(A sermon based on Mark 5:21-43 and preached on June 28, 2015)
Is there anything in life more meaningful than touch? Does anything mean more to us than a compassionate touch when we are hurting, a reassuring touch when we are frightened, a welcoming touch when we are lonely, or a healing touch when we are sick?
Can you imagine what it must have been like to be touched by Jesus? Today’s Gospel lesson tells us of two women who were restored by his touch.
One was the twelve-year-old daughter of a synagogue official named Jairus. He came to Jesus seeking help for her because she was at the point of death. Many of us can empathize with Jairus. I will never forget how I felt when our twenty-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a massive blood clot in her leg a few years ago. I will especially never forget how it felt to hear the doctor explain to her how they were going to treat her and about the risk of a piece of the clot breaking off and going to her lung, heart, or brain. “That could be fatal,” she said. Thankfully, though, everything went fine and she is well and thriving today.
All parents can sympathize with Jairus, whether or not our child has ever been seriously ill.
The other woman in our text was one who had a menstrual flow that had lasted for twelve years. Despite treatment from many doctors that had caused her much physical suffering and great financial loss (there was no such thing as health insurance, subsidized or otherwise, back then!), she had grown worse. She had heard about Jesus and she desperately wanted to gain access to his healing power.
“If I can just touch his clothes,” she said, “I’ll be healed.”
Isn’t it interesting that she just wanted to touch his clothes? She didn’t demand his full attention; she apparently didn’t want him even to know that she had touched him. We know people—maybe some of us are such people—who want all the attention, be it of the Lord, of their fellow Christians, of their family, or of their friends, to be on them. We need to remember that the Lord and the Lord’s people have lots of folks who need their touch. I’m just as important as any of them—but I’m no more important than any of them. The same goes for all of us.
The woman was healed when she touched Jesus. And even though she had just touched his cloak, Jesus knew that someone had touched him. Be assured that Jesus knows our need and that when we approach him trusting that he will help us, he will. Jesus touches us because Jesus loves us, accepts us, and wants to make us whole.
But how do the people around us experience the touch of Jesus since Jesus is not physically here? They experience it through the touch of his body, the Church. As St. Teresa of Avila put it,
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.
Our hands are the hands of Jesus; our hands are the hands that touch others and that share Christ’s love. There are stories about Jesus healing people without touching them; I’m not sure we can help anyone without touching them. That doesn’t mean that the touch will necessarily be physical; we can touch people through our prayers and through our support of organizations and ministries that help folks, among other ways. We are called, though, to touch people with the love and compassion of God.
How else will they know of our presence and of our love unless we touch them? How else will they know of the presence and love of Christ unless we reach out to them?
Before we can touch them, though, we have to realize that they’re there. Jesus knew he had been touched because Jesus was always aware of the people around him and of their needs. But do we notice?
I saw a cartoon depicting a fellow who had arrived at the gate of heaven; St. Peter was checking his record. Peter said, “You know, you had a really good life. Unfortunately you were too busy looking at your phone to notice.”
We live in an age when, thanks to technology, we are more connected with each other than we have ever been. We also live in an age when, thanks to technology, we are less personal and more distant than we have ever been.
Let’s lift our eyes and pay attention to who is around us. Let’s not miss those who are right in front of us, desperately needing a touch from us that might make all the difference.
Before Jesus could get to Jairus’s house, word came that his daughter had died. When he arrived at the house, Jesus took Peter, James, John, and the girl’s parents into her room. He touched her—he took her by the hand—and he told her to get up. And she did!
The touch of Jesus even overcame death!
Touch helps people when they are dying.
I’ve been with a lot of people in the last moments of their life and I’ve learned a few things about what to do. But not everyone has had that experience. A few months ago my wife’s oldest sister was dying; it was evident that she was drawing her last breaths and that her three siblings and her granddaughter who were there with her were paralyzed by their grief. I suggested, “Put your hands on her. No one should die alone. She needs to feel your touch. She needs to know that you are with her.”
Jesus’ touch, given to us by the Spirit of God and by the people who love us, can help us to live until we die.
Jesus’ touch, given to us by the Spirit of God and by the people of God, can raise us to new life right here and now.
Jesus’ touch, because he has been raised from the dead, will raise us one day to live forevermore.
It’s good to receive Jesus’ touch.
And it’s good to pass it along …