When Jesus allows an impure woman to touch him and touches the hand of a corpse, he contracts ritual impurity under the law (Lev 15:19-33; Num 19:11-12). Of course we might argue that Jesus contracted no uncleanness in actuality; as in the case of his contact with sinners, the influence went from him to them rather than the reverse (Mt 9:11-13). Yet in the eyes of those present, he has assumed the status of uncleanness (see the fuller account in Mk 5:33, where Jesus even invites public attestation of the touch). He is willing to touch us in our brokenness that we might be made whole.
In a world where women were nearly always second-class citizens and where male authors who cited women as examples of heroism treated them as exceptions (as in Plut. Bravery of Women), the Gospels' greater balance is intriguing. Yet this balance fits the rest of Jesus' ministry and teaching: it was the socially powerless who most readily embraced him. Socially accepted Christians who are disturbed by something missing in their zeal should take note; we should humble ourselves and listen to Christians from socially marginalized groups. The point is not to insult those who are not marginalized, but that the broken and marginalized have much to teach us about humble and often desperate dependence on the grace of God.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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