Honour Restored by Jesus (Ros' Blog)
I’ve seen quite a few posts on social media recently written by people who feel stigmatised for their disability. It sometimes goes beyond being marginalised and overlooked in society, which in itself is bad enough. People feel targeted for disapproval, or seen as worthless if they are not able to make a net financial contribution to the country.
It reminded me of George Osborne’s disparaging remarks about people whose curtains are still drawn when the rest of us go to work – thereby stigmatising people with conditions like ME or cancer or recurrent migraine, and people who rely on the visits of carers to get them up in the morning. It also reminded me of a woman in the Bible who knew what it was to live with stigma.
She wasn’t allowed in the presence of her husband any longer. She wasn’t allowed to sit on the family’s furniture – anyone who sat on a seat she had used made their clothes ceremonially unclean and would have to burn them. It was twelve long years since she’d felt a human touch.
The loneliness, the hunger for human contact hadn’t abated over the years since her nightmare began, but she had become accustomed to living with its bite. Gradually her family’s affection had crumbled away into a sort of tolerance edged with contempt. Her daughter-in-law tossed some food into her corner of the room twice a day when she fed the family and they had grudgingly spared her a grubby mattress to lie down on at night.
Her son, the bright-eyed boy who used to run so eagerly into her arms when he was small, had grown into a masterful husband and father who gave his elderly father a place of honour in the family and his elderly mother a home of sorts. Yet even he avoided her eye contact with an embarrassment that was palpable.
When the day grew so hot that everyone with any sense was indoors in the shade, she would creep to the river bank to wash her clothes and bedding in the running water. She dared not go to the same spot used by the other women, but walked a long way downstream to avoid giving offence.
The ostracism and stigma were like prison walls around her. So it was very daring of her to creep into the crowd of people that day, pulling her clothes tightly around her in an instinctive attempt to avoid touching anyone. Nothing but a desperate hope, the resurrection within her of a dream she had believed was dead, could have impelled her to take this course of action.
She squeezed through the crowd surrounding Jesus, ashamed at touching people who she knew would recoil if they heard the truth about her. But there was no other way to get near Him, so she pressed on through. As soon as she was within arm’s length, she reached out and touched his tunic’s hem. She was instantly healed from the haemorrhage that had rendered her ceremonially unclean, but old habits die hard, and she tried to creep back unnoticed the way she’d come.
Jesus was having none of it. He knew her spirit was as much in need of healing as her body. So he called her forward and, when she hesitated to respond, insisted that she make herself known. Trembling with fear she came and fell at his feet, the words of apology forming on her lips. To her astonishment, far from reprimanding her, He publicly honoured her for her faith.
Jesus knew that it was more than just her body which had suffered during those twelve years, but that the stigma of other people’s revulsion towards her had inflicted deep wounds on her spirit. And to Him it was essential that she was restored to wholeness, the wholeness that came from knowing that she was loved, valued and honoured by God. Indeed, the honour that Jesus bestowed on her swept away all the shame and humiliation and she left Him with her head held high; whole, secure and loved.
If anyone reading this feels stigmatised by attitudes in society, the words of politicians, the tone of newspaper articles, the looks of passing strangers, here is good news indeed. There is healing for your spirit, there is honour instead of stigma and an assurance of being treasured instead of shame. And for us today, as for that woman two thousand years ago, it’s found in one place: in an encounter with Jesus.
So I encourage you to reach out to Him. No matter how wounded your spirit or how damaged your self-esteem; reach out to Jesus. He will welcome you, honour you and restore you to the sense of the full value and worth that you have in God’s eyes. See yourself as He sees you, and find joy in His love for you.