By Michael Twohig, Christendom College
Luke 8 consists of the parable of the sower and the seeds and then a series of miracles, which include the calming of the storm, the exorcism of the man possessed by demons, the healing of the woman suffering from the issue of blood, and the raising from the dead of Jairus’s daughter. While this may seem like a disparate collection of miracle stories lacking an underlying unity, the parable and each miracle provides an opportunity for reflection upon the relationship between faith in Christ and the miracles He performed. In some instances, Christ performs miracles in order to prove to onlookers “that God dwelt in Him by grace, not of adoption, but of union: and that His supernatural doctrine was from God” and “that signs be given ‘to unbelievers,’ viz. that they may be converted.” In others, Christ performs miracles in order to confirm someone’s faith, as in the case of the woman with the issue of blood about which St. Bonaventure said: “And he said to her: Daughter your faith has saved you. As if he were saying: Rightly has she come to this point because she has believed.” The miraculous healing of the woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8:43-48 specifically conforms to the second type of miracle. Moreover, the passage can be read with different senses that add various levels of meaning but are all unified by their emphasis upon the importance of faith in Christ. At the surface level, Luke 8:43-48 presents the example of a woman with profound faith in Christ and the reward of her faith. When read in the historical sense, the passage reveals how faith in Christ supersedes adherence to the Mosaic Law. Finally, when read in the allegorical sense, the passage indicates the importance of faith in the salvation of the Gentiles and Jews.
The story of the miraculous healing of the woman with the issue of blood lies within the overarching story of Jesus’s raising of Jairus’s daughter from the dead that spans Luke 8:40-56. The story opens with Jesus returning from the land of the Gerasens to an unnamed city. Upon entering the city, “there came a man whose name was Jairus, and he was a ruler of a synagogue: and he fell down at the feet of Jesus…For he had an only daughter, almost twelve years old, and she was dying.” Jesus follows, and as He goes “he was thronged by the multitudes.” In the midst of the crowd was a woman who suffered from “an issue of blood twelve years, who had bestowed all her substance on physicians, and could not be healed by any.” St. Bonaventure draws attention to “the impossibility of human intervention through medical skill…to obtain a cure,” with the woman having “spent all her means” to try to heal herself to no avail. Indeed, the Haydock Bible Commentary notes that “‘all her substance’” refers to all that she had to live on.” Undeterred, this woman “came behind Jesus, and touched the hem of his garment; and immediately the issue of her blood stopped.” Jesus proceeds to ask those around Him who touched Him, and they all deny it and point out that being jostled in the midst of a huge crowd was unavoidable; indeed, the Haydock Bible Commentary notes that “All denied that they had designedly touched him, though on account of the pressure of the crowd, many unwillingly touched him.” However, Jesus then states, “Somebody hath touched me; for I know that virtue is gone out from me.” The woman comes forward and “declared before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was immediately healed.” Jesus then says to her, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go thy way in peace.” Immediately after this interaction, a messenger “cometh to the ruler of the synagogue, saying to him: ‘Thy daughter is dead, trouble him not.’” Thus, as François Bovon notes, “The episode of the woman with the discharge of blood forces Jesus to arrive at the house of the sick girl too late,” and sets the stage for Jesus’ miraculous raising of the dead girl back to life.
The overwhelming majority of Church Fathers celebrate the deep faith in Christ that this woman has and view the episode as Christ presenting the faithful woman as an example for imitation. St. Thomas summarizes Titus Bostrensis as stating: “Of how great praise then is this woman worthy, who with her bodily powers exhausted by the continual issue of blood, and with so great a crowd thronging around Him, in the strength of her affection and faith entered the crowd, and coming behind, secretly touched the hem of His garment.” Additionally, some compare the woman’s miraculous healing with Jairus and his dying daughter. St. Cyril interprets Jairus, who is described as “a ruler of a synagogue,” as among the “rulers of the synagogue of the Jews [who] made the very miracle,” that of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead, “food for envy, sprung from the guilt of murder.” However, St. Cyril asserts that “the fear of death…[that] assailed his daughter” impelled him to seek out Jesus’ intervention. In the midst of Jesus’ journey with Jairus, the miracle occurs, and St. Cyril notes that “the miracle did not remain hid; for the Saviour, though knowing all things, asked as if He knew it not…because He ever keeps in view the benefit of those who are called to grace through faith.” As St. John Chrysostom states, one of the reasons Jesus brings the woman forward is to “exhibit[s] her faith to all, so as to provoke the rest also to emulation; and His staying of the fountains of her blood was no greater sign in signifying His knowledge of all things.” More particularly, and in line with the view St. Cyril takes with regards to Jairus, he states, “Moreover, the ruler of the synagogue, who was on the point of thorough unbelief, and so of utter ruin, He corrects by the woman.” Indeed, as St. Cyril states, “The concealment of the miracle would have been injurious to many, but being made known, it benefitted them in no small degree; and especially the ruler of the synagogue himself. For it gave security to the hope to which he looked forward to, and made him firmly trust that Christ would deliver his daughter from the bonds of death.” The Church Fathers celebrate the example of the woman’s faith, which acts as an example not only for the edification of Jairus and those present in the crowd in that moment, but also for all future readers of the Gospel. Interestingly, at the end of his sermon, St. Cyril takes this celebration of an example of faith in Christ and synthesizes it with a historical understanding of the Law and the question of righteousness:
And this too was for the benefit of Jairus, though it was indeed a hard lesson. For he learns, that neither the legal worship, nor the shedding of blood, nor the slaying of goats and calves, nor the circumcision of the flesh, nor the rest of the sabbaths, nor ought besides of these temporary and typical matters, can save the dwellers upon earth; faith only in Christ can do so, by means of which even the blessed Abraham was justified and called the friend of God, and counted worthy of especial honours.
Understanding Luke 8:43-48 in its proper historical sense sheds light upon what otherwise may seem like a rather straightforward miracle. St. Luke emphasizes that the woman suffers from “having an issue of blood.” In the words of St. Cyril, who alongside St. Bonaventure and St. John Chrysostom observed the import of this detail, “What then was it made that sick woman wish to remain hid? It was because the law of the all-wise Moses imputed impurity to any woman who was suffering from an issue of blood, and everywhere called her unclean: and whoever was unclean, might neither touch any thing that was holy, nor approach a holy man.” St. Bonaventure and St. John Chrysostom cite Leviticus 15:25 as the precept dealing with impurities stemming from an issue of blood, which reads “The woman that hath an issue of blood many days out of her ordinary time, or that ceaseth not to flow after the monthly courses, as long as she is subject to this disease, shall be unclean.” As Bovon notes at length,
A discharge of blood during or apart from menstruation belongs to the sphere of death and impurity, in contrast to living blood, the gift of God and carrier of life (Lev 17:11). Like illness, impurity is contagious. God’s Law and human traditions intend to preserve life, to determine with the utmost seriousness the extent and degree of impurification that has already taken place, and to guard against further evil.
Having the Mosaic Law as context shines greater light upon the woman’s decision to hide herself when she approached Jesus; as St. Cyril states, “For this reason the woman was careful to remain concealed, lest as having transgressed the law, she should have to bear the punishment which it imposed.”
Bovon then examines the “juxtaposition of law and gospel” that this passage introduces. According to Bovon, the woman’s “misery is thus threefold: she has no more possessions, she has lost her health, and her ritual impurity has separated her from God and from other people.” However, “In this condition she nevertheless dares to hope and to trust in Jesus.” Bovon notes that “Unlike God’s law regarding the sanctuary (Lev 15:31), Jesus as the representative of God does not subject such people with discharges of blood to the danger of death. On the contrary, a healing power streams forth from him that restores life (v. 46).” Bovon asserts that Jesus’ miraculous healing of the woman presents “a criticism of the Law contained in the story”; while such an interpretation seems belabored, Bovon is nevertheless justified in sensing an apparent conflict between the Mosaic Law and Jesus’s own actions. As he puts it, “According to the Law and its interpretation at that time, the unclean woman was not supposed to enter into a crowd. If she touches someone (v. 44), this is a sin and renders that person impure for a day. But in v. 48, on the contrary, Jesus interprets this action on the part of the woman as faith.” Indeed, as Bovon continues, “The woman need have no fear; her touching Jesus was a sign of her faith, unlike the pressing of the crowd.” As Jesus states in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” Jesus does not denigrate the Law through His miracle, but instead uses this episode to illustrate that it is faith that makes someone righteous before God rather than outward conformity to the Mosaic Law, which served primarily as a pedagogical and disciplinary tool for the Israelites. This is especially the case for the ritual and disciplinary parts of the Law that dealt with such concerns of purity and impurity like the woman’s issue of blood, which ritual laws have been “fulfilled by the-once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ, made present in the Mass” and which disciplinary laws were “necessary for Israel during its period of ‘being set apart’ from the Gentiles” and “Its purpose is therefore fulfilled.” St. Thomas summarizes Theophylact as commenting about the woman, “For she believed, and was saved, and as was fitting first touched Christ with her mind, then with her body.” Since the goal of the entirety of the Law is to lead one to faith, the woman has achieved that goal prior to her actions. Jesus emphasizes as much when He addresses the woman after she reveals herself: “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole.” Bovon offers a final detail that supports the notion that the woman’s actions simultaneously respect the Old Law and point towards Christ as the New Law:
He [Jesus] wears on his garment the fringe demanded by Moses (Num 15:37-39; Deut 22:12)…The main passage about the fringe states that it will be a sign to people to remind them to run not after their own sinful thoughts…but after the commands of God. Does the text thus discreetly indicate that the woman who stands behind Jesus and touches his fringe wishes to keep the commands of God in mind, and not her own sinful thoughts?
Thus, this small episode serves as another example in the Gospels of Christ as the fulfilment of the Law; as St. Bonaventure states, “Faith, too, has saved her, for Romans 10:13 has: “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Finally, St. Ambrose and St. Bede allegorically interpret the woman and Jairus and his daughter as representing the Gentiles and the Jews, respectively. St. Thomas summarizes St. Ambrose as saying, “But whom do we suppose the chief of the synagogue to be, but the Law, from consideration of which our Lord had not entirely abandoned the synagogue.” As St. Bede details further, “Or, by the figure of the synagogue is understood Moses. Hence he is rightly called Jairus, that is, ‘enlightening’ or ‘enlightened,’ as he who receives the words of life to give us, thereby both enlightens others, and is himself also enlightened by the Holy Spirit.” Moreover
His only daughter is the Synagogue, which alone was framed with a legal institution; which at twelve years of age…lay dying; for having been brought up nobly by the prophets, as soon as it came to years of discretion, when it ought to bring forth spiritual fruits to God being suddenly subdued through its weakness and error, it forgot to enter the way of spiritual life, and unless Christ had come to its help would have fallen away into destruction.
Drawing a distinction between the allegorical importance of Jairus and his daughter as representatives of the Jews, St. Thomas, summarizing St. Ambrose, states, “But while the Word of God hastens to this daughter of the ruler that He might save the children of Israel, the holy Church collected from among the Gentiles which was perishing by its falling away into gross crimes, seized first by faith the health prepared by others.” St. Bede states that the issue of blood represents “both [for] the prostitution of idolatry and [for] those things which are done for the delights of the flesh and blood.” St. Thomas summarizes St. Ambrose as stating that just “as she had spent all her substance upon physicians, so the Gentile nations had lost all the gifts of nature.” St. Thomas continues with his summary of St. Ambrose by saying that the Gentiles, like the woman, “hearing that the people of the Jews were sick, she begins to hope for the remedy of their salvation; she knew that the time was arrived when a Physician should come from heaven, she rose to meet Him, more ready from faith, more backward from modesty.” Continuing in this comparison, just as the woman “in faith [she] came, in piety believed, in wisdom knew herself to be healed,” St. Thomas summarizes St. Ambrose as saying that “the holy people of the Gentiles which believed God, blushed at its sins so as to desert them, offered its faith in believing, shewed its devotion in asking, put on wisdom in itself feeling its own cure, assumed boldness to confess that it had forestalled what was not its own.” And so, just as the woman’s issue of blood could not be cured by any man save the power of God as noted by St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas summarizes St. Ambrose as stating that “the Gentile people is not released by man’s aid, but by the gathering of nations is the gift of God, which even by its little faith turns itself the everlasting mercy.” This allegorical reading shifts the woman with the issue of blood’s role from an example of Jesus’ fulfilment of the Law (as per the historical sense) to representing the Gentiles who never knew the Law, but the message is ultimately the same: Jesus became incarnate to save the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and only through faith in Him can persons of either group be saved. Indeed, as St. Bede emphasizes, “And He Himself says, ‘If any man serve me, let him follow me.’ (John 13:26) Or, because not seeing Christ present in the flesh, now that the sacraments of the temporary dispensation were completed, the Church began to follow His footsteps through faith.” If, then, the dying girl represents the Jewish synagogue, dying from its own “weakness and error” (St. Bede), the woman represents the Gentiles, who without the guidance or strictures of the Law to help inform their faith, recognize in Christ “the remedy of their salvation” (St. Ambrose) and come to believe in Him and seek His grace.
Far from the simplistic and straightforward miracle story that this short passage may seem like at first glance, Luke 8:43-48 contains profound layers of meaning when considered more deeply. The passage first presents the woman with an issue of blood as an exemplar of faith in Christ, with her faith being revealed and praised for the benefit of those people in the moment and us today. When understood in its historical context, the passage reveals another instance in the Gospels wherein Christ seems to tolerate the breaking of the Mosaic Law, not in order to flout it but to fulfil its true meaning. As Bovon states, “Jesus accepts the contact forbidden by the Law with the ritually impure and with death,” and because of “their faith in God and trust in Jesus, the woman and the girl experience the healing power of God and become a paradigm for the Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian communities.” Finally, the allegorical reading of several of the Church Fathers extends the importance of faith beyond the Jews, who were bound to the Old Law, to include the Gentiles as well, whose first experience of Christ does come not through their adherence to the Law but through the supernatural gift of faith. All three senses have the same underlying theme running throughout them: that of the primacy of faith in making one righteous in the eyes of God. The woman’s profound faith that prompted her to reach out and touch the hem of Christ’s garment, in spite of the Law’s imputation of impurity for her issue of blood, was enough for her to merit the healing of her body. Christ rewarded the purity of the woman’s soul, expressed by her ardent faith, with the healing of the impurity of her body.
Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologiae. Trans. by Fathers of the Dominican Province, 2nd rev. ed. New Advent (accessed April, 2020).
Aquinas, St. Thomas. Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected Out of the Works of the Fathers, Volumes 1 to 4. Vol. III, St. Luke. Trans. by Thomas Dudley Ryder. Edited by John Henry Parker. London: J.G.F. and J. Rivington, 1841. e-Catholic 2000 https://www.ecatholic2000.com/catena/untitled-69.shtml#_Toc384506969 (accessed April 20, 2020).
Bede. Commentary on St. Luke. Quoted in St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected Out of the Works of the Fathers, Volumes 1 to 4. Vol. III, St. Luke. Trans. by Thomas Dudley Ryder. Edited by John Henry Parker. London: J.G.F. and J. Rivington, 1841. e-Catholic 2000 https://www.ecatholic2000.com/catena/untitled- 69.shtml#_Toc384506969 (accessed April 20, 2020).
Bonaventure. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1-8. In Saint Bonaventure’s Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1-8. Trans. and edited by Robert J. Kariss. Part of the Bonaventure Texts in Translation Series, Vol. 8 Part 1. Franciscan Institute Publications, 1/1/2001. ProQuest eBook from Christendom College library WorldCat search (accessed April 20, 2020).
Bovon, François. “Jairus’s Daughter and the Woman with the Discharge of Blood (8:40-56).” In Luke 1: A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1-9:50. Edited by Helmut Koester, 333- 341. Augsburg Fortress, Publisher, 2002. JSTOR (accessed April 21, 2020).
Chrysostom, St. John. Homily 31 on Matthew. In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 10. Trans. by George Prevost and revised by M.B. Riddle. Edited by Philip Schaff. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. New Advent (accessed April 20, 2020).
Cyril of Alexandria. Sermon XLV. In A Commentary Upon the Gospel According to St. Luke. Trans. by R. Payne Smith, Part I & II. Oxford: At the University Press, 1859. Copyright by Aeterna Press (2014). e-Catholic 2000 https://www.ecatholic2000.com/cyril/untitled- 37.shtml#_Toc385688082 (accessed April 21, 2020).
Haydock, George Leo. Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary on the New Testament, Transcription based on Haydock’s notes in the 1859 ed. of the Catholic Family Bible and Commentary. New York, NY: Edward Dunigan and Brother. e-Catholic2000 https://www.ecatholic2000.com/haydock/ntcomment56.shtml (accessed April 20, 2020).
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Jenislawski, Eric. “Thematic Analysis of Galatians” Handout. Christendom College Library Class Pages (accessed April, 2020).
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, trans. by Fathers of the Dominican Province, 2nd rev. ed., Tertia Pars, q. 43, a. 1, c. and ad. 3. New Advent (accessed April, 2020). Subsequent citations of the Summa will be designated by ST and part, question, and article.
St. Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1-8, in The Works of St. Bonaventure: St. Bonaventure’s Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1-8, trans. and edited by Robert J. Kariss, part of the Bonaventure Texts in Translation Series, Vol. 8, Part 1 (Franciscan Institute Publications, 1/1/2001), 724. ProQuest eBook from Christendom College library WorldCat search (accessed April 20, 2020). ST, Tertia Pars, q. 43, a. 1, c.: “God enables man to work miracles for two reasons. First and principally, in confirmation of the doctrine that a man teaches.”
George Leo Haydock, Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary on the New Testament, transcription based on Haydock’s notes in the 1859 ed. of the Catholic Family Bible and Commentary (New York, NY: Edward Dunigan and Brother), Luke 8, Verse 43. e-Catholic2000 https://www.ecatholic2000.com/haydock/ntcomment56.shtml (accessed April 20, 2020).
François Bovon, “Jairus’s Daughter and the Woman with the Discharge of Blood (8:40-56),” in Luke 1: A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1-9:50, edited by Helmut Koester (Augsburg Fortress, Publisher, 2002), 339. JSTOR (accessed April 21, 2020).
Titus Bostrensis (non occ., no reference could be found), quoted in St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected Out of the Works of the Fathers, Volumes 1 to 4. Vol. III, St. Luke ch. 8, trans. by Thomas Dudley Ryder, edited by John Henry Parker (London: J.G.F. and J. Rivington, 1841). e-Catholic 2000 https://www.ecatholic2000.com/catena/untitled-69.shtml#_Toc384506969 (accessed April 20, 2020). All subsequent citations of the Catena Aurea, which commentary is on Luke 8, will be from this edition and denoted by the name of the Father quoted by St. Thomas, the Father’s work (if provided), and ‘quoted in the Catena Aurea.’
Luke 8:41, D-R, and St. Cyril, Sermon XLV, in A Commentary Upon the Gospel According to St. Luke, trans. by R. Payne Smith, Part I & II (Oxford: At the University Press, 1859), copyright by Aeterna Press (2014). e-Catholic 2000 https://www.ecatholic2000.com/cyril/untitled-37.shtml#_Toc385688082 (accessed April 21, 2020).
St. John Chrysostom, Homily 31 on Matthew, trans. by George Prevost and revised by M.B. Riddle, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Frist Series, Vol. 10, edited by Philip Schaff (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888), revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. New Advent (accessed April 20, 2020). Although this homily from St. Chrysostom is on Matthew 9:18, Mt. 9:18 is the parallel account to Luke 8:40-56, and St. Chrysostom even references Luke in the homily.
St. John Chrysostom, Homily 31 on Matthew. St. Cyril, v. Chrys. 31 in Matt., quoted in the Catena Aurea. St. Thomas summarizes St. Cyril as stating: “Moreover, He persuaded the ruler of the synagogue to believe undoubtingly that He would rescue his daughter from the hands of death.”
St. Bede, Commentary on St. Luke, quoted in the Catena Aurea. The translator and editor’s preface to St. Luke in the Catena Aurea seems to indicate that St. Thomas takes his citations from this Commentary of St. Bede’s, although in the text itself there are no references to this commentary. I will assume that the translator/editor in the preface meant that all attributions to St. Bede in the Catena Aurea on St. Luke are from this particular Commentary.
St. Ambrose, quoted in the Catena Aurea, and St. Bonaventure, 719. St. Bonaventure: “And so it is probable that if this illness had been curable, it would have been cured by human skill. — However, human skill did not produce a cure, as the text says: but could not be cured by anyone. Thus neither from nature nor from human skill could help be given her, so that what Wisdom 16:12 says might be verified in her: ‘Neither herb nor mollifying plaster healed them, but your word, O Lord, who heals all things.’”