Exceptions to the Rule

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One of the most daunting tasks of reading through the Scriptures and trying to apply them to life is what to do with passages like Leviticus 15. In my Bible, the title of the chapter is “Discharges Causing Uncleanness.” Yippee! The bottom line for the Israelites was that anyone suffering a bodily discharge was unclean for a proscribed period of time and anything touched by that person or discharge was also unclean. At the end of the period of contamination sacrifices had to be made but until then that person was not allowed to coming to the Tent of Meeting. Verse 31 states: “You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so that they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.

Before going back to this statement, I want to pause at a New Testament story that highlights just how terrible the consequences of this particular commandment would have been.

Matthew 9:18-22 tells us about a woman who dared to break that commandment. Jesus was busy with a ruler, the father of a child who had just died. While everyone was focused on that tragedy and the request that the father was making of Jesus, this woman edged her way through the crowd and came within touching range of the Lord. The story goes: “Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’"

Imagine not having being able to touch anyone or anything for twelve years. Imagine not having had anyone touch you for twelve years. No hugs, or physical contact of any kind, from your husband or children. The utensils you used either washed vigorously or destroyed. Imagine never being able to go to the Temple to offer the sacrifices required for the atonement of your sins. Desperation must have set in for her to risk touching Jesus. She couldn’t even come to him as the ruler did and openly ask for healing. It would be beyond cruel if He had refused her because she was unclean—it was likely that many others had rejected her during her lifetime as it was.

But she believed that Jesus had the power to heal her. Besides, with the crowd pressing all around, she was certain He would never know that she had touched Him. But he did. The account recorded in Luke 8 tells that as soon as she touched Him she was healed and that as soon as she touched Him, he knew and asked outright who it had been. She confessed, “trembling,” (Luke 9:47) no doubt fearing a negative reaction from Him and from the crowd because in touching Him she had contaminated Him.

Jesus turned and saw her, ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you’” (Matthew 9:22).

Under the Old Testament mandate it was a capital crime punishable by death to contaminate the holy with the unholy. This woman, ceremonially unholy, touched THE HOLY. Instead of rejection, she found acceptance. Instead of dying she found life. By touching THE HOLY, she did not contaminate Him, He made her holy.

This is one of the most beautiful pictures that we find in the Scriptures of the difference Christ makes to the person who comes to Him in faith. It is a salvation story. Without Christ, who makes us holy by forgiving our sins, we cannot enter the presence of a holy God.

I wonder what the crowds thought of Jesus' declaration about the woman. I’m sure the Pharisees in the group did not consider her cleansed, would never have declared her holy, and probably now muttered under their breath that Jesus Himself was now ceremonially contaminated because she had touched Him. There were probably those in the crowd that still drew back from her because she hadn’t followed the rules and, as far as the Law was concerned, was still unclean. But Jesus knew, as the woman now knew, that no matter what anyone else thought or said, she and THE HOLY ONE were good. And that was all that counted.

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