Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Today's gospel: "Who touched me?" (Mark 5:25-34)

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

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

I remember when I first read this story being struck by the irony of how Jesus looked around at the jostling crowd and asked, “Who touched me?” 

The disciples reacted predictably. But what we see clearly is that a supernatural encounter had taken place in which JESUS KNEW THE TOUCH OF FAITH. 

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

Not only was she desperately sick. She was poor, having spent all her money on doctors “and was no better but rather grew worse.” Also, she would have been treated by society as “unclean” according to the law and custom of the day. So, she'd have been lonely as well as sick . . . in fact, an outcast. I'm sure there were times when she wished she could die. 

But she heard about Jesus . . . about his love, about how he was going around teaching, preaching and healing. What she heard awakened a spark of faith within her. And by faith she could just manage to see that her life could be different if only 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 would have crawled on the ground, in the dirt, through the crowd, because that's where she had to be to reach the hem of his garment. 

And 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 imagine her repeating 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 affirmation of faith in Jesus was her strategy for battling discouragement. 

The lady in today’s Gospel did well with what she had.

What about us? What about OUR struggle to get to Jesus? Do we repeat affirmations of what Jesus can do, or the promises he has made, under our breath - or even out loud - when we are struggling? All too often we forget to keep on saying to ourselves the things we know to be true that will build up our faith, and before long we are crushed by discouragement.

Holding on to the promises of God n our darkest moments can actually be therapeutic, and help us rise above despair. 

IT HAPPENED! Against all the odds the lady–actually made it to Jesus, touched the hem of his garment, and the bleeding stopped. Her life was changed.

But she got more than she had bargained for. We have already said that Jesus felt a surge of healing power flow from him. In other words, it was 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. No sneaking off anonymously as she probably wanted to do, and as we might well have done! Jesus turned around and said, “Who touched me?” 

She “fell down before him” in “fear and in trembling.” This is an interesting expression. It is used elsewhere of humility before God (cf 1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Ephesians 6:5; Philippians 2:12). It indicates the lady's response of awe and gratitude. Jesus then 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 is about the totality of her life.

The important thing for us is to understand that when we gather as a church community, by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the outward and visible signs appointed by Jesus himself, we encounter him in as real a way as the lady in today's Gospel, and we receive his love and healing. So, in Holy Communion, in the sacrament of anointing, in the laying on of hands or when we go to confession we really encounter Jesus. If we believe that, we will be open to ALL the possibilities, including miracles.

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 the 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."

Praise God If everything is going well for you at the moment. But if like that lady you're as low as you can be, and you feel as if you're more or less 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 for Holy Communion, draw on the healing power of his presence in a new and deep way by faith, believing his promises, whatever your deepest needs. The Lord loves you more than anyone else ever has, and he wants you to break through to him afresh by responding in your heart to his Word, and by touching the hem of his garment, expecting to be made whole. It might happen right away. It might take place over time. But that encounter with him is life-giving because Jesus is "the same, yesterday, today and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8).

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


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