Luke tells the story of Jesus walking through a crowd. By all accounts there is a lot of pushing and shoving (social distancing had not been invented!). There was one woman who particularly wanted a touch. She had a bleed over many years, and was at her wits end. All treatments had been tried and exhausted.
The woman was likely desperate not just because of the physical ailment and discomfort. It likely brought her shame in the local community, condemning her to a life of obscurity. Yet somehow she manages to get a fingertip touch - and things happen.
What she wasn't expecting was for Jesus to suddenly stop. He knew power had gone out from him, and he wanted to know who had touched him. Of course those around him were incredulous - many people had touched him in the last 60 seconds alone! Yet Jesus insisted.
The woman now had to make a decision. She knew it was her, but to own up would mean 'going public' in front of the crowd. Incredibly she decided to do so.
Jesus' words to her are striking: "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace". Jesus addresses her as daughter - a relational and affirming term that affirms the woman a dignity in her own right. To Jesus she wasn't just a statistic, or 'that woman with the problem in the village'. He says 'your faith', rather than 'my power' has healed her. Jesus knew power had gone out, but he phrases it so that it is about her. She was the one who persisted, who reached out, who was brave enough to come forward. And Jesus sends her away 'in peace' - in 'Shalom', the Hebrew word for 'all as it should be'. Her life of discomfort and dislocation with the community (and perhaps even with God) is now over.
We should stop and dwell on these words of Jesus to the woman. He raises her up, with full dignity and equality ... and all this against a cultural backdrop that would have seen women as second class at best.
Today we must again weep. Our cultural reality is that among many mistreatments we still have men or boys mistreating women or girls on an unfathomable scale. It might be the subtlety of gender pay gap or promotion prospects, or through things people say. Of course worse is the unwanted or inappropriate touch ... leading to the much worse of outright abuse and violence. In our news recently rape and murder of women simply walking home has been highlighted, reminding us that this problem from down the centuries will not easily go away.
Yet with even greater sadness is a new epidemic brought on by camera phones and social media. We now know that boys are routinely pestering girls for inappropriate photos ... and to our bewilderment we now know that young girls are believing that this kind of behaviour is 'normal' and to be expected, reaching down into primary school age.
Clearly a significant reform of both education and 'calling out' of inappropriate behaviours is required at many levels. The traditional advice, for example to girls on the receiving end of unwanted advances to 'just say no' is no longer sufficient. There needs to be a pro-active approach across society to change the course of cultural/behaviour patterns and thinking.
As followers of Jesus we have a positive message to bring: as with Jesus we can positively affirm proper equality and accord full dignity to men, women, boys and girls. The example of Jesus motivates us to stand against inequality and any kind of mistreatment. Paul wrote to the Galatians that in Jesus they are all children of God through faith - with neither Jewish or non-Jewish, neither slave or free, and nor is there male and female - all being one in Christ Jesus. This is not Paul denying that gender exists, but that in Jesus the social distinctions that we make (and which bring division) simply fall away.
That is a message of good news for the world: that all of us are loved and equal before God, because of Jesus. So the possibility of 'shalom', of all as it should be, exists for all.