A Healing Faith, A Healing Touch I remember reading this story of the bleeding woman as a girl in Sunday school and getting the strong impression that this woman did something bad. She interrupted, she touched, and she took something without asking. Reading this story again with those assumptions in the back of my head, I was surprised to see that Jesus does not denigrate the bleeding woman or shame her, but affirms her bold action. He says to her, „Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.‟ The woman has not only been healed, but has been made well, been saved, and been made whole. When she was bleeding, she was financially drained from medical expenses, marginalized because of her unclean status from her family and her religious community; she was probably unable to marry or have children, and she was generally isolated from society. Now Jesus calls her “Daughter”. With her touch of faith, she goes from being an outcast to being a child of God. What‟s more, she touches Jesus quietly, then Jesus grants her a voice. When Jesus asks “who touched my clothes?” he is asking her to speak; he is inviting her out of her marginalized silence. Silence betrays an attitude people often have toward themselves that they are unworthy of other persons‟ significant time or attention. Jesus however, refuses to accept the woman‟s attitude toward herself (which has come from twelve years of being identified as unclean.) He draws her out of hiding, urges her to find her voice, and gives her the opportunity to tell her story. All this from a touch! The woman, in faith, reaches for Jesus‟ robe, and it is that initiative that makes all the difference. Why do we recoil from this woman‟s touch? Why do we feel like she has out-stepped her boundaries? What kind of a faith is it that this woman has, that is so powerful she can initiate her own healing? In what ways are we reaching to touch God? These are the questions this story brings up for me. Last week Sylvia talked about our faith‟s foundation on solid rock. There‟s a house built on sand that cannot stand through the storm, and a house built on a firm foundation with the strength to make it through. What a great metaphor. When talking about faith, I need metaphors. A metaphor turns an abstract idea into something tangible. You might be thinking, well yeah, that‟s a nice picture: two houses, one‟s represents a strong faith, one‟s a weak faith, the house without a firm foundation is destroyed… but it‟s just a pretty picture. But metaphors aren‟t just flowery little phrases used by poets and preachers. Our lives and our language are so dependent on metaphors we don‟t even notice the metaphors we use every day. For example, when we‟re talking about ideas, we talk about them as if we could hold them in our hands. We say things like: “I gave you that idea.” “It's difficult to put my ideas into words.” We‟ll even use our hands to offer ideas to people: “Well, here‟s an idea!” with our palm up. There‟s no actual physical transfer happening, but you can‟t really talk about ideas any other way, without referencing them physically. So, in order to for us to really understand and be comfortable with the idea of faith, we have to relate it to the physical world. The more physical our faith is – the bigger the rock it‟s built on – the more powerful it is. Faith must be something tangible. Think of some common phrases we pass around about faith: “A faith that can move mountains.” “True faith cannot lie sleeping.” A “shared” faith, a “growing” faith, a “delicate” faith. All of these are images of faith as a physical thing. Jesus tells the bleeding woman that all she needed to be healed was in her: she was healed by her own faith. Her faith made her reach out to touch Jesus. What I‟d like to draw a connection between here is the way we metaphorically identify faith as a physical entity and the significance of touch in our everyday reality. Touch is a touchy subject. There are many socially unacceptable ways of touching that I could identify even as a girl in Sunday School class when I thought the bleeding woman had done something wrong; there are situations where we learn that touching is inappropriate. Touch is such a charged issue, because it is powerful. There is energy in our fingertips that can communicate volumes of emotion and intention. It‟s one of the greatest gifts of communication that God has given us, and thus, we are very cautious in using it. Even in a city where physical proximity is inevitably crowded– in the subway, in the office, in our apartments, at the grocery store – we maintain a social understanding of personal boundaries concerning touch. Did you know, there are un-stated, unconsciously learned social rules that can be diagrammed about where you should stand in an elevator depending on how many people are inside so that no one‟s personal space is invaded more than necessary? What if, in the same way we guard ourselves physically against touch, we‟ve learned to unconsciously guard ourselves against an intimate faith in God? Recently I've been thinking a lot about the senses, about the connection between spirituality, the visceral, and the tangible. New York has been overwhelming my senses in an exhausting sort of way: the sound of the elementary school playground across the street from Menno House waking me in the morning, the smells of the street which transition from pizza to smoke to coffee to gasoline with each step, the feel of the grass between my fingers in Central Park that I had almost forgotten, the taste of the perfect bagel I have yet to find, the view of the skyline from the East River. To me, this overflow of the senses feels like the presence of God and the Spirit of God alive in the world. There's an elemental part of being alive and sensing – seeing, touching, listening, tasting, smelling – all these things are connected to our understanding of God. And here in New York, this feeling has caught me up in a rush of the senses. Maybe that‟s why people like travelling so much; we like throwing ourselves into a foreign culture where all the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells are new and demand our attention. We rediscover God‟s act of creation in the newness of our own discoveries. And maybe that‟s why people love New York – there‟s so much more to discover. That‟s what I'm afraid I'll lose as I grow up; the ability to get excited about the things we experience and sense every day, and the presence of the Spirit in that excitement and energy. There's an awe and mystery that disappears as we grow familiar with our surroundings, and as we make decisions and statements of belief and convince ourselves that the mystery is gone. What gives me hope is that the further I dive into the questions of faith that God puts before me, the greater the mystery becomes; the greater the potential for reverence and wonder. Identifying God in these things that overwhelm my senses is an attempt to keep a connection between my life and God‟s spirit. It‟s my way of reaching out to touch Jesus‟ hem. What I'm trying to do is grasp onto something in the flood of experience and excitement that has been my summer in the city. I want to make that physical connection that leads to rebirth and to wholeness. When the woman touches Jesus, her faith becomes something real, something she can feel, and it changes her life. If we can recognise the significance of touch in our lives, we can also be made whole. Linking the idea of a tangible faith to the tangible, sensory things around us is a way of grounding our faith and being reminded of it – even being able to see it, feel it, hear it, smell it, taste it each day. A lot of Christians I know, particularly Mennonites, have a real issue with the Holy Spirit. Well, actually, they don‟t really have an issue with it as much as avoid the subject altogether. We aren‟t sure what to make of this Holy Ghost that came down on Pentecost in a flame, making people speak in tongues. Going back to my ideas as a girl in Sunday school, I never really liked the Holy Spirit much. My teachers told me the Holy Spirit was my conscience, that little voice in your head that makes you feel bad when you do something wrong or makes you feel obligated to do something you really don‟t want to do. That concept of the Holy Spirit quickly got frustrating as I grew up and it got harder and harder to feel any difference between my “conscience” and social ideology and pressures. As we live in a world where God can seem stuck above us on a cloud in heaven, and Jesus ascended 2000 years ago, the Spirit of God is who is here with us, if we can sense it – listen, watch, and be aware of the Spirit‟s touch. In a book about the Holy Spirit I‟ve been reading with Sylvia this summer, Rebecca Button Prichard says this: The glory of God is a felt presence, a weighty substance, a radiating warmth, filling, infusing human hearts and the sanctuary of creation itself. So, the Holy Spirit is something we can sense, the part of God that is accessible to us through our senses. Julian of Norwich, a medieval religious writer, likewise spoke of God‟s spirit as “everything which is good and comforting for our help… our clothing… that love which wraps and enfolds us, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us… so tender that it may never desert us.” These women, Julian of Norwich and Rebecca Button Prichard, give us a way of thinking about God as surrounding us now that uses our sense of touch as a direct metaphor for what faith feels like. If we can feel God, allow the Spirit to really touch us in this way by recognizing the Spirit in the city around us, we can touch God. As we see in the story of the bleeding woman, reaching out in faith to touch God results in healing and new life. Here‟s a philosophical exercise for your mind about the way God surrounds us that might stretch you to the limits of your thinking: Jewish mysticism gives us this idea. If God existed alone, before anything else was created, then (logically) nothing existed but God. So, everything that existed was God, because God was the only thing that existed. There was no other thing, not even a “nothing”. Therefore, when God created the universe, the earth – when God created us – God must have taken part of God‟s self and used that to create us. God gave up a part of God‟s self in order to create us, clearing a space within God‟s own being for us. Thinking of God as physically making room for us within God‟s folds can be comforting. The idea of “making room” describes a kind of intimacy, of physical closeness. Imagining our creation in this way deepens the significance of the words Julian uses to describe a God, who “wraps and enfolds us, embraces and shelters us, surrounds us.” This is just another way to look at the way God touches you. Jesus often touches people when he heals them. He also encourages the disciples to touch him after the resurrection to confirm that he is really alive. In Luke 24:39, he says, “See my hands and my feet, that it is truly me. Touch me and see, for a spirit doesn't have flesh and bones, as you see that I have." Of course, we cannot actually touch Jesus anymore, because he‟s not physically here. But the story of the bleeding woman in the book of Mark describes a Christ who shares spiritual power; Jesus‟ power is active through the participation of others. This is Mark‟s unique perspective. Jesus works through the faith of others. When Jesus visits his hometown synagogue in the scene following this story, „he could do no deed of power there‟ because of their unbelief (6:1-6). The Gospel of Matthew, on the other hand, does not include this theme of spiritual power that grows from a faithful community. Thus, in Matthew, the bleeding woman no longer cures herself through the power of her own faith in Jesus, and parents and disciples do not attend the raising of Jairus‟s daughter; and when Jesus arrives in his hometown Matthew says Jesus “did not do‟ mighty works there because of their unbelief (rather than „could not do‟ as Mark writes it). In Mark, the power that resides in Jesus heals in response to the faith and collaboration of others. Mark doesn‟t mean to diminish the magnitude of Jesus‟ power, but Mark chooses to highlight the significance of the believer‟s share in the spirit. Mark gives us a picture of a spiritual power that remains with us and in us as followers of Christ. The Spirit that gave faith to the bleeding woman and to the disciples, and to early Christian readers of Mark‟s gospel, is the same Spirit we experience among each other here. The power of Jesus is within our faith and our community. When we reach out to touch each other and pay attention to those who touch us, we experience Christ‟s healing in the Spirit. Benediction May the example of Jesus‟ empowering ministry shape our efforts to touch others in their own struggles for healing and wholeness. And may the example of this woman rouse us from our own isolation to act courageously, to reach out in faith and touch, to embrace the power of God that Jesus uses on our behalf, and to claim our voices and full personhood in the Spirit.
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