The Power of Touch

It’s easy to identify with the principal characters in our Gospel for today.  Every parent can imagine the sense of fear and worry in Jairus’ voice as he pleads with Jesus to make his daughter well.  She is at the point of death, and he has most certainly tried everything he could to make her well – but nothing has worked.  She is still dying.

Those of us who have lost a son or daughter know all too well the agony he felt when the news came that she had died and there was no longer a need for Jesus to come to the house.  For a parent, the worst possible thing in the world is losing a child, so it’s hard not to empathize with Jairus and his crushing loss.

It’s not so easy to empathize with the plight of the unnamed woman, who has been experiencing a flow of blood for twelve years.  She has been living in exile for twelve years because the religious laws did not allow her to interact with anyone in the community of faith until she was well.

We don’t know how old she is.  She could be in her thirties, a young woman who could not start a family when it would have been expected that she do so.  She may have been in her fifties and missed the birth of her grandchildren.  She might have been in her seventies and missed her husband’s funeral.  We don’t know her age, but we know she has been isolated from her community for a dozen years, and so she surely missed out on some important events in her family and community.  Of course she has sought medical attention, because she wants to be integrated back into society, but no one seems capable of healing her. 

At first glance, this unnamed woman has very little in common with Jairus.  Not only is she a woman and he a man, she has also been treated as a pariah because of her infirmity while he has received the nodding approval of everyone in the community.  She is frail, he is powerful.  She is one of the many “invisible” people in our world that no one notices, while he is a person that everyone acknowledges when they pass him on the street.  The same people who went out of their way to avoid her were the same people who went out of their way to greet him.  But let’s not be fooled by appearances; they both have some things in common.

They are from the same town.  They were both raised in homes where the One God is worshipped; they are both Jews by birth.  And they are both in a state of crisis.

We don’t know for sure what he has done to help his daughter, but it’s hard to imagine any father not seeking help from wherever he could find it – and since he was a man of influence, it’s probably the case that every medical expert has already been consulted.  And we know that the woman spent all her resources on doctors that made her worse, not better.

Every one of us can remember times when we were in a similar crisis.  It may have been a situation related to our own health or the health of a loved one.  It may have been a crisis at work.  Or maybe it was a close relationship gone sour.  Some of us have struggled with mental health issues or addictions, while others have struggled with financial worries.  Very few people go through life without encountering some situation in which they must pursue every possible option to fix what is wrong, including expensive treatments, extensive therapies, expert opinions, complicated procedures.

Like both people in our Gospel reading, we all know the experience of loss, we have all been so overwhelmed with hurt that we have had nothing to fall back on but our dependence on God.  Unlike us, however, both the frail woman and the powerful man take a great risk in reaching out to Jesus.  The unnamed woman enters a crowd, knowing that she is unclean and that could be punished for being there without warning everyone of her status.  Meanwhile Jairus, the man of respect in the community, defers to Jesus in a way that gives tacit approval to Jesus and his ministry, something that may diminish Jairus’ own standing in the community.

And finally, both of them know something we are in danger of forgetting, namely, the power of touch:  Jairus asks Jesus to come and touch his daughter while the woman reaches out to touch Jesus.

It is the touch of love, a reaching out in blind faith in the darkness of personal crisis, a love that reaches to both the well off and the cast off.

They may appear to be as different as night and day, but in fact Jairus and the woman have as much in common as sunrise and sunset.  Both are loved by God, so they are exactly like us.  Their stories remind us of our own need to reach out and touch Jesus, to “put our hand in the hand of the man who calmed the waters” (as the folk song says it).

You see, both Jairus and the sick woman were seeking a specific cure, but they received something much greater than that.   When he heard that his daughter was dead, in fact, it seems as though Jairus is no longer interested in Jesus – because he was after a cure.  But Jesus did more than offer a cure – he restored his family to wholeness when he raised her from the dead.  And the woman tried to sneak away after being cured of her disease but Jesus insisted that she be healed as well, that she be welcomed back into the community of faith as a daughter,  sister, and mother.

As followers after this Jesus, we, too, are not given the promise of a cure.  What we are given, however, is the assurance that we will be made whole by the power  and the touch of God.

In point of fact, Jesus is still touching lives with love – including yours and mine.  We Christians claim that we are baptized into Christ, and that therefore we are a new creation.  If we believe that is true, that means we are, in fact, other incarnations of the Christ, sent to minister and heal in this time and place.  All we need to do is to reach out and touch the hem of someone else’s garment, and we and they are healed.

Sometimes we touch someone with healing and we are barely conscious of the fact. Six years ago, I had a young girl, Jenny, in my beginning French class, who had a complicated family life and was as a result being raised by her grandparents, who despite their loving hearts and generosity, were unable to give her the structure she needed.  Halfway through the year they made the decision to relocate her to her uncle’s house, where she would be raised with siblings, and a stable father and mother figure.  This also meant she would be moving to the country, away from the city.  As a parting gift, I gave her a box of Belgian truffles and a card, expressing my confidence in her abilities, my belief in her as a person, stressing the importance of taking education seriously.  I remember writing that she had become someone special in my life and that I would miss her sunny smile.  That was six years ago.

Earlier this week, I signed up on Facebook, the online social network (for those of you who have no idea what this is!) and a couple days later, incredibly, I got a message from Jenny.  She told me her father had taken her for ice cream on Father’s Day, and while they were out he had a stroke.  He died the next day of an aneurism, but was kept on life support until a few days ago.  She is having a very difficult time, of course, and I am amazed at the hand of God bringing Jenny back into my life at a time when she needs everyone to support her.

At the end of her email to me, she told me she still had the card that I had given her 6 years ago, that it still made her cry when she read it, and since she now knew how to contact me, would I be willing to come be with her this afternoon at her father’s funeral.  I said I would be honored to do so.  I am grateful for all the students, like Jenny, who have come into my life, sharing part of their lives with me, touching me on a profound level.

Jesus promised his disciples that they would do far greater miracles than he had ever done in his lifetime…and that means you and me. 

From the earliest years of the Jesus movement, long before the politics and power of the Church, long before dogma and denominations, the followers of Jesus have found ways to reach out and touch those in need of wholeness and the experience of God’s healing.   As I learned with Jenny—and so many others over the years—the healing touch of Christ isn’t always dramatic or obvious.  Sometimes it’s a warm embrace of friendship.  Sometimes it’s an offhand comment that someone carries with him the rest of his life.  And sometimes it’s  sharing Belgian chocolate and a card written from the heart.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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