Humility and Christ

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Guest post by Claire Peterson

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.’ When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’

-Luke 8:43-48


I have a few favorite images in Scripture—pictures in my mind that visually sum up a story or virtue or truth. One of those images is the hemorrhaging woman as she reaches for Jesus’ clothes. The feminist in me loves the independent self-assertion in that image: the outcast knows Jesus has what she needs and so she breathes deeply and grabs. I love the fact that Jesus doesn’t just heal this “unclean” woman but affirms her boldness. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” But between the grab and the affirmation, there’s a moment in the story that makes me cringe—the moment when Jesus demands to know who it was who touched him.

Before Jesus’ question, I’m sure this woman’s stomach was doing flip-flops as she talked herself into the touch and tried to calm herself down afterward. But Jesus’ question must have turned the flip-flops to vertigo as for one awful second she felt the public humiliation begin. This woman who attempted to stay under the radar was suddenly called out for all to see. When I hear this story and cringe, I don’t just cringe for that woman in that moment. I cringe that Jesus created that moment. I love the Jesus who later lifts her head, but I battle with the Jesus who let her feel, even for a second, as if she needed to hang it. The Jesus who called the Syrophoenician woman a “dog” before affirming her must have been teasing, I reason, but no joke explains why Jesus put the hemorrhaging woman through limbo before lifting her up.

I wonder if the incarnation and crucifixion supply some helpful but still challenging context. When the Son took on flesh, he didn’t give up the fact of his divine nature, but he did give up his right to be treated as divine. (“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true.”) What is more, he surrendered his claims on even basic human decency: the death of a failed revolutionary or a naked heretic (take your pick) was not to be refused. The Lord of Lord and the King of Kings hung bare on a tree for the world to mock and ridicule.

Crucially, Christ’s humility was not humility merely for the sake of humiliation. Rather, when Jesus accepted all of this treatment—treatment that was beneath the dignity of human nature and certainly beneath the dignity of divine nature—he did so at the prompting of the Father and for the sake of our salvation. Moreover, his humiliation was temporary, for “God gave him the name that is above every name.” Still, the fact that the Father asked the Son for such extreme humility and the fact that our salvation turns out to have required it gives me pause. What if Jesus is asking for such humility of us? Not humility for the sake of humiliation, but the sort of humility that grabs onto Jesus even at the risk of humiliation, the sort of humility that continues to cling to Jesus even when it feels as if Jesus doesn’t care about the humiliation (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”), or the sort of humility that ultimately brings healing as God reaches down and proclaims, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

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