Restored to Self
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” ~Ezekial 36:26
Imagine being completely ostracized from society. No contact with friends or family. Not being allowed to worship with fellow believers. Not even allowed to touch another person. Not because you had done some horrible evil thing and were being kept in solitary confinement in some long forgotten prison but simply because you were physically sick.
Before this last year, most of us would have a hard time imagine any scenario where that might be remotely possible. Then COVID happened. A new virus no one knew for sure how to treat which seemed determined to slowly suffocate those who were unfortunate enough to be infected. In the early days of 2020, we didn’t know for sure how it spread or what made one person able to fight it off while another person lost their life. We didn’t know if you got sick right away or if it took some period of time. We didn’t have a way to easily test to see if you had the virus or not. All we knew is that it was a new virus and it was spreading. Rapidly.
In China, where the first cases were first reported and the population tends to live in very densely populated urban areas, drastic measures were taken. Those who were sick, or even suspected of being sick, were forcibly hospitalized in make shift hospitals. Family members were forbidden to leave their homes until it was clear they were not sick. Entire cities were under strict lock down with only one person per household permitted to leave for only the most essential of reasons.
Here in the United States, and especially in the Upper Midwest, things never got quite that strict. Not because COVID never came here, but because there are certain lines in personal freedom we as Americans are not willing to cross. For months we have stayed away from friends and family who are at high risk of developing complications if they should get COVID. We have quarantined and isolated when sick or exposed. Those who have had the unfortunate experience of being hospitalized for any reason have learned just how separated from other humans they can truly be.
I personally experienced having a parent in the hospital this past December and barely being allowed to drop off a few personal items. I got nowhere near his room. The only connection my mom and I had were allowed to have with him for nearly 48 hours was the occasional phone call to update on us on test results.
The past few months have seen the approval of COVID vaccinations. For many, getting vaccinated means hope that they will once again be able to freely travel to see family and friends. That they can once again gather on Sundays to worship, pray, and receive communion. That some sense of normalcy will be restored to their life. Perhaps going through this experience, this period in history defined by social distancing and fear of catching some mysterious illness will help us all, regardless of our gender, understand the woman Mark speaks of in chapter five, verses 24-34.
This un-named woman is known for her ailment: her menstrual blood hasn’t stopped for over 12 years. It is more than in annoyance or inconvenience as it might be viewed by most today. In her time and culture, the days a woman had her period were days where she was considered ceremonially and socially unclean. She wasn’t allowed in public. She wasn’t allowed to go to the temple to pray or worship. She wasn’t allowed to interact with her family. She, and anyone she touched or who touched her, was unclean.
So for 12 years, this woman has been actively shunned and ostracized by her family and friends. They believed her to be a great sinner being and deserving of punishment from God. Doctors of the time did not understand why women bled each month so had very little to offer her in terms of treatment. If you had COVID, you were likely asked to self-isolate for about two weeks. Even as a natural introvert, I was counting the HOURS to being able to be in public again when I was recovering from COVID just over a month ago. Just the thought of being isolated for TWELEVE YEARS makes me shudder in horror. This woman was, understandably, desperate for healing.
Knowing she wouldn’t be allowed to approach him publicly, and having no connections to arrange to meet Jesus more privately, she took a HUGE risk in going out in the crowded streets that day. To get close enough to even touch the hem of his outer garment would mean bumping up against countless people and causing them to become unclean, unable to be with others or worship until they completed a cleansing ritual.
In reaching out in faith to touch the hem of Jesus’ clothing, she found herself healed and made whole once again. Her physical healing was just the start of her restoration because with her physical healing came the ability to complete the cleansing ritual and rejoin her family, her friends, and her community of faith. She was no longer seen as someone who was being punished by God but as someone who was greatly blessed by God. She was no longer seen as example of what happened to sinners, but as an example of what happened to those who had faith and believed.
God desires to do the same for us. Restoring us fully to who we were created to be has always been his desire. Reading through the Old Testament is a journey through the multiple times God has called his people to repentance. It seems with almost every generation, the nation of Israel forgets they are God’s chosen people and wander away. Each time, instead of giving up and walking away from humanity, God sends a prophet to remind them of who they truly are called to be and lay before them the path to being in right relationship with God once again.
Ezekial was one such prophet. Ezekial lived in a time where, as a result of the Jewish people turning away from God, the nation of Israel had been invaded by the Babylonians who had taken the Israelites captive, forcing them to live in exile. Because they were forced to live in different lands, they were unable to worship at the temple where it was believed God exclusively dwelled on earth. Ezekial’s words called them to be faithful even when they were unable to worship at the temple. He reminded them that God dwells always with his people no matter where they reside. It would be their faithfulness to God which would enable them to one day return home again, not their physical might, power, or ability to raise up an army.
One of the promises made to those who would remain faithful to God as the lived in exile was that God would restore the heart of the nation of Israel. Instead of having a heart which was inclined to wander away from God, to forget his commands and live according to what felt good in the moment, God would bring together those who would once again allow the nation of Israel to be one which was defined by God’s law and lead by God’s Spirit. While the story from the Gospel of Mark shows us how God longs to restore each and everyone one of us individually, Ezekial’s prophecy reminds us that God longs just as much to restore all of humanity to the who we are called to be: a perfect reflection of His Love.
- How have you handled this past year? Have you had to go through a period of quarantine or self-isolation in the interest of keeping those around you as healthy as possible? Who have you most missed being able to see in person? How has limiting your social contact helped you be able to relate to those who find themselves isolated on a regular basis for some reason?
- The Bible Project provides an excellent overview of the Old Testament in this 12 minute video. It’s a great video to watch to understand God’s commitment to restoring humanity to who he created us to be.
- Who have you looked down upon or judged for some reason outside of their control as society looked down upon the bleeding woman in her time? How can you reach out to them to tangibly show them God’s love?