Jun 30, 2012

13th Sunday: The touch of Jesus

"Little girl, I say to you arise"
Wisdom 1: 13-15;2: 23- 24
2 Cor 8: 7,9, 13-15
Mk 5: 21-43
Every now and then we run across a clinical study on the importance of human social interaction. As the maxim goes, “Man is not an island.” How true.  Although we have divided ourselves into extraverts and introverts most of us would admit that the experience of loneliness is not pleasant.  We want to belong. We need to be touched as babies and children in order that our social, emotional, and intellectual development is proper.  When we pray, we hope to have some answer, some experience or “touch” of God’s presence that will reassure us we have been heard in prayer.

One study offered 5 reasons on the benefit of human touch:

1.     Feel connected to others.  We are social beings and we need to have that sense of connection with others.

2.     Reduces anxiety. The simple and appropriate touch of another person can make us feel more secure and less anxious.

3.     Bonding. When people are in love or feel some admiration for another or want to offer sympathy, we touch the other person as a sign of affection or reassurance.

4.     Lowers your blood pressure. That’s an interesting one. Touch can slow the heart rate if it is done respectfully of course and has been shown to increase healing from illness.

5.     Improve your outlook. One might be hard pressed to feel pessimistic if they have a sense of connection to others.

In the end, let’s face it, we all need to know that we have value and that others who know us care about whether we live or die.

The readings this weekend offer us a Jesus who clearly was not beyond the value of human contact.  His full human nature would have experienced what we ourselves do in the same human need to be valued.  And in the Gospel, Jesus shows deep compassion for a young girl – he cares whether she lives or dies.

The first reading from Wisdom 1 and 2 remind us that death is not the intent of God.  God’s creation was interrupted by death for God only creates life, beauty and goodness.  Jesus’ coming into the world was to eliminate the final power of death over life and restore us to hope.  Although we all have and will experience death, our faith reassures us that it is not the end.  Christ has indeed conquered our greatest fear.

The tender Gospel passage from Mark 5 shows a Jesus who brought healing and a restored life. However, one was intended and the other apparently caught Jesus by surprise. 

A synagogue leader approaches Jesus with a compelling parental request: “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” (Mk 5: 23). In this cry of a distraught father I think every parent can see themselves.

Notice, he pleads, “. . . lay your hands on her . . .” Touch my daughter and she will get well.  In that simple phrase he asks that his daughter be restored not just to health but though Jesus’ physical touch, she be brought back in union with her family and with those around her. So, perhaps unknowingly, this desperate father hoped that his entire family would be touched by the presence of Jesus.

As Jesus makes his way, a much older woman approaches behind him in the crowd with a similar personal plea: “If I but touch his clothes I shall be cured.” (Mk 5: 28). Although Jesus does not see her, he stops in his tracks and asks, “Who touched me?” His response is not anger but compassion, “Daughter your faith has saved you . . .”  (Mk 5: 34).

In the time of Jesus there were folk healers who would serve primarily the poor with herbal medicines, various incantations, and all sorts of rituals.  Obviously Jarius , the father of the sick child, and this women who had exhausted all other sources, sought out Jesus as a folk healer who would offer some human contact and heal them. Touch my daughter and touch me! Isn’t that also our cry at times?

In the end, both of these healings confirm for us the power of faith.  The woman’s personal faith and trust in Christ brought her a new life.  The parents of the child and their trust in Jesus, however cultural that may have been, likewise brought not just a healed child but a total restoration into the community and a sharing in the banquet that creates that community, “. . . she should be given something to eat.” (Mk 5: 43). And, this entire family was surely celebrated by their extended family and others in the town. As always, God gives more than we ask.

However, we might miss the obvious spiritual themes if we are caught up too much in the “touchy feely” aspects of this very human healing story. The touch of Jesus may indeed foreshadow his own death and resurrection.  As Wisdom told us, “God did not make death . . .” (Ws 1: 13). 

Jesus conquers the power of death and shows us that God’s preferential option is for life, restoration, and community. The woman goes back to her family, her shame is taken away and we can probably assume that this was not the last she saw of Jesus.  Such an experience of his touch would compel her to have some form of further contact.  The same we may assume for Jarius and his family.

Death broke the continuing flow of life but God sent his Son among us to restore a broken and stained creation.  In these healings, in his word, and the gift of his own life on the Cross, we are touched over and over again by a God who calls us to faith and trust.

Our sacramental life is Christ’s continued touch with our broken world.  Through concrete signs that we can smell, feel, hear, and taste God reaches out in love. We are washed clean of sin in Baptism.  We are forgiven of personal sin through Reconciliation. We can be healed both physically and emotionally through the Anointing of the sick. We are touched by the Spirit of God in Confirmation.  We are joined to the larger community through Marriage and Holy Orders. And in the celebration of the Eucharist we are all given “something to eat” that is not a thing but this same person who offered life and hope to the same individuals we hear of in the Gospel this weekend. 

“Reach out and touch someone “was a famous slogan of a telephone company.  Today's world and our increasing challenge to religious liberty compels us to touch society around us with the power of truth and courage based in the Gospel we profess. The Church has called us to be sensory Christians and make our presence known for the common good. Maybe our readings this new month of July also invite us not only to touch but to allow ourselves to be touched by the divine healer – the great physician.