Saturday, July 4, 2009

Who Is Touching Jesus?

The story in the gospels of the woman who touches the hem of Jesus' garment is familiar. As Jesus is on His way to Jairus' home in order (as we find out in a few verses) to raise the man's daughter from the dead, His clothes are touched by a sick woman. She is immediately healed. The gospel writers tell us that Jesus feels power go out from Himself and turns and asks, "Who touched me?"

I have often wondered about this little story. Why would Jesus ask this? One explanation is that the crowd around Jesus is so pressing and so large that He simply does not know which person among many has touched Him.

That too-easy explanation does not work for me. Even in human form, Jesus is God. Of course Jesus knows immediately who has touched Him.

My Christology understands the healings of Jesus as personal extensions of Himself. If Jesus does not know who has reached out to Him, then the healing is simply an impersonal passing of power from the Christ to a sick person, transmitted by touch, without Jesus' independent knowledge of the faith of the one seeking the healing. I cannot accept that. I believe that Jesus does not act randomly. I also believe that the control of the whens and hows of His miraculous work is not ceded by Jesus to a person who chooses to reach out and touch Him at the coincidentally correct time.

I believe that Jesus asks this question - as He does many times with questions in the gospels - as a teaching device. I believe that Jesus, who is in a crowd and on His way to the house of an important man with an urgent need, pauses that journey and (first!) heals a person who would be considered "unimportant" by virtually everyone around, and then Jesus takes the opportunity to teach a lesson.

Stopping His important trip, having quietly healed the formerly-bleeding woman, Jesus asks a question to make the point that only He had noticed her. He says to those with Him - undoubtedly Peter and Thaddeus and Judas and Matthew and the rest - "So, did you notice? Of this whole crowd, who reached out to me? Out of these good people, whom did I heal? In the midst of this group, did you see the power of God displayed?"

The disciples are clueless. "Master, there are an awful lot of people here. And besides that, we are focused on the important job of getting to this important man's house. You can't have expected us to notice anything else."

I believe the same question could be asked today. We rush around on crucial errands. We direct Jesus in the way we want Him to go, aiming for the right person who has asked for proper help. On the way, we are surrounded by many others, some of whom desperately need the touch of the Master. I believe that He gives just that touch right in our presence, and we are none the wiser. I believe that the sick and the seeking are stepping out in faith right under our noses. Triumphantly, Jesus sees them and their faith and responds as only He can. Tragically, we never notice.

Maybe it is because we are legitimately distracted with serving Him in a different way. Too often, I fear, we miss the work of God because we are preoccupied with ourselves, our politics, our narrow views of how God works, and our so-called important stuff.

There is another reason Jesus asks the question, of course. He wants the woman to be noticed. He knows that her faith is exemplary, and He wants us to see it.

"Who touched me?" is not a request for information - Jesus already knew the answer. "Who touched me?" is a quiz, a rebuke to those followers of Jesus who wouldn't know a miracle if it happened in front of their face.

Jesus is acting around us all the time, rewarding faith and touching the needy. Do you notice? If Jesus asks you where you have seen Him work today, will you have an answer?

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