As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out 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.”
(Luke 8:42-48 ESV)
People will sometimes do things out of desperation they would never do under normal circumstances. The woman in the story had run out of resources and was in a terrible jam. Her “discharge of blood” had made her ceremonially unclean for the past twelve years. That is to say, she was not welcome in church. And if she was not welcome in church, that meant she was unacceptable to God in her present condition. And if she was unacceptable to God, she was also unacceptable to anyone else. She was a social outcast because of a medical condition she could do nothing about.
The fact that people were pressing in on Jesus meant that those nearest him were definitely in contact with his clothes. What the woman does is to merely touch the fringe of his tallit. The tallit is a Jewish prayer shawl normally made of wool and has special twined and knotted fringes (tzitziot) attached to each of its four corners. The tallit is thus sometimes called the arba kanfot, "four corners." So what the woman did was quite specific. Because the shawl is used in morning prayer by Jewish men, she figured that even though her prayers were unacceptable to God, perhaps she could “steal a prayer” by touching the prayer fringe on Jesus’ shawl. Because of how the shawl hangs on the shoulders of the man wearing it, my guess is that she reached out and touched one of the two that hang toward the rear of the garment, probably squeezing her hand through between two other people to complete her plan.
The connection that was made was not because someone touched Jesus’ body. What isn’t readily evident is that the woman was touching Jesus’ prayers. By implication, the fact that Jesus was aware that someone had “touched him” means that the power of prayer had been released, and he, being God, recognized it when it happened.
When the woman came forward she was trembling for two reasons. The first was very practical. She was an outcast, and didn’t want anyone in the crowd to know it. If she was “found out” she’d be cast out or worse. She was also probably trembling because she realized that the power of prayer had been unleashed, and the fact that her preposterous plan had actually worked had some pretty huge implications in terms of who she might be dealing with in Jesus.
He calls her “daughter.” She has stolen nothing. She believed Jesus to be the source of healing and also the source of her connection to God.
Have you been stealing prayers from God? Do you come up sheepishly behind him and touch the fringe of his shawl in hope that he will grant your request without you having to actually talk with him face to face? What are you afraid of? Don’t come as a beggar when you are an heir! Don’t approach God as a pariah if you know he is your parent!
Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe he has saved you for all time and in all ways? Then you are already healed. Your faith has made you well. Approach him boldly as the child he has already declared you to be. He calls you clean. Why live as if he will strike you? It is time to stop touching the fringe of his garment when you could be in his full embrace. Those are strong arms, and he has a joyful and loving heart.
Your faith has made you well; go in peace.