Rituals for Purification
Open Your Bible
Leviticus 14:19-57, Leviticus 15:1-33, Matthew 9:20-22
BY Jen Yokel
Well, we’ve reached that part of Leviticus. We’re deep in the rules of worship, ancient rituals that can feel weird and distant from our own practice of faith. I know when I’ve tried to read the Bible straight through, this is the part where I usually get bogged down and look for something more relatable. It’s tempting to skim through all these regulations, but if we stick with it, we learn to see one of Jesus’s miracles in a whole new light.
So, what’s the deal with all this bodily-fluid talk? We know the ancient Israelite culture was focused on family legacies, going all the way back to Abraham’s first promise. Stories of children born in extraordinary circumstances are all over Scripture. So perhaps these rules reflect how seriously this culture took the foundations of life. It’s important to notice that these rituals treat sex with respect, not shame, and that unclean is a temporary state, not an entire identity.
Unfortunately, it was entirely possible for this law to bar someone from worship indefinitely. This must have been the case for the woman who sought Jesus after twelve years with a bleeding disorder. According to the law, she was unclean for all of those twelve years (Matthew 9:20–22). Anything and anyone who touched her would become unclean. Her only hope was for her bleeding to heal, and even then, the law required a waiting period and a sacrifice to fully restore her to community worship (Leviticus 15:25–30). For twelve years, through no fault of her own, she was isolated from her community and perhaps, in her eyes, God.
So imagine this woman hearing stories of a traveling healer. Imagine the longing as she spots him and melts into the crowd, too ashamed to ask for help, careful not to let anyone touch her and become defiled. Imagine her quietly slipping up behind Jesus and brushing her fingers on the edge of his robe, hoping that maybe, just maybe, this could make her well.
When we know the gravity of the law and her culture, we can see just how bold she is and the radical kindness in Jesus’s response. He doesn’t rebuke her for contaminating him. He does not treat her like something ugly and unclean. He calls her “daughter” and offers her the words she longed to hear: “Your faith has saved you” (Matthew 9:22).
How often have we seen stories like hers play out, where a good law meant to bind a community together becomes used to divide and dehumanize? It’s a story we’ve seen replay over and over in history, but once again, Jesus offers us a better way. Where human efforts can make us clean, Jesus can make us whole.