January 25, 2013

If I But Touch the Hem of His Garment

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her.  She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped.  Then Jesus asked, "Who touched me?"  When all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you."  But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me." (Luke 8:43-45; cf. also Matthew 9 and Mark 5)
She was out of options.  According to Mark's gospel (5:26), "She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse."  She had nothing left to lose.

Surely it is her suffering that made her ready.  She would have been isolated.  She wasn't allowed to touch anyone; bleeding women were ritually unclean.  She must have thought about that.  She could not ask him to touch her, because then he would become unclean, according to the law.  

Did she have a plan when she ventured out in the crowd?  "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well," she says to herself (Mark 5:28).  Luke calls what she touches "fringe."  Jesus would have worn phylacteries, a Jewish ritual garment trimmed in long fringe.  Can you imagine?  She cannot touch the man, but will touch his clothes, and not just his clothes, but the very last edge of what is his.

He was on his way somewhere else.  Someone had asked for his help.  It was urgent; a little girl was dying.

I imagine that she does not know where he is going.  In any event, she does not expect to interrupt.  The crowd presses in and she reaches out.  She does not really know what will happen.  Maybe nothing.  But it's not nothing.  Power goes out from him.  She draws it from him into herself.

And she is healed, because she trusts in that power.

In twelve step theology, the fundamental principle behind the first three steps is entrusting a "power greater than ourselves" with our lives.  How does that look?  What can it mean?

I wonder if I make it too hard. 

In this story, as Peter insists, everybody is touching Jesus.  The crowds following him jostle.  They press in.  But power goes out only to her.

Could not any person in that crowd have reached out and touched him and been healed?

Why didn't they do it?  Why don't we?  

Maybe I haven't exhausted my options:   One more doctor.  One more dollar.  One more book.  One more conversation.  One more diet.  One more plan.  One more prayer.  One more try.

Maybe I'm afraid because I'm unclean.  I'm not worthy, I tell myself.

Maybe it's too much work to fight against the pressing crowds.

Maybe I'm just not willing to risk being disappointed; maybe the power is not for me.

How long will we suffer?  Twelve years?  Twenty?  A lifetime?

He is passing by, today, this hour, this moment.  Maybe you find him at church.  Maybe in the loving kindness of a friend.  Maybe in the deep recesses of your own heart.

When he feels the power drawn from him by her trust, he stops.  Nothing is more urgent than this.  He calls her from her anonymity and solitude.  He calls her into fullness of life and community.

What might we be willing to risk to receive restoration?  Will we only reach out and touch his clothes?  Can we hear his assurance to us?  Go in peace and be healed.

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