A Healing Touch
Thirteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Robert Verrill preaches on the miraculous presence of Christ in our lives.
So much has changed over this past year, but one of the changes that is very noticeable is our attitudes towards touching people. Before the pandemic, nothing could be less threatening that a handshake. We were able to hug the people we love without the slightest fear. But after a year of being told we shouldn’t do such things, when such occasions for hugs or handshakes arise, we may feel rather awkward or guilty. It’s a sad state of affairs when the first thing human contact makes us think of is whether this is the moment we’re going to catch or give someone a deadly disease.
But as we look to the future, we need to be careful that the necessary measures that were once in place and the habits we’ve developed over this past year do not do irreparable damage to our attitudes towards touching people. So perhaps today’s Gospel will have a healing effect on us. For the two miracle stories we hear of both involve touching. In the case of the woman with the haemorrhage, it was sufficient that she touched Jesus’s cloak for herself to be healed. In the case of the little girl, Jesus touched the girl’s hand as He brought her back to life. So Jesus’s touch is not one that brings disease and death, but one that heals.
But perhaps another lesson we can learn from these two miracle stories is how limited our attitudes regarding touch can be. We know from the book of Leviticus that the woman with the haemorrhage would have been ritually unclean meaning that she would have been socially and religiously isolated. No one could touch her without them too becoming unclean. Her condition would have prevented her from getting married, and if she was already married, her condition could have been grounds for divorce. It all sounds so cruel. But we know the Jewish people had a reason to behave as they did, for we know also from the book of Leviticus that God made a covenant with the Israelites so that if they lived by these rules of purity and other such laws, God would walk among them, and be their God, and they would be His people, and He would have regard for them and make them fruitful and multiply them. Jairus who was a synagogue official would have known these rules inside out, and he would have seen the life of his twelve-year-old daughter as a sign of God’s covenant. But St Mark, by mentioning that the woman had had a haemorrhage also for twelve years, is suggesting to us that these purity laws which prescribed what one could and couldn’t touch were very limited, for they were not sufficient to save the life of Jairus’s twelve-year-old daughter. Something beyond purity laws stating what could and couldn’t be touched was needed. So the way we touch things cannot save us. We can only be saved if we are touched by God.
Now when God promised His people that He would walk among them, they can’t have realized quite how literally He meant it. But through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, God does literally walk among us so that we can enjoy His healing touch. So these two miracles of today’s Gospel highlight a central mystery of our Faith, that our Incarnate God, Jesus Christ can be touched and can touch us, so that we can be saved from death and all that harms us.
The woman in today’s Gospel was healed through her faith that she only needed to touch the garments that clothed Jesus, but it is this same faith by which we are also healed. Instead of touching the garments that clothe His body, we touch the appearances of bread that clothe His body. When we touch Jesus in this way and receive Him in the Eucharist, our contact with Him is even closer than it was for the woman in the story, for in the Eucharist, there is nothing at all that separates us from Jesus’s touch. And on receiving Christ, we clothe His body so that when people touch us and we touch them, we become instruments of His healing grace. Although much has changed over this last year, the power of Jesus’s touch has not changed. Let us therefore treasure our Eucharistic participation by which Jesus touches us and we Him, confident that He will save us from death and from all that harms us.