Saturday, June 27, 2009

Reach out and touch someone


“Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who has touched my clothes?’” Some of you may know that this is not the first time I have lived in here in the North End. I lived at St. Christopher’s back in the mid-1990s when I was a seminary student here in the city. Back then, we all traveled back and forth to school at St. John’s Seminary on the T. And each day as I walked the 10 minutes it took to get to the T station at Government Center, I would pass by any number of homeless men and women – some looking for a handout, others not looking for anything at all. I remember at the time feeling somewhat self-righteous thinking that I would not give them a handout because they would probably just use it to fuel an addiction to alcohol or drugs or some other unseemly purpose. I thought to myself, “I will pray for them, that will be enough.”

And then, caught up in my righteousness, I encountered a particular story of St. Francis. In his day, leprosy was a disease that society had to struggle with. Those who had contracted leprosy were exiled outside of the city walls because of a fear of contagion. Lepers lived on whatever scraps people would throw to them. Society in general treated them as something less than human and their existence was one of misery simply waiting to die. St. Francis initially felt much the same way as the rest of his culture – he was disgusted by lepers and could not even approach them. One of the singular moments in the conversion of St. Francis, though, was one day he was riding his horse outside of the city. He came upon a colony of lepers. In this moment, St. Francis was able to get down off of his horse, approach one of the lepers and embrace him. In that moment the man disappeared from sight. St. Francis, in his last will and testament would write about that encounter. He said, “When I was in sin it seemed to me very bitter to see lepers, and the Lord Himself led me among them, and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, that which had previously seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of body and soul.” Francis was able to see that leper, not as only a leper, but as a brother in Christ, who happened to have leprosy, as someone worthy of the love of God, and no less worthy of the love of Francis.

When I read that story, I immediately saw my own situation with the homeless who I walked by every day and I decided to make a change. No, I wouldn’t give them money, but I could bring sandwiches, cold drinks in the hot weather, coffee in the cold weather – and most importantly, look them in the eye, shake their hands, ask their names, touch them with the love of Christ. These subsequent moments were encounters that had a huge impact on me, on my faith life, and hopefully on the men and women I talked with, encountered and touched.

These encounters came to mind as I was reflecting on today’s Gospel and that simple question of Jesus, “Who touched my clothes?” We see in our passage today, Jesus healing people – He heals the woman who suffered from hemorrhaging and He raises back to life the daughter of Jairus. Jesus touches them – literally and spiritually – and miracles happen. Touching, like hugging, expresses love and acceptance of the other person in ways that words cannot. Touching is a two-way street; it affects both the person touched and the person touching.

Societies, like the Judaism of Jesus’ time, regulated touching by making rules regarding who and what could or could not be touched. It was believed that touching the wrong persons and things would defile you and render you 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. 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.

But, when we look more closely at the story we see two kinds of touching happening: the touch of the crowd pressing Jesus which produces nothing and the woman’s touch which produces miracles. What is the difference between these two? The difference lies in the degree of expectant faith with which the touching is made.

Maybe you’ve heard this joke: What is the difference between people who pray in church and those who pray in casinos? The ones in the casinos are serious! Well, the hemorrhaging woman was really serious and expecting something to happen when she approached to touch the clothes of Jesus – and she was miraculously healed.

We live in a world that is so caught up in its individualism, that we almost never reach out to one another. But, there are many people in our world today who need the hands of the Christian community – as a group, and as individuals – to reach out and touch their lives. There are many people who - in our own hearts - we have placed beyond the length of our arms, out of reach, out of sight, out of mind; who we’ve made untouchable. Jesus calls us to reach out to Him, and then in turn to reach out to those who need Him and who need us.

Our Gospel poses a question for each of us today: If Jesus were passing by here and you had a chance to touch His clothes, would you touch Him with curiosity or with the faith that you were going to be transformed and made whole? Would you touch Him at all?

My friends, the reality is that Jesus is here today and you have a chance to touch Him – but, not just His clothes, we can touch His very body. This is what we are all privileged to do in the Eucharist. When you approach the altar, you will have the opportunity to cradle your God and your Lord in your hands, to consume Him and welcome Him into your body and more deeply into your life.

I invite all of us to reach out and touch Jesus today in this Eucharist and always. Touch Jesus and let Him touch you – and invite the miracle that is His presence into your heart and your lives. Let us pray with a renewed seriousness before receiving Jesus in the today, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” And when we go forth from this Church, let us be the presence of Jesus reaching out and touching and healing those in need in our families, in our community, and in our world.

May the Lord give you peace.

1 comment:

  1. How right you are, in South Africa the poor is with us and on the increase.Please pray for them.

    God Bless