectedly to tarry a night in the house of strangers. To that family he brings salvation. A minister of Christ misses the train which was to convey him to his destination. He frets a little--but sets out to walk the ten miles as best he may. He is picked up by a kind stranger in a carriage, a man of the world, who has not been in the house of God for years. He speaks a word, gives a book, thanks the stranger in the Master's name for his kindness, and joys to learn some years after, that he missed the train in order to be the messenger of eternal life to a heedless sinner!
II. The occasion of their being brought together. It is the incurability of the woman's ailment by earthly skill, that throws her upon the heavenly physician. Man has done his utmost for twelve years--but has failed. She gets worse, not better. But man's failure brings her to one who cannot fail. Man's helplessness shuts her up to help that is almighty, and sends her to one who can do exceeding abundantly above all she asks or thinks. How slow are we to turn from man to God! Not twelve years--but many times twelve years do we continue in our trouble, trying successive remedies--going to one and another and another physician, crying--Heal me, heal me! We hew out cistern after cistern; and still, as each one breaks, we try another. We go the round of vanity, and pleasure, and sin, endeavoring to fill our empty souls; and turning away at last with the despairing cry, "Oh, who will show us any good?" But, like the prodigal, we begin to bethink ourselves. "There is bread enough in our Father's house," we say--Shall we not arise and seek it? We have tried man, shall we not try God? We have gone to earthly wells, shall we not try the heavenly? Thus earthly disappointment is the introduction to heavenly blessedness. The uselessness of human medicines sends us to the balm of Gilead, and to the physician who is there. Nor does he reject us because we have tried him last, and because we would gladly have done without him if we could. He welcomes us as if we had come to him first; nor does he upbraid us with our delay. Blessed failures, happy disappointments, that thus throw men, with their poor aching hearts, upon the loving-kindness of the Lord!
III. The point of connection between them. It is the woman's malady. Incurability is the occasion of the connection; but the point or link of connection is the disease itself. Had it not been for this, she would not have sought the Lord. It is not that which is whole about her--but that which is diseased, that draws the healer to the sick one, and the sick one to the healer.
So, it is sin that is our point of connection with Jesus. Not our good--but our lack of good--no, our evil, our total evil. Our death and his life; our weakness and his strength; our poverty and his riches--these are the things that meet and clasp each other. All connection with the Son of God must begin with our sin; for he came not to call the righteous--but sinners, to repentance; he receives sinners; he saves the lost.
This is the point in dispute between the Savior and the self-righteous. This is the truth that we are so slow to learn; yet it is the essence of the gospel. Did we but fully know and act upon this, how differently would we treat the Lord! Distrust and distance would be ended, for the cause of these would be taken out of the way. We stand aloof from him because we do not see in him the receiver of sinners; nor thoroughly recognize either his absolute goodness or our absolute evil. A good thought, a fervent feeling, an earnest prayer, a sorrowful tear--these are great things in our eyes; because we think they will recommend us to Him, and form so many points, at which he and we may come into contact with each other. Alas for our folly and unbelief; and alas for the misery and the darkness which they produce! We will not trust him for his own grace and goodness; we must bribe him to bless us! We would hide the evil in us, and we would display the good--in order to induce him to take us into his favor. But it is not thus that he receives. It is with sin he deals, and we must bring him that. It is with disease that he deals, and we must bring him that. If we refuse, there can be no meeting between Him and us, until we meet before the judgement throne!
IV. The woman's need of Christ. Hers had been a sore and long sickness; a great and a long need. Yet it was her need that made her welcome. Blessed need--which makes us welcome to the Lord! As with the woman, so with us. We need Christ! And what an amount of need is implied in this! A man who needs a hundred dollars is needy; but the man who needs ten thousand is far more so. That we need Christ--nothing less than Christ, yet nothing more--is the most appalling, yet also the most comforting announcement of a sinner's state that could be made. Nothing could be said more fitted to awaken, to alarm, to humble, than this--you need Christ! Such is the nature and the extent of your need, that less than the Incarnate Son and his fullness cannot avail you. We need Christ! This is the reason for our coming to him, and for his receiving us. We go to him, we deal with him, we make our case known to him--because we need him. It may be our sense of sin or our lack of a sense of sin; it may be our ignorance, our stupidity, our insensibility, our conscious absence of all goodness; it matters not. Only let these bring us at once and directly to himself. The emptiness is ours; but the fullness is his; infinite fullness dispensed by infinite love!
V. Christ's need of the woman. Does it sound strange to say that Christ needed the woman? It is true; and as blessed as it is true. The speaker needs his audience, as truly as the audience needs the speaker. The physician needs the sick man, as truly as the sick man the physician. The sun needs the earth as truly as the earth needs the sun. You may say, what would the earth be without the sun? Yes; but what would the sun be without an earth to shine upon? What would become of its radiance? All wasted. It would shine in vain. So Christ needed objects for the exercise of his skill, and love, and power. His fullness needed emptiness like ours to draw it out--otherwise it would have been pent up and unemployed. He is glorified, not simply in the possession of his fullness--but in the using of it. If it remains within himself, he is unglorified, and the Father is unglorified. He needed opportunities for drawing out his treasures. He needed the tax-collector as truly (though not in the same sense and way) as the tax-collector needed him. He needed Mary Magdalene and the woman of Sychar, and Simon the leper, and Lazarus of Bethany, as truly as they needed him. How cheering! The Lord has need of us! He needs guilty ones to pardon; he needs empty ones to fill; he needs poor ones to enrich! How precious and how ample is the gospel contained in this blessed truth!
VI. The woman's thoughts of Christ. Her thoughts of herself are poor. She is modest and humble; unwilling to obtrude herself on the Master. She is in earnest about her cure; but she takes the quietest way of obtaining it. Her desire to touch his garment is not error or ignorance--as if supposing that some virtue lay in its hem. Nor is her wish for secrecy, unbelief--but simply humility--humility, accompanied with such faith in him, that she feels assured that a touch of his clothing will suffice. She is unwilling to detain or trouble him; and she has such high thoughts of him as to convince her that a direct appeal is not needed. A touch will do; one touch of his garment! Thus she thinks within herself, in the simplicity of her happy faith. She knows his fullness is infinite, and that simple contact with him in any form will draw it out. The healing virtue in him is irrepressible. Like the sun--he cannot but shine. Like the garden--he cannot but give out his fragrance. Only let her come within touch of his clothing--and all is well.
She touched, and as she believed, so was it done to her. All was well.
Let such be our thoughts of this heavenly healer. He is the same in heaven as on earth. There still goes virtue out of him to heal the sons of men. Let us do justice to his love and skill--thinking no evil of Him--but only good. The simplest form of connection with him will accomplish the cure. Listening to his voice--that will do it. A look at his face--that will do it. A clasp of his hand--that will do it. A touch of his garment, even of its hem--that will do it. For "as many as touch him are made perfectly whole."