Before Cinderella was the most sought-after footwear model in all the land, she was a despised maid. She was a mistreated, neglected stepdaughter forced to tend to her bratty sisters. This part of Cinderella's story highlights something many of us struggle with: shame—particularly, the shame that comes from being shunned. Whether it’s a high school clique that keeps you from sitting at their table or an evil stepmother who treats you cruelly, no one wants to feel despised.
Cinderella’s story points us to an older, richer one that also features a destitute woman. This woman, whose name we don’t know, had a physical reminder of her isolation—a continual flow of blood.
PORTRAIT OF A DESTITUTE WOMAN
Her condition made her unclean in the Roman-era Jewish culture. According to Jewish law, every woman was considered unclean during the period of her menstruation. This meant that no one could touch them because they would also be made unclean. If the menstruating woman sat on a chair, it became unclean and nobody else could sit on it, or they would become unclean. This poor woman had a perpetual menstrual flow, so she was perpetually unclean.
Therefore, she would have likely lived separately from everyone. She couldn’t be touched by anyone. If she were a young woman when she contracted this condition, she would never have been able to be married or have a family. If it happened later in her life, after she had a family, she would never have been able to touch her children, hug them or comfort them in her arms, or even hold their little hands. This condition had ruined her life and she was desperate to be healed from it.
She had subjected herself to painful procedures with multiple doctors, yet she had only grown worse. Her humiliation, rejection, and degradation must have been completely devastating.
But that wasn’t the end of her story.
A SICK GIRL AND A DESTITUTE WOMAN
The poor woman’s story begins as an interruption to the narrative of Jairus and his sick daughter (Mark 5:21-24; 5:35-43), but the two stories are intertwined. Jairus’ daughter was twelve years old and the bleeding woman had suffered for twelve years, though both parties were desperate for healing. Jairus was the leader of the synagogue, a well-known and respected man. He acted as a powerful advocate for his daughter by pleading with Jesus for her life. The destitute woman had no one to advocate for her.
Even still, somewhere in her broken life a glimmer of hope still flickered. So desperate was she for healing, that on hearing of Jesus’s power and that he was passing through her town, she risked everything to go and touch him.
She would have had to cover her face and sneak out of her house. When she entered the crowd, she would have made everyone she touched unclean. Had she been discovered, she could have been stoned. But still, she pressed on and pressed in through the crowd, nearer and nearer to Jesus.
As Jesus walked to Jairus’ house to heal his child, the bleeding woman pushed her way through the crowd, reached out, and touched the hem of his robe.
Immediately, she was healed.
THE GOSPEL HEALS AND ADOPTS
As this healing is taking place, we can imagine Jairus is eager for Jesus to hurry up so he can come and heal his daughter. Jesus, however, takes his time with this woman, even while the young daughter's life is hanging in the balance. Jesus’ unhurried approach shows that God has equal time and power for all. No one is more important to him than anyone else.
The beauty of this story, which captures so much of the gospel, is that Jesus wills that no one should perish, but that all should come to eternal life (John 3:16-17; 1 Tim. 2:4). Here, Jesus stops in the middle of a lifesaving mission for an important man’s daughter and heals an unknown, nameless, rejected, and unclean woman. He healed not only her physical ailment but her deeper, spiritual ailment as well. And he accepted her in a way she had never even dreamed of by calling her “daughter” (Mark 5:34).
The gospel heals and adopts. It heals us of our spiritual ailment—sin—and adopts us into the family of God (see Eph. 1:5).
The love of God stretches infinitely; it reaches into the hearts and lives of every person despite their social status, nationality, income, gender, or renown (Gal. 3:28). This is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.
JESUS KNOWS YOUR NEED BETTER THAN YOU DO
The destitute woman’s faith was probably influenced by superstition. She had likely heard that some people believed Jesus to be the Messiah. There was a widely held belief at the time that if a person touched a tassel on the Messiah’s garment that person would be healed. Desperately holding onto this belief, the woman kept pressing in until she touched the clothes of Jesus.
And she was healed! This was all her dreams come true! All the suffering, all the doctors, all the years of isolation, rejection, and pain, came to an end the moment of her healing. As soon as she received healing for her greatest need, she turned to flee for home, intending to leave in obscurity. But Jesus had a different plan.
REDEEMED AS A DAUGHTER
Jesus understood the woman’s true need in a way she didn’t comprehend. And so, he calls her out of the crowd, saying, “Who touched me?” And she stopped.
Why didn’t she just keep running? Why did she stop and come back? Well, because it’s hard to run when the voice of God is calling you. The same voice that called Lazarus out of the grave called to this unknown, desperate woman, and at the sound of Jesus’s voice, she fell at his feet, trembling in fear, and told him the whole truth.
After she confesses, Jesus does something unheard of, yet wonderful—he reached down and touched her. The purest, most righteous man to have ever lived touched the unclean woman, claiming her as his own. The word “daughter” that Jesus uses here is a term of the most intimate endearment. It would never be used with a stranger. He uses it nowhere else in the gospels.
Jesus adopted this nameless woman into his family. He touched her uncleanness and called her precious daughter, and then he told her to go in peace.
When something dirty is touched by something clean, the clean thing becomes dirty. If you clean your car with a white rag, the rag will soon be black. Jesus took our “uncleanness,” to the cross with him. He became the dirty rag which washed us clean, and just like the woman in this story, he accepted us into his family.
While she had desperately wanted healing, and had thought that was her greatest need, Jesus knew the true needs of her life. He gave her public acceptance, healing, and peace. He called her “daughter.”
FLESH PRESSES, FAITH TOUCHES
This story shows us that God knows our needs better than we do. We may come to him imperfectly, as this woman did, not truly seeking to know him more but to lay hold of an answer to prayer. Yet he is still willing to accept us.
“Flesh presses, faith touches. He can always distinguish between the jostle of a curious mob and the agonized touch of a needy soul.”
If your need is great enough to make you sincerely and desperately turn to God, if you, like this woman, will risk everything just to reach out and touch Jesus, he will meet your needs and more.
He will be your Savior. He will deliver you from your shame.
Quoted from George Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark, (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1927), 127.
Jody Ponce is on the women's ministry team in Calvary Cork, Ireland. She is married to Ricky Ponce, and she is the mother of three young children.