Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
Colossians 1:3-12 and Matthew 9:18-26
“As they were going, a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind Him and touched the tassel of His cloak. ‘If only I can touch His cloak,’ she thought, ‘I shall get well.’"
As we heard the Gospel reading this morning, we might presume that the biggest miracle that Jesus worked was the raising of the daughter of Jairus back to life. Interposed in the story of that phenomenal miracle is another that sometimes gets lost: the story of the woman with the issue of blood, healed by Jesus with a touch.
Each of the synoptic Gospels recounts the incident; Mark's Gospel probably does it best. This is what Mark says about it in some detail.
“There was a woman in the area who had been afflicted with a hemorrhage for a dozen years. She had received treatment at the hands of doctors of every sort and exhausted her savings in the process. Yet she got no relief. On the contrary, she only grew worse.”
(Mark apparently didn't cotton much to doctors!)
She had heard about Jesus and came up behind Him in the crowd and put her hand to His cloak. "If I just touch His clothing," she thought, "I shall get well." Immediately her flow of blood dried up and the feeling that she was cured of her affliction ran through her whole body. Jesus was conscious at once that healing power had gone out from Him. Wheeling about in the crowd. He began to ask, "Who touched my clothing?" His disciples said to Him, "You can see how the crowds hem You in, yet You ask, 'Who touched Me?'" Despite this. He kept looking around to see the woman who had done it. Fearful and beginning to tremble now as she realized what had happened, the woman came and fell in front of Him and told Him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, it is your faith that has cured you. Go in peace and be free of this illness." (Mk.5:25-34)
In Mark's recounting, he adds the idea that Jesus felt power go out from Him and so He had to ask the question, "Who touched Me?" His disciples thought, "Well, there is such a crowd around You. Anybody could have touched You." But He kept looking over the crowd. Looking and looking and looking until finally, the woman in fear and trembling admitted that she had touched Him. Why was she so afraid? Ritually, according to the Law of Moses, she was unclean and anyone who would touch her was unclean. Well, Jesus would have no truck with laws and rules like that. He just wanted to know who it was that touched Him. By her faith she had reached out to touch Jesus and she was healed.
If you think about it, there are so many examples in the Gospel of Jesus touching people; people being touched and healed. Jesus touched lepers: again, contrary to ritual law, but He didn't mind. He touched lepers and healed them. Blind Bartimaeus He healed. There was a man with a speech impediment who was also deaf. Jesus healed him by touching his tongue and his ears. Jesus would gather up the little children in His arms and love them and bless them. Touch was very important to Jesus. Why? Because He was human as well as divine. In His humanity, never forget, He redeemed us. By the shedding of His blood on the cross, He redeemed us. Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine.
If Jesus touched so many, many too would also want to touch Jesus and He allowed this. Many came and touched Jesus and were healed as this woman in the Gospel today. Remember the woman who knelt at the feet of Jesus and washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Jesus allowed it much to the consternation of the people who were present. Mary Magdalene, after the resurrection, wanted to reach out and embrace the feet of Jesus. He said, "Not yet. I have not yet ascended to My Father." He invited Thomas to take His finger and put it into the place of the nails and his hand into His side. "Touch Me, and believe," He said to Thomas.
Touch was very important for Jesus because He was fully human. If we take a look at the way that Jesus deals with us now, we can see many examples of touch that continue to this day. Touch is so important to us. If we are truly human, the touch of another is very significant. Almost life-giving.
There was a study done a few years back about infants that were not picked up out of their cribs. They were tended all right, but they were not touched except in a very minimal way. The children languished in their cribs. They needed the nurturing that came from being picked up and held, coddled and loved.
If there is anything that I find most bizarre in visiting someone who is in jail, it is the fact that there is a separation between visitor and prisoner. There is usually a glass wall. You communicate with a telephone, looking at the person, but no touching, so that contraband cannot be exchanged. A good reason, but there is something abnormal about it.
Human beings appreciate what touch is. So did our God. So did our Lord Jesus Christ. Because He is so wise, He knew touching is important. Hence, in our whole sacramental system, the Lord has a way of physically touching another. When I take a little girl and take water and pour it over her forehead in Baptism, she is touched and the Lord fills her with life, His own life. A bishop, by an imposition of his hand and anointing with chrism, makes a baptized young man receive the Holy Spirit in a new and special way in order that he might bear witness to his Christian life, even to the point of crucifixion. With a word of forgiveness, a priest forgives a fellow sinner in Holy Penance. "If anyone is sick among you, let him call for the priests of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil." (A touch.) "And the prayer of faith will save the sick man." Jesus knew how important touch is for those who are ill.
When I place in your hands what looks like bread and touch with your lips what looks like wine, I feed you with eternal life in Christ our Lord. A man kneels before his bishop and the bishop places his hands on the man's head and prays for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the man rises priested in order to bear witness to the Mystery of God's love in his life and to the community.
Each of these sacraments is a manifestation of how God works: with physical things, with a touch. A man and a woman stand before the altar of God and clasp each other's hands. In so doing, they minister God to one another. What a marvelous way in which God deals with us poor human beings because He knows we are so stupid, so obtuse. We just don't get it unless He physically reaches out and touches us.
Something else about a touch that is very important for all of us. You know you can deceive people with words. You can craft words and lead people down a garden path of deceit, but did you ever notice how difficult it is to deceive a person with a touch? That form of communication is different than using words. When I reach out with my hand and touch someone, it isn't just my hand that is touching the other, my whole self touches the other. It would be very difficult to do that in any deceitful way.
At the very core of our being is the whole notion of touch. Because Jesus our Divine Lord is so human, how He would use touch! When He came into the home of Jairus to raise the little girl from death to life, He took her by the hand and raised her up. He lifted her up. A touch, again.
If you and I understand that, then understand something else about this whole notion of touch with one another. It is quite good and normal, of course. It is a form of communication that we use in a way that God would use it. When you touch another in love, it is Christ in you who touches another because you are in Christ. You are members of His body. And because of that, you can convey this miracle of God's love with a touch. What power we have. What power God has given to us in the Church, in her Sacraments, these manifest signs of God's presence among us. But even in the simple and ordinary dealings of our lives, we can touch one another, and, quite literally, and it can be the touch of Christ's love Himself.
This week I would have you notice the people within your own household that you touch. Notice how you touch. Notice what you are saying by that touch. And know that it is you that touch. Especially know that it is Christ in you who reaches out to touch another. "Who touched Me?" said Jesus in today's Gospel. We can reach out and touch Him. But He touches us as well. He touches us through others.
It's a sacred thing, isn't it? It's a sacred thing that can be perverted. Pray God it isn't. But if it is such a sacred thing, let us use it the way in which it was intended by our God: to burst through our shell of self, to get to the very core of who and what we are in order that our God can say, "Yes, I know. I love you."
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania