Jesus and the Unclean Woman
You are a 14-year-old girl. You've never been to school. You were married to a man in a neighboring village at age 13—before your first menstrual period—and six months later, you became pregnant. Now you are in labor with your first child.
Labor has already lasted for three days, but still the baby has not come. You are exhausted. You have lost a lot of blood and are running a fever. You haven't passed urine in over two days, and your genitals are horribly swollen and bruised from the constant pushing. Why won't the baby come out? you wonder. You dread the long, bony fingers of the old woman who is attending your birth. Nothing she does brings relief.
Soon the sun is rising on the morning of your fourth day of labor. At midday, with agony, you manage to pass the child from your body. The baby is stillborn. It has been dead for nearly three days and has started to decay. The softening of its tissues finally allowed it to pass through your vagina.
Thank God, you sigh. It's finally over. But it's not.
On the morning of the fifth day, you pass more dead tissue. And then it starts. Urine is running out of your vagina, onto your thighs, onto the floor. What is going on? The urine does not stop. You find some rags and stuff them between your thighs.
There, that ought to take care of it, you think. But it doesn't.
In an hour or two, the rags are soaked. In six hours, you have run out of rags. In 12 hours you notice—to your horror—that feces are also coming out. No matter how much you try, no matter how much you wash, you cannot get rid of it.
The odor and wetness are constant. Your husband is disgusted. He cannot stand to have you around. Your presence is unendurable.
"What has happened to you? What did you do?" he demands. You were supposed to have become a woman, the mother of his first-born son, but instead you have turned into a human cesspit. This all must be punishment for something you did.
He turns you out of the house. Your family takes you back, but you are not fit to live in their dwelling, so they put you in a shack on the edge of the family compound, where you sit day after day—alone, wretched, and stinking—until your family finally has had enough of you and casts you out.
You are 14. You are illiterate and have no money. You have no skills with which to earn a livelihood. You reek of urine and feces. And you want to die.
You don't know that your condition has a name; all you know is that you are cursed for reasons you don't understand. As far as you can tell, you are the only woman who has ever been afflicted in this way. You don't know that 3 to 4 million other women currently share your fate of having a fistula. Neither do you know that tens of thousands more join this sisterhood of suffering every year. As the lonely months roll by, you understand that this condition will not go away, that your injury will not heal on its own, and that nothing you can do will change your condition.
Most importantly, perhaps, you do not know that fistulas are both curable and preventable. You do not know that 150 years ago, thousands of American and European women suffered from this. You do not know that for only a few hundred dollars, a surgical operation could repair your injuries and restore your whole life.
The fifth chapter of Mark's gospel, verses 25 to 34, contains a story of the healing of a woman with a chronic bleeding problem:
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." (NRSV)