EXPERIENCING THE TOUCH OF faith: HOMILY FOR THE 13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)
By rev. fr. Boniface nkem anusiem ph.D
Touch is a sensation that is processed by the somatosensory system. It has to do with coming into physical contact with somebody or something. This is what we experience in hugs, handshakes, pats, blows, punches, tickling, slaps and others. There is another sense in which touch supersedes physical touch; this is where the mind, soul and spirit are involved. From this viewpoint we often say that we are touched by what we heard, saw, imagined, thought and so on. Here we speak of emotional, psychological, and spiritual touch. There are no doubts that in some situations a physical touch can have some emotional, psychological and spiritual effects. This connection between physical touch and the resultant spiritual effect informs our reflection this Sunday.
Today we are reflecting on the healing touch of Jesus Christ. We are reflecting on how a physical touch can effect total healing operating on the platform of faith. The healing touch of Jesus Christ in this exposition can be seen from two angles: from the point of view of US touching Jesus and from the point of view of Jesus Christ touching US.
A reflective overview of the gospel of today will be helpful to us. The gospel begins with the information that Jesus Christ crossed over to the other side with his disciples. “Crossing over to the other side” is reflected in several places in the gospels. Wherever we see it occurring there is always an indication that something very important will be taking place. Our Lord would always cross over to the other side to save a situation, to heal, to teach a historic lesson or to show forth the active power of God.
- In Matthew (14:22-36), he crossed over to the other side to show the redeeming power of God over the storm by walking on the sea and also curing the sick in Gennesaret.
- Mark (1:38-45), he crossed over to the other side (neighbouring towns) to preach, cast out demons and to cleanse a leper.
- In Mark 4: 35-5:1-13, he crossed over to Gerasene to calm the storm and heal the man possessed by a legion of demons.
- Today in the gospel of Mark (5:21-43) he crossed over again to the other side to raise Jarius’ daughter and for the woman with the issue of blood to be healed.
Life is generally filled with constant crossing over to the other side. Those who refuse or fail to cross over to the other side often experience failure. Abraham had to cross over to the other side before God fulfilled His promises to him (Genesis 12:1). Joseph had to cross over to the other side to attain the height God planned for him (Genesis 37:28) Moses and the people of Israel had to cross over to the other side to get to the Promised Land (Exodus 14:21-22). There are indeed many instances. We shall come back to this crossing over to the other side to see how it affects us in this periscope.
As Jesus our Lord crossed over, Jarius one of the leaders of the local Synagogue came to him fell at his feet and earnestly pleaded that he save the daughter who was at the point of death. Among the Jews felling at someone’s feet indicates humility and need. The man Jarius was an important person in the community. He had easy access to Jesus Christ. The great crowd of people recognized him and gave way for him to meet Jesus. His prostrating before Jesus and asking for the healing of the daughter meant a lot. He recognized Jesus as the only solution to a problem that nobody could solve. He kept aside his position and the general aversion for Jesus by the officials of the day. This man whose name (Jarius) means “he will awaken” came with faith; he was sure that with Jesus the child will rise again. He was not in doubt if Jesus could heal the daughter; he only wished that Jesus had the time to come to see the child. The response Jesus gave was prompt and immediate (Mark 5:24).
The large crowd still followed Jesus as he was going to Jarius’ house. However something happened along the way. A woman whose name was not given because she was “nobody”, she was unclean, she had suffered from hemorrhages (issue of blood) for twelve years, the exact age of the daughter of Jarius appeared. She had been unclean and “unclean” actually became her name. She was not supposed to touch or be touched because that would make a clean person ceremonially unclean for the rest of the day. This woman heard that Jesus was passing by. She reasoned that this same man who changed water into wine, who cured the famous demoniac the other side of the sea could as well make her clean. She marched out with faith to Jesus. But unlike Jarius she had no easy access. However she was not discouraged. She struggled through the crowd meaning to touch the helm of the garment of Jesus Christ. She believed that she will be healed by doing so. We can imagine her plight, she was evidently weak and frail, she could have been pushed down several times in the bid to touch our Lord, she could have been insulted, scolded, antagonized, but she did not relent until she touched the helm of the garment of our Lord. When she finally did she was instantly healed.
The touch Jesus received was significantly different from the ones he had been receiving so he stopped and asked who touched me! This might have appeared to be a senseless question as the disciples established. This was because the crowd was so much and many people were pressing round him. But Jesus was right; someone actually touched him in a way that was different from others. Now there were three different types of touches Jesus received on that day:
- Familiarity Touch: Some people purposefully touched Jesus in that crowd to establish that they were familiar with him. It is like saying “Waooo I touched him, have you touched him?” If it were to be in our technology driven day and age such people would stand beside him and take pictures and upload same on facebook for friends to see that they had one-on-one with him. Those who made this kind of touch remained the same; nothing happened.
- 2. Accidental Touch: Some people touched Jesus accidentally. I could be said that they didn’t know that they actually touched him. This is the kind of touch we give and receive in crowded places like in the market, stadium, social ceremonies, and other places. In the midst of the pushing and struggling in the crowd some people accidentally made touches on Jesus Christ but nothing happened.
- 3. Faith Touch: Among the crowd only one person purposefully made a touch of faith on Jesus Christ. The woman whom was known as “Mrs Unclean” or “Madam with the issue of blood” was the only one who made a touch of faith on our Lord Jesus Christ. Upon this faith motivated touch, the woman in question instantly received her healing. The pain of twelve years turned into pay, the challenge of twelve years became a chance, the stumbling block of twelve years became a stepping stone, and the problem of twelve years became a prospect.
While all these were happening, Jarius was patiently waiting and surely the child was also dying or had died as was reported later. Jarius was not only humble; he was also a patient man. Patience is another virtue we can take home from today’s gospel. While the woman who had the hemorrhages waited patiently for twelve years, Jarius had to wait patiently for few minutes for the woman to be healed. This is reminiscent of the word of God in Psalm 37:7 (Be patient and wait for the Lord to act). We really have to be patient because God’s own time is the best. On the part of our Lord Jesus Christ he had no preferential treatment for the rich and the more important in the community. His coming is for all. St. Paul made this very clear in the letter to the Galatians (3:28-29). Jesus did not see his stopping to attend to the woman as waste of time. Though the woman had been healed but he wanted the crowd to know that there is a touch of faith that is more rewarding and helpful than the familiarity and accidental touches. Jesus used the opportunity to rename the woman from Mrs. Unclean to Mrs. Cleansed and Healed! He used the opportunity to make a public acknowledgement of the power of faith in God, which is the assurance of things hoped for, and certainty of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).
It seemed useless continuing the journey to the house of Jarius because the little child had died. But for Jesus she was sleeping, if you like she was waiting for the Lord to ask her to get up. This was not the only place Jesus made reference to death as sleep. In John (11:11) when Lazarus died he said that he was sleeping and he was going to wake him up. It is actually clear that only Jesus can wake us up from any kind of sleep. Sleep here can mean sickness, problems, difficulties, challenges, temptations, and all forms of evil. No sleep will be too deep for our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus entered Jarius’ house with three of his apostles and there he asked the little girl to get up. (Talitha Cum). And she got up and began to walk around.
Today we are presented with so many lessons. Firstly there is need for us to undertake the crossing over to the other side. Jarius left his house and crossed over to meet Jesus. The woman with the issue of blood had to cross over the teeming crowd in order to reach and touch Jesus. You may have been at this side of hopelessness, you may have been at this side of despair, and you may have also been at this side of fear, doubt and pride. This is the time for you to cross over to the other side of faith and trust in God. Secondly you are crossing over to the other side not like the crowd who went to make familiar and accidental touches. You are crossing over to the other side so that you can make the touch of faith. Jarius made a touch of faith and the daughter was healed. The woman with the issue of blood made the touch of faith and she was healed.
Using the woman with the issue of blood as an instance, she had faith and was ready to make a touch of faith, but she did not have easy access to Jesus. In our time we have free and easy access to Jesus Christ especially in the Most Blessed Sacrament, but how many of us touch (receive) with faith? Today we have allowed the crowd of sin, the crowd of godlessness, the crowd of worldliness to stand between us and our Lord Jesus Christ the author of our faith.
Often we allow the crowd in form of tribulations to render us faithless and thus unpleasing to God (Heb.11:6). It is always at the most trying times that our faith can be gauged rightly. I will like to end with this story. In 1871, tragedy struck Chicago as fire ravaged the city. When it was finally extinguished, the fire had taken over 300 lives and had left some 100,000 homeless. A man by the name of Horatio Gates Spafford was one of those who tried to help the people of the city get back on their feet. Spafford, a Chicago lawyer, who had invested heavily into the downtown area, lost everything as a result of that fire. More tragically, Spafford had also suffered the loss his only son just a year earlier. Still, for two years Spafford assisted the homeless, impoverished, grief-stricken and others ruined by the fire.
After about two years of such work, Spafford and his family decided to take a vacation. They were to go to England to join Moody and Ira Sankey on one of their evangelistic crusades, then travel to Europe. Horatio Spafford was delayed by some business, but sent his family on ahead. He would catch up with them on the other side of the Atlantic.
Their ship, the Ville de Havre, never made it. Off Newfoundland, it collided with an English sailing ship, the Loch Earn, and sank within 20 minutes. Though Horatio’s wife, Anna, was able to cling to a piece of floating wreckage (one of only 47 survivors among hundreds), their four daughters Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie were killed. Horatio received a horrible telegram from his wife, only two words long: “Saved alone.”
Spafford boarded the next available ship to be near his grieving wife. When the ship passed near the spot where his daughters died, Spafford penned these precious words drawing strength from 2 kings 4:26:
When peace, like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Tho Satan should buffet, tho trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul!
Like Spafford we always need to keep a touch of faith on God no matter the situation in our lives. We need to cross over to the other side and repose our faith and trust in God whose grace is sufficient for us.
Do have a happy Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.