Trinity 5: Period Poverty and Inclusion
One issue that has been in the news recently is period poverty. The British Medical Foundation has urged that hospitals give in- patient’s access to products to ensure a dignified recovery for those menstruating.
A representative said that it “was difficult to provide care and for woman to retain their dignity with heavy bleeding without any form of protection.”
Danielle Rowley, Labour MP for Midlothian, has also this week become the first ever woman to talk about her period in the House of Commons chamber.
It was part of a bid to highlight the poverty of girls who can't afford sanitary products, and are left so worried they miss school.
It is estimated that 137.000 girls miss school a few days each year because they cannot afford sanitary products.
Menstruation is a natural bodily function but it is even today something that can still be a taboo and also impacts on issues of poverty and human dignity.
There is a story in the Gospel today of an unnamed woman who endured an ongoing debilitating medical condition.
She had tried the medical route but the word “endured” suggests that cannot have been pleasant, and “she had spent all that she had,” and rather than better “she rather grew worse.”
What does it mean to be sick? In Jesus' first-century world, they didn't have a “healthcare system." They had the temple, the priesthood, and Scripture.
There would have been an additional complication. Issues on menstruation at the time will have been defined by the Book of Leviticus.
There were laws of cleanliness that covered a multitude of things and a woman was unclean whilst she was on her period and anything that she touched was also seen as unclean.
This poor woman was as a consequence of her medical condition in a state of being perpetually unclean.
It was also the case that anything that she touched would become unclean as well, so in the crowds she has to be careful and presumably seek to hide in the shadows and pass by unnoticed.
Her story is placed alongside that of Jairus, the leader of the Synagogue who begs Jesus to come and help his daughter, who is twelve years old, the same amount of time that the woman has been poorly.
Jairus can be open and public about his desperation but the woman has to show stealth.
Mark gives some more background: she had “heard about Jesus,” and on the basis of this rumour she does not want to risk a direct encounter, but says “if I can touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
It is a risk as even to touch Jesus’ garments was in the eyes of her contemporaries to make his clothes and thereby him unclean.
It would have been potentially seen as a scandalous thing to do and one writer suggested “it is like knowingly spreading a contagious disease.”
Yet, she thinks that it is unlikely anyone, especially Jesus will notice and when she weaves her way to him it is a brush of his garments and not a poke.
The way it is described is that it is an action that will not be noticed and the crowd will move on.
Yet, everything has changed. She does not simply feel better; it is described in a much more profound way.
“She felt in her body that she was healed from her disease.”
The unexpected part of the event is that Jesus does notice. Despite he is now on a mission to the home of Jairus he stops and asks who has touched him.
Healing in the Gospel stories is always more than physical healing. The act of healing is often placed in the context of relationship and faith.
So when the woman falls down before Jesus she is not chastised but rather told two things.
The first is that her faith in him has made her well and she is addressed as a daughter.
She is now no longer an outsider but part of the family, someone who is included rather perpetually on the outside looking in.
Jesus tells us her to go in peace and the sense of the passage is that life can begin again.
There is now an end to pain, but also a return to a life where she can reconnect with her community and find a sense of belonging.
The Gospel stories once again show how Jesus was willing to embrace those who Leviticus might see as offensive to God.
It might be Samaritans, tax collectors, people with physical deformities and sickness. He welcomes those who were excluded by society’s taboos. A reminder that all have a dignity and no one is an outsider.
I think that it was very brave of the MP to talk about something that is natural and everyday but maybe not spoken.
The focus on period poverty in schools and hospitals is timely as it is only right that woman are treated with respect and as in so many areas of life poverty can be so life diminishing.
The reoccurring theme again in the Gospel stories is one of inclusion.
So much of this story is bound up with the dynamic between Jesus and the woman. It may be that it captures something of how we can approach faith and the church.
We may sometimes feel that it is good to be invisible and unnoticed, hovering in the background yet maybe sense that the church is a place of encounter.
It maybe that life experience has left you thinking that you are not really good enough to be here: too many mistakes and wrong choices.
The Gospel today is a reminder again that in the church no one should feel excluded and all are welcome.