Rev. Fr. Ronald M. Bagley, CJM
Touching is an important part of human interaction.
Studies have been done over many years that show that babies who are put in institutions and never touched suffer from this later in life. Sociologists and psychologists have even done experiments. For example, some babies were fed and provided with everything they physically needed, but they were not held or cuddled. They did not receive affectionate touching. Other babies received the same care, but they were also given a lot of physical stimulation through touch. They were held, talked too, played with, etc. These babies flourished while the personalities of the others were slow to develop.
Touching, like hugging and other forms of gentle, direct bodily contact, express love and acceptance of the other person in ways that words cannot. Think of the many ways we touch each other. We greet people by shaking hands, embracing a loved one, or mag-mano to our elders. Even our simple gestures at the sign of peace at Mass signifies a bonding and sense of unity
Touching is a two-way street: it affects both the person touched and the person doing the touching. Traditional societies regulate touching by making rules regarding who and what could or could not be touched. Some touching is considered inappropriate between certain people. We respect other people by the ways we do or do not touch them. We call it boundaries. Touching is an outward expression of a certain intimacy. That is why certain touching is not appropriate, especially when one touches in a way that assumes an intimacy that is not there.
In the Jewish society at the time of Jesus, it was believed that touching the wrong person or things would defile the one doing the touching and render him or her unclean. According to ancient Jewish ritual law, the woman suffering from hemorrhage was in a state of impurity and any person who touched her or anything that had come in contact with her was instantly rendered impure (Leviticus 15:19-30). Holy people such as priests were forbidden to touch dead bodies or they would incur defilement (Leviticus 21:1-12). Today’s gospel, therefore, is not simply a story of Jesus’ power to heal the sick and raise the dead. It is also a story of Jesus giving and restoring life by doing exactly what he was not supposed to do, namely, touching and letting himself be touched by those whom the Law had declared unclean and untouchable.
Jesus is the type of person who challenged this kind of traditional thinking. There is a detail in the story that gives us a glimpse into the character of Jesus as someone who challenged accepted rules of conduct. A religious leader usually had a circle of disciples who would walk with him and prevent anyone suspected to be unclean from touching him. But Jesus did not avail himself of this religious protocol. He was not surrounded by his inner circle. He did not restrict who could have access to him.
Apparently everybody in the crowd had access to him. That is why it is puzzling for him to say, “Who touched my clothes?” when he such a crowd pressing in around him. The disciples answered with surprise, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mark 5:30-31).
I love the way Mark describes the woman’s plight: you can see why she was desperate; Each phrase reveals her desperation.
Now there was a woman who suffered a hemorrhage for twelve years;
after long and painful treatment under various doctors,
she had spent all she had without being any the better for it,
in fact, she was getting worse.
Actually, two kinds of touching are happening in the story: the touch of the crowd which has no result, and the woman’s touch which produces miracles. What is the difference between the many touches from the crowd and the one touch from the woman, which releases the power of Jesus? The answer is faith. The woman with the hemorrhage had faith. She was really serious and expecting something to happen when she approached to touch the clothes of Jesus.
If Jesus were passing by here today and you had a chance to touch his clothes, would you touch him with curiosity like the crowd? Or would you touch him with a faith that showed you were going to be transformed and made whole?
Well, actually Jesus is here with us and we have a chance to touch not just his clothes but his very body. In the Holy Eucharist we receive the body of Jesus. Not only do we touch him, but he comes into our lives in a special way. He invites himself into our homes like he did to Jairus, the synagogue leader. We express our faith that he can do wonders in our lives as well because of our faith in him.
Let us put all our heart and soul into that prayer which say every time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”