Touch. It’s really such a simple thing to reach out to another human being. Or at least it should be. We as a congregation have greeted each other today with hugs, handshakes, pats on the back, these touches of friendship, comradery, of connection.
As a parent of three young children, touch is something that can overwhelm me at times. There are moments when I feel like my body is not my own because little hands are always touching, pulling, holding.
I also know that there are those among us that would love to have that problem. For you touch is a rarity, a treasure, something longed for and not often received.
All of these things come into play as we look at the Gospel reading from Mark this morning. This strangely intimate text all about healing touch.
Mark tells us that Jesus has just returned from his trip across the Sea of Galilee, from his trip to Gentile country. He has come back to offer God’s hope, healing and restoration once more to the people of Israel.
As soon as Jesus steps off the boat his is once again surrounded. People have flocked to him waiting to hear his teaching, to receive his blessing, to be healed of what ails them. There seems to be no end to the crushing throng around him.
As the crowd pushes and pulls a man of stature reaches the front and falls at Jesus’ feet asking for his help. Jarius was a leader in the synagogue, a man of reputation, and here he is begging Jesus to help him. And while that in and of itself is a bit odd, the subject of his request is even more staggering. He is not asking for himself, nor his wife, but for his daughter.
For his daughter! Now to us that seems normal, even appropriate. What parent doesn’t want healing for their child? What parent wouldn’t go to the ends of the earth to find the opportunity to have their child restored to health? In our current context this plea sounds normal. But in other parts of our world the plea would be shocking. There are still areas where female children are killed at birth, because they are female. There are still places where girls are treated as somehow less than human.
In Jarius’ day and time girls, well women in general, were not seen as much more than property. While people loved their daughters, there was not the same regard for them as for male children who could continue the family line. Some have even proposed that Jarius’ motivation might have been that his daughter was promised to someone as a bride and that if she didn’t get better he might lose the bride price he had negotiated for her!
Whatever Jarius’ motivation, Jesus deems his cries worth hearing and agrees to accompany him to his home so that the little girl might be healed. All is well and good until Jesus suddenly stops and cries out, “Who touched me?”
Jarius and the disciples are amazed, perhaps even perturbed at such a question. There is a great crowd around jostling them every step of the journey. “Who touched me?” perhaps an easier question to answer might have been “who hasn’t touched me?”
Jarius is in a hurry to get Jesus back to his house to heal his daughter. This man of the synagogue is of high rank and not used to having to wait on others. But Jesus stops what he is doing and waits for someone to fess up.
It wasn’t a question that Jesus needed answered personally. I’m pretty sure he knew who had touched him, what they had been healed from and why they had been so secretive about the whole thing. It wasn’t that Jesus needed confirmation of anything. So why call attention to it?
Because for healing to be complete their must be restoration to community.
Jesus knew who had touched him, but he knew also that her healing needed to be recognized so that she could join in with the family of God once more.
Imagine being this woman, for just a moment. She has been hemorrhaging for twelve years! And I know that’s not something we openly talk about in our society, but bleeding for twelve years is a really big deal! She had been to see physicians, she had tried every well-known and not so well known treatment and still she continued to bleed.
Most of you know I had surgery in November to treat a “female medical issue.” At the risk of sharing too much, I had been hemorrhaging for two years and had reached a point of desperation, depression and hopelessness.
But even while that was going on I lived my daily life. I went out into the stores as I needed. I took care of my children. I visited the sick, the dying. I not only worshiped, but I led worship!
This poor woman had been unclean that whole time! Unclean meaning ritually unclean. She had not been allowed to touch others, because by her touch they would have been unclean. Everything she touched was unclean for at least 24 hours even after it had been “purified” by ritual washing. And forget leading worship, she hadn’t even been allowed into worship with the community of God for 12 years!
That means not sacrifices made on her behalf, not absolution of sin, not place with the people of God. She was completely isolated in a world where the synagogue was the center of life.
She had somehow heard about Jesus and had made her way into the crowd hoping against hope that she could find healing in the simplest of touch. She reaches out, grabs the hem of his cloak and instantly is healed. She knows it! And as she turns to go she hears him ask “Who touched me?”
Mark tells us she turns to him and tells him the whole story. She doesn’t leave anything out because of the crowd or the company. She lays herself bare before him and the crowd knowing that she has just made him unclean by the standards of the law. Knowing that she might have just sentenced herself to humiliation at the least. And Jesus responds “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
That one word, daughter does two things. One it brings her back into the community as a full member of the family of God once more. It restores her position in society, in her faith community, it reminds her she is a beloved child of God.
But it also reminds us of another daughter, the one Jesus was supposed to be healing before this woman came on the scene and distracted him.
At that moment people come from Jarius’ house to tell him that the girl has died and that there is no more need to take the time of this important man any longer. Jarius’ heart brakes. He is scared of the news. But Jesus responds “Do not fear, only believe.”
Jesus goes to the house and brings the little girl, who is by the way, 12 years old back to life. He touches her, a healing touch, a life giving touch. He tells them to feed her and then to say nothing to anyone about what has happened. She is restored to life, restored to her family, restored to her father. Then Jesus and his disciples go on their way.
Do not fear, only believe. What amazing words, the words that I need to hear daily. In the past two weeks they are words I’ve needed almost hourly. With so much fear, distrust, anger and sorrow pouring over our country fear has found its way into the mix. Fear of change, fear of reprisal, fear for our freedoms, fear for our children, fear for our neighbors and so many other fears that it seems impossible to name them.
Yet Jesus’ said “Do not fear, only believe.”
He says this to a father who is desperate to have his child restored, a man who no doubt is upset that the journey was interrupted by someone less than, someone not as important, someone unclean. Jesus names his emotions as fear, those same emotions that we might call anger, frustration, doubt, Jesus calls fear.
Jesus had a plan, he was on his way to heal a little girl, but he was interrupted by another in need. Instead of hurrying on his way, he stopped so that her healing might be recognized.
Too often we have a strong dislike for interruptions. We are far too busy to take time out of our schedule for others. There is just far too much to be doing in a day. However, when we take time for human contact, healing touch can and does occur even today.
Let me tell you of one such event this week. Marcella is one of the women who cleans our church. She has a 10 year old grandson who has some pretty concerning heal issues and has been on our prayer list for quite a while. Quintavius has high blood pressure and for two weeks at least has been unable to keep any food down. Marcella and her daughter have been doing all they can do for him. He’s been given a strict diet, he’s been put on medication, and still he has gotten worse.
This week Marcella was on her way into the health food store to get things for her grandson when she was stopped, by a man she did not know.
(Tell the story)
We don’t know what will become of the information given to Marcella. I hope and pray it leads to a diagnoses and healing for her grandson. But I also know that it has already brought about a healing in that family. A reminder do not fear, only believe.
If this man had not let the spirit of God interrupt him from his daily life, this new hope might not have ever been placed before this family.
If Marcella had ignored him as some strange old man in a white coat she might not have ever heard this news. She might have given up hope, but it has been renewed. Let us continue to keep them lifted up before Jesus, the miracle worker!
Friends, as we go out from this place into a world where people are still invisible, like this woman and this little girl, where people are sometimes seen as less than human because of their skin color, gender, age or orientation, let us not be too proud to be interrupted. May we open our hearts, our eyes, our whole selves to the hurting around us so that we can offer them the healing that only comes from Christ. And may we offer of ourselves as Jesus did, not afraid to reach out with a healing touch to those who need to receive one.
May we go out into this world of trembling and trepidation calling out “Do not fear! Only believe.”