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Along with experiencing more social distancing than we ever wanted during the pandemic, we’ve also become attentive to the harmful effects of isolation and loneliness. As the Centers for Disease Control has reported, social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes.

In exploring four of the “healing narratives” in Mark’s Gospel during this month, I’m noting how curing differs from healing. Even though the two words get used interchangeably in translations of the Greek New Testament, Jesus is focused on what brings genuine healing, not just providing a cure.

Digging into the story of the woman who lived with a hemorrhage for 12 years (Mark 5:25-34), our recent experience with the pandemic helps me recognize certain dynamics in a new light. Old Testament purity laws had declared the woman ritually unclean (Leviticus 15:25-31) and had isolated her for far longer than anyone was isolated during the pandemic. Her physical health also declined steadily, no thanks to physicians. As Amy Julia Becker makes plain in To Be Made Well:

Even today, constant menstrual bleeding would be smelly and messy and potentially shameful. In Jesus’ day, in a time without sanitary products and flushing toilets, in a time without showers and washing machines, we can hardly conceive what this woman’s life would have been like. She lived in a culture where women were already considered inferior to men, and her condition meant she could not bear children. In a social context that equated childbearing with personal worth, she was cut off from herself as a woman, cut off from honor, cut off from giving birth to future generations.

In excluding and isolating those who were sick, chronically ill, or disabled, Old Testament purity laws sought to protect the community—much like isolating those who test positive from COVID—but also heaped stigma and shame on sick, chronically ill, and disabled people. These atypical individuals are seldom if ever named in the Bible, known instead only by their despised condition. (For the remainder of this post, I’ll temporarily remedy this by naming the woman in Mark 5, Flo.)

In her desperation, Flo defies all cultural norms by joining a large group that’s crowding Jesus. She maneuvers her way to get close enough to touch his robe, and immediately her bleeding is cured. As it’s told in The Message, “She could feel the change and knew her plague was over and done with. At the same moment, Jesus felt energy discharging from him. He turned around to the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my robe?’ His disciples said, ‘What are you talking about? With this crowd pushing and jostling you, you’re asking, “Who touched me?” Dozens have touched you!’”

Jesus persists while an embarrassed Flo tries to remain invisible. But when she’s overcome with emotion, she steps forward with fear and trembling, kneels, and confesses to Jesus the whole story. As it turns out, Jesus’ motives are not to chastise or condemn Flo, but to commend her bold faith and restore her social, religious, and communal standing by announcing to everyone: “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.”

A miraculous cure from 12 years of bleeding was not all that Jesus was concerned about. Besides turning purity laws and social conventions on their head by interacting 1) with a woman who 2) was unclean, Jesus recognized that genuine healing includes restoration of all the privileges of community. Jesus’ miracle suggests that Flo should be welcomed and reintegrated so she can experience a renewed sense of belonging.

The account of Flo’s cure and restoration as a woman happens within a larger story of privilege and desperation of Jairus, a wealthy (male) synagogue leader who asks Jesus to save his young daughter from dying. Amanda Bakale wrote in a recent Reformed Journal review of Women Who Do: Female Disciples in the Gospels: “As a preacher I have crafted sermons on Jesus, Jairus, and the [hemorrhaging] woman in Mark but I will probably never preach it again without considering the contrast between how easy it was for Jairus to approach Jesus and how persistently the [hemorrhaging] woman had to pursue him in order to receive a healing they both needed.”

Jairus was a man, a respected leader in the community, and already lived with a privileged status, whereas Flo did not. Jesus provided the cure both Flo and Jairus sought, but he also recognized that for Flo to experience real healing from her chronic illness, he needed to do something more. He affirmed her and declared she was a daughter of Israel who was healed and whole.

Imagine what this transformed existence might mean for her. Affirmed as a child of God, and without the constant worry of cleaning herself up, she could engage in the social ebb and flow of community life, living in the freedom everyone else took for granted.

Header photo by Josh Hild on Pexels
Covid Separation photo by Monstera Production on Pexels

Terry DeYoung

Terry DeYoung is a longtime disability advocate and promoter of accessible, anti-ableist communities that welcome and benefit from the gifts and experiences of all people. A Chicago native, he left a career in sportswriting to pursue ordination in the Reformed Church in America, serving as a pastor, magazine editor, and denominational staff member in Disability Concerns until his retirement in 2023.

Terry is married to Cindi Veldheer DeYoung, a hospital chaplain and advocate for living donor transplantation. They share their home in Holland Michigan with Dexter, a lively Brittany Spaniel. Among other things, they enjoy traveling, boating, baseball, craft beer, and all things Chicago.


  • Wesley says:

    Terry, both this column and your last have opened up new dimensions of the stories for me, thanks! I work as a hospice chaplain and pretty much daily see the difference between curing and healing. Because of purity laws and such, I think Jesus needed to cure diseases in order to heal people and their communities. Though it’s not wrong to pray for a cure or to work through medicine and science for a cure, healing is really the higher call of God’s people – ensuring that no one’s sickness or limitations keep them out of relationship with God and others.

  • Mark Stephenson says:

    Thanks, Terry. I appreciate your describing the challenges she lived with. Given these challenges, I can only begin to imagine Flo’s creative resourcefulness to keep body and soul together for 12 long years without a man to provide for her and without the right to get a job. And so she also creatively found a way to find a way to Jesus without the privilege that Jairus enjoyed. She was remarkable!

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Plus, the crowd would have been furious to know that she was making them unclean just by the press of the crowd, plus, as we’re talking synagogue, she was forbidden to worship God among God’s people in the synagogue where this guy was the ruler, and it was his job to keep her out! Plus, shame, shame, shame.

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