Sunday, June 28, 2015

She touched the hem of his garment

Mark 5:25-34 

Who touched me? 

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with crowds. They can be terrifying, but they can also be great reservoirs of energy. The push and shove becomes part of the big day out. 

That’s what it was like when Jesus came to town. 

Many years ago when I first read the story in today’s Gospel, the thing that struck me was how Jesus looked around, and in the middle of it all said, “Who touched me?” 

The disciples reacted as you and I would have. What St Mark is telling us is that JESUS KNEW THE TOUCH OF FAITH. 

For me, the lady with the bleeding problem ranks with the greatest of the Bible’s heroes. 

Not only had she spent all her money on doctors “and was no better but rather grew worse”; she was banned from society, being “unclean” according to the law and custom of the day. She was lonely and sick. She was an outcast. I'm sure there were times when she wished she could die. 

This state of affairs might have continued, but someone told her about Jesus. About his love, about how he was going around teaching, preaching and healing - or she at least overheard people talking. This word about Jesus awakened her faith. By faith she could see that her life would be different if she got to Jesus. Surely he would do for her what he had done for so many others. 

She was determined to get to Jesus. But she had to avoid being noticed, because in her condition she could be stoned to death for touching anyone at all. She crawled through the crowd on the ground. She must have . . . because that's where she had to be to reach the hem of his garment. 

As she got closer she said to herself, “If I touch even the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole." 

Can't you just imagine her repeating these words over and over again as she strained and reached out with every ounce of strength she had left.

“If I touch even the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole." 

That word of faith was her strategy to battle discouragement. 

Our problem is that when we are trying to break through to Jesus in a new way, we forget to keep on saying to ourselves the things we know to be true that will build up our faith. And discouragement crushes us. 

The lady in today’s Gospel did well with what she had. WE have so much more. We have God’s promises in both Old and New Testaments. We can repeat them under our breath - or even out loud -  when we are struggling. And, you know, that can be therapeutic. It can help us to rise above despair, even when, humanly speaking, our prospects are dismal. 

THEN IT HAPPENED! The lady – against all the odds – actually made it to Jesus, touched the hem of his garment, and the bleeding stopped. 

But she got more than she had bargained for. You see, Jesus actually felt a surge of healing power flow from him. In other words, it was for REAL! It wasn’t “just” symbolic, any more than the sacraments are “just” symbolic! Jesus wanted the lady to face him and acknowledge what had happened to her. So he turned around and said, “Who touched me?” (No sneaking off anonymously the way some of us might have done!) 

The lady “fell down before him” in “fear and in trembling.” This expression is used elsewhere of our humility before God (cf 1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Ephesians 6:5; Philippians 2:12). It indicates her response of awe and gratitude. Then Jesus addressed her affectionately as “daughter”, and told her to go in peace. He said to her, “Your faith has made you whole.” 

That is a really BIG expression in the original language, for it goes well beyond the physical healing of one ailment. It can just as accurately be translated, “your faith has brought you salvation and wholeness.”

The important thing for us when we receive Holy Communion, the anointing, or the laying on of hands, is to know that we really encounter Jesus.  If we know that, we will be open to ALL the possibilities, including miracles. It's not "just" symbolic!

In the Sacraments, Jesus is objectively present to share his life with us. We don’t “create” his presence by our faith. But, as with the lady in today’s Gospel, IT IS BY FAITH THAT WE DRAW ON THE BLESSINGS he has for us.

“If I touch even the hem of his garment, I SHALL be made whole."

Is everything going OK for you at the moment? Praise God if it is! But if like that lady you're as low as you can get, and you feel as if you might as well be dragging yourself along the ground through the dirt as she had to do, at least drag yourself in the direction of Jesus. And when you get yourself up to the altar rail for Holy Communion, I pray that you will draw on the healing power of Jesus in a new way, whatever your deepest needs, knowing that the Lord Jesus loves you more than anyone else ever has, and he wants you to break through to him afresh by responding in your hearts to his Word, and by touching the hem of his garment, expecting to be made whole, and that same surge of healing power will flow from him into you because he is the same, yesterday, today and for ever.

“If I touch even the hem of his garment, I SHALL be made whole."

God bless you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lord . . . don't you care?

Jesus and the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (Rembrandt)

A little talk from a retreat I gave a few years ago . . . 

On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)

The Sea of Galilee is a large inland lake, about thirteen miles long and seven miles wide. The Jordan River flows through it from north to south, and the fishing and farming businesses it supported were famous in ancient times. Important trade routes passed along the lake’s western shore giving rise to a bustling multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, society. Just the right sort of area for Jesus to reach out to the crowds. The region could even be called “Galille of the Gentiles.” The towns of Capernaum, Bethsaida and Tiberias, where Jesus spent a lot of his time, were there. 

The lake itself is 700 feet below sea level, surrounded by plateaus. Sometimes the air pressure changes dramatically without warning. When this happens huge gale-force winds sweep down, and the kind of unexpected storm described in our reading is the result.

Jesus was exhausted.

He had poured himself out in ministry to the crowds - teaching, healing, loving . . . just being with the wounded and hurting children of God. As the day was ending he answered even more questions and helped even more people understand the ways of God. Eventually he called out to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side.” That meant sailing thirteen miles to the region of Gadara. It would be long enough for him to have a decent sleep in the back of the boat.

Now, these disciples were professional fishermen, highly skilled with boats. Every day they were on this lake casting their nets. Nobody knew more about boats or about the Galilee lake than they did. They could handle storms. 

But this was no ordinary storm. This was the mother of them all! They’d never seen anything like it. The waves kept crashing over the boat, pounding it, shaking it with enormous force. 

These tough experienced fishermen were gripped by fear. They lost their nerve. They imagined the worst.

They looked around to see where Jesus was.

After all, it was his fault. It was Jesus who had sent them out across the lake. It was he who had kept them standing there while he insisted on talking with people until the sun went down. They had warned him about the night-time squalls on the lake. Where was Jesus now?

To put it mildly, they were not happy to see that he was at the back of the boat, sleeping on a cushion. (I wonder if he was snoring!)

Sleeping! On a cushion! The boat looked as if it would sink, and Jesus was sleeping on a cushion! Could he really be so tired as to sleep through the storm and their fear?

So they woke him up. “Don’t you care if we drown?” They were so upset that he wasn’t panicking. 

After all he had done for them, they actually accused him of not caring about them. Full of fear in the midst of the raging storm, they vented their anger at him.

Haven’t you done that? I must confess that I have. When there is a real crisis, our anger boils over and we have to find someone to blame for our problems – even the Lord. (Especially the Lord!) Those disciples were like you and me. When they came to Jesus they didn’t ask him what to do, or even to help. They just accused him of not caring about them.

Maybe they thought that because they were with Jesus, everything should be just fine all the time. Who hasn’t thought like that at some stage or another! Then things go wrong, maybe at work, in the family, at church, among our friends, with our finances, or perhaps our health breaks down. We get disillusioned. (What actually happens is that God lets us see how spiritually immature we really are.)

We forget that in the story of the two house builders (you know – the wise man who built his house on the rock, and the foolish man who built his house on the sand) Jesus didn’t say to those who followed him “IF” the storms come. He said “WHEN” the storms come.

Look at the passage again. Jesus dealt with the storm. How did he do it? He just spoke the words, “Peace, be still.” Then there was calm. It says that the disciples were now “in awe” of him. Why was that? I’ll tell you why. It was because in the amazing picture language of their Jewish Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) it is God alone who has the power to subdue the raging seas (Psalm 89:9, 93:4, 107:28-29). 

And, of course, he also stilled the storm in their hearts. 

We are all in the same boat. Sooner or later we are battered by storms of one kind or another. Every storm tests our faith in God; every crisis reveals whether or not we have learned to trust him.

Jesus has promised to stay with us, even - especially - in the midst of the storms that threaten to wipe us out. He loves us with an everlasting love. We can trust his love. We might be shaken to the depth of our beings. Sometimes there are beautiful friends who help get us through. But every now and then we are alone, even in a crowd. So alone . . . except for Jesus. Let’s turn to him, and call out to him in our distress. Let’s trust in his love. Let’s remember the frightened disciples on the evening of Easter Day when Jesus appeared in their midst, stretched his nail-pierced hands and gave them his peace. 

“Peace, be still!” He still speaks. He still sends out his Word. His Word still subdues the storm and heals us on the inside.

We know who he is. If we trust him and hang on, no matter how bad things are, his peace – that wonderful supernatural gift of his – the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) – will protect us and keep us sane, for it is still a “peace that the world cannot give” (John 14:27).

Thank you, Lord. Amen.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Luigi Santucci for Corpus Christi ". . . that never-ending bridge of bread"

"At this point I see his eyes wandering around over the remains of the bread on the table-cloth, and then shining with an ineffable inspiration: this, this would be his hiding place. That's where he would take refuge. That night they wouldn't capture him in his entirety; they'd think they'd done so, they'd think they'd dragged him away from his companions, yet really they would scourge and crucify a ghost: he had hidden himself in that bread. Rather as in Galilee, when they wanted to seize him and kill him or make him king, he had the knack of hiding himself and disappearing from sight. So he stretched out his hand over the already broken bread, broke it into smaller bits and, raising it in the air, pronounced the words of the magic transition: 'This is my body, it's been given for you.'

" . . . no, it wasn't to escape the lance-thrusts. All his flesh - not a ghost - was there for the executioners to tear at within a few hours. But the hiding place was still valid, and by inventing it in that instant he really did leave to his followers a Christ that no-one could ferret out and wrench from their hands. Let them eat him. Let their breast become the hiding-place of a hiding-place. A little earlier Jesus had washed their feet, he'd besmirched himself with the muddiest part of their physical being. Now he wanted to do more: he wanted to go down their throats, mix himself with their mucous membranes to the point of transforming himself, and gradually melt into all the fibres of their body.

"The primary significance of the Eucharist isn't mystical but physical, almost a clinging to the material being of his friends who would stay on and live. He said 'This is my body' with a tenderness that first and foremost exalted it itself. Not 'This is my spirit' or 'This is generalised goodness or well-being' - possibly they wouldn't have known what to do with such things. It was necessary to them that he should remain with the only thing we really know and attach our hearts and memories to - the body; and that it should be a desirable, acceptable and homely body. That's why he looked over that table-cloth for the easiest, most familiar and most concrete thing: bread. So as to quench hunger and give pleasure. Above all so as to stay. That evening Christ measured out for us all the millions of evenings before we'd see him face to face; he measured out the long separation. He knew that men forget things within a few days, that distance destroys things, that it's useless for lovers to insert a lock of hair in letters that are going far across land and sea. If Peter himself, and John and Andrew and James would forget, then in order that their children and their grandchildren shouldn't forget he had to throw between himself and me that never-ending bridge of bread . . ."

- Luigi Santucci (1918 - 1999) in Wrestling With Christ, pp. 155-157

Monday, June 1, 2015

Benedict XVI: The strongest proof that we are made in the image of the Trinity

The “name” of the Most Holy Trinity is in a certain way impressed upon everything that exists, because everything that exists, down to the least particle, is a being in relation, and thus God-relation shines forth, ultimately creative Love shines forth. 

All comes from love, tends toward love, and is moved by love, naturally, according to different grades of consciousness and freedom. “O Lord, our Lord, / how wondrous is your name over all the earth!” (Psalm 8:2) -- the Psalmist exclaims. In speaking of the “name” the Bible indicates God himself, his truest identity; an identity that shines forth in the whole of creation, where every being, by the very fact of existing and by the “fabric” of which it is made, refers to a transcendent Principle, to eternal and infinite Life that gives itself, in a word: to Love. “In him,” St. Paul says, on the Areopagus in Athens, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). 

The strongest proof that we are made in the image of the Trinity is this: only love makes us happy, because we live in relation, and we live to love and be loved. Using an analogy suggested by biology, we could say the human “genome” is profoundly imprinted with the Trinity, of God-Love.

Benedict XVI
Angelus Address
June 7, 2009