The following Blog article is written by Jenny Arnold, another beautifully written piece and a follow up to her article of two weeks ago:
As some of the current lock down restrictions are being relaxed, if only slightly, I have been thinking about people in our society for whom isolation is not simply an inconvenience to the normal functioning of their lives, but which will continue as their ‘norm’. Many people live on the margins but for some isolation is a daily and unending struggle.
Here are some examples:
- the physically disabled
- the profoundly deaf
- the blind
- the mentally ill
- sexually abused children
- domestic violence victims
- women and children trafficked across the world to provide sexual gratification and income for their abusers
- the homeless
- those tormented by past failures or mistakes
You may think of others to add to the above list. The New Testament gives us some very graphic examples of people who called out to Jesus for release and relief from their isolation. In each of the following stories three things are clearly presented:
- The person has an encounter with Jesus
- Jesus ministers
- In the first instance healing and salvation to a woman with an incurable condition
- Secondly, salvation and the restoration of a woman’s reputation
- Lastly, deliverance and salvation to a man whose life was controlled by demonic forces
- The persons are made whole and their lives different living in God’s Shalom from that moment on
A Broken Woman
The Synoptic Gospels, (Matthew, Mark and Luke), relate the healing of the woman with a flow of blood (see Mark 5 and Luke 8). We may never have really thought about what this meant for her. She was truly alone and isolated and had spent 12 years with this totally life changing and inhibiting disorder. 12 years is a long time to be quarantined and isolated.
Everyone would have known about her and avoided her because, under the law of the Old Testament, Leviticus 15, a woman with such a discharge of blood was ceremonially unclean. She could not take part in any religious ceremony, she could not touch anyone and no-one could touch her. Even the very furniture on which she sat or lay or touched would be made unclean; added to this would have been the logistics of trying to keep herself clean. In other words, she could not participate in any social activity, could not touch her own family or be touched by them, could not sit down with them to eat or sleep.
Furthermore, we are told that she had spent all her savings trying to find a cure but to no avail. So she was now penniless and unable to work. It would have taken extreme courage to even be out in public. The Greek tells us that there was a crush around Jesus, crowds of people pressing against Him. She was so determined to get to Jesus because she believed He could be the answer to her condition – this compelled her to push through and come up behind Jesus and touch the hem of His robe; in that crush in that crowd, no mean feat.
Let’s take a moment and meditate as to her desperation, loneliness and social isolation – a devastating way to live. Then, take a moment to meditate on her after her encounter with Jesus, what do you think life would then have been like for her…
A Despised Woman
Another biblical character who was shunned and isolated from society is the Samaritan woman known only as ‘the woman at the well’ (John 4). John tells us that Jesus and His disciples were passing through the area known as Samaria. Jesus dismisses His disciples to go and get food and rests at Jacob’s Well, outside the village of Sychar.
It is noon, the hottest time of the day, when a woman approaches to fill her water container. She hesitates because a man, a Jewish man, is sitting beside the well. Samaritan people originally were a mix of some Jews who returned to Palestine but could not prove their ancestry, and so were excluded from the Jewish nation, and a mixture of Gentile nations transplanted there by the Assyrians. These people had intermarried and the people and nation they produced were the Samaritans. This was a people group who were generally despised; in fact, many Jews would travel much further so they wouldn’t have to walk on Samaritan soil.
Not only that, her promiscuous lifestyle meant that she did not gather with the other village women at the well in the early mornings or early evenings to socialise and laugh and chat; instead she crept out when the sun was at its height and hopefully no one else was around to see her.
We are not told why she lived the way she did having had 5 ‘husbands’ and now living with a boyfriend, and we do not know what this had done to her, or how the men had treated her, but we can, perhaps imagine how she felt.
She was lonely, isolated, and without friends. In a sense, she was a doubly despised woman. Yet, here is the greatest Jewish man, a Prophet and Teacher/Rabbi, sitting at a Samaritan well about to speak to this Samaritan woman.
A Tormented Man
I think now of the ‘demonised’ man who lived naked amongst the tombs alone and manic, tormented and cutting himself with pieces of stone (Mark 5:1-20). This gives us a vivid portrayal of the effects on a person’s life when they come under the influence of Satan. We are not told how the man ended up in this predicament, but his life is wracked by the forces of darkness that were driving him to self-destruction.
We can only imagine the despair and agony of the torment he lived in each and every day, and the effects on his mental health. He was demonised – many today are not but still suffer great torment in their minds and this affects their physical health also. Many sufferers also self harm to relieve the mental pain as, in their condition and thought process, they believe that self-inflicted physical pain is more bearable.
I have an acquaintance who works in a Young Offenders prison on the hospital ward. She was recently awarded the Prison Officer of the Year accolade for the work she does with young men who continually self harm with anything they can get their hands on, even spoons. These young men are doubly isolated – both imprisoned physically and by their mental health.
Jesus Lord, we thank You for Your presence in our lives, for Your healing power, for Your life, death and resurrection, and for the life giving power of Your Holy Spirit. When society returns to some sort of ‘normal’ after Covid-19, may we not cease to remember those who will still be living in isolation. May You bring us a fresh understanding and direction to bring Your streams of living water to the marginalised, isolated, fearful and lost.
We pray for the broken: may they reach out in faith and be healed, for the despised: may they be found by You, saved and restored, for the tormented: if they are demonised – we pray for deliverance, if they are mentally and emotionally unwell – we pray for loving compassion, effective support and wise help. In Jesus’ name. Amen