Fr. Roger J. Landry
Catholic Online Homily Series for the Year of Faith
February 5, 2013
The dramatic healing of the woman with the hemorrhage in today’s Gospel is one of the literally most touching of all Jesus’ miracles.
Jesus was on his way with Jairus, the synagogue leader, to raise his daughter from the dead. St. Mark tells us that a large crowd was following Jesus and pressing in on him. As happens in almost any big crowd, people were bumping into him left and right.
Yet in the midst of all of that commotion on the move, Jesus is touched in a different way by this anonymous woman — and Jesus immediately knew he was touched in a different way. The woman believed that if she could just touch the tassel of his garments, she would be cured. And she was not to be disappointed.
Jesus, upon feeling his healing power go out in response to her faith, asked, somewhat remarkably, “Who touched my clothes?” It shows how big the crowd must have been banging into him that he didn’t even see the woman approach him to touch the edge of his garments.
But Jesus was never interested in merely working miracles of bodily healing. Those were always a prelude to the greater miracle of healing souls, and that healing happened and happens through a personal relationship with him. That’s why he never worked “mass miracles of healing,” but always cured people one-by-one, because he wanted to have that personal bond. So Jesus wanted to meet and enter into a relationship with the person he had just physically cured.
After Jesus’ question, the woman approached with fear and trembling, fell down before him and told him everything, including how she had sought to pick-pocket a healing miracle from him without his even knowing.
She was afraid not just because the stop she had caused Jesus to make was going to prove fatal for the daughter of the obviously impatient, powerful synagogue leader, but because by her touching Jesus with her effusion of blood, she was making him ritually impure according to the Jewish law and incapable without ablutions of entering the synagogue. She may have thought that Jesus and everyone else with whom she would have come into contact trying to get to Jesus would be outraged against her.
Her ritual impurity meant that she had been suffering not only physically for twelve years, but also socially and religiously: because of her bleeding, she couldn’t touch anyone and was basically cut off from human contact; she was even, in a sense, cut off from God by not being able to enter the synagogue.
Jesus would address all those problems. He spoke to her tenderly, called her “Daughter,” and said, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.” He made the miracle public so that she could be restored totally to the community, to the worship of God, and to a relationship with God-in-the-flesh.
The miracle of the healing of Jairus’ daughter later in the Gospel passage likewise began with a touch.
Jairus, the leader of the Capernaum synagogue where Jesus was already becoming controversial, didn’t care if the rabbis and the members of the community would criticize him for reaching out to someone who was highly suspect in their eyes, but, out of love for his daughter, ran up to him, threw himself at his feet, doubtless grabbed onto them, and, as St. Mark says, begged Jesus repeatedly to come and lay his hands on his daughter that she might get well and live.
Jairus knew that there was a power to Jesus’ hands, to his healing touch, and he wanted his daughter to feel that touch. And at the end of the scene, after she had died and everyone was mourning her death the way anyone would mourn the death of a child, Jairus would see that Jesus’ healing touch was even more powerful than he had imagined.
“Do not fear,” Jesus told Jairus, “only believe,” and Jairus did both.
When he arrived at the house after the little girl had died, Jesus took her by the hand, touched her, and said, “Little girl, Arise!” In Greek, the verb is the same word used to describe Jesus’ resurrection. Like in Michelangelo’s famous scene of the creation of Adam on the vault of the Sistine Chapel when God stretches out his hand and instills life into Adam, so Jesus’ touch brings life back into this little girl “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said elsewhere, and his touch contains within it that resurrection, with that life, with that total restorative power.
The question for you and me is whether in our lives we humbly reach out to touch Jesus with the faith of Jairus and the woman with the 12 year hemorrhage — or do we just “bump into him,” like all those following in the crowd, who, even though they were coming into physical contact with him, were receiving none of his healing and transformative power.
There’s obviously a great Eucharistic application to this, when we have the unbelievable privilege not only to touch the hem of Jesus’ clothes, but receive his whole body, blood, soul and divinity within. We receive the same Jesus whose feet Jairus grasped!
For many Catholics, however, receiving Jesus in Holy Communion has unfortunately, tragically, become routine. Some of us, including priests, can fail to approach Jesus with the awe, reverence, humility and thanksgiving that should characterize any of us when we recognize we’re about to touch God.
Some don’t even approach with faith, thinking rather that the Eucharist is just some type of special bread rather than the eternal Son of God. It’s no wonder that they can begin to take the Eucharist for granted, to begin to treat Sunday Mass as less important than sleep, or sports, or work, or even cartoons, because even though in the past they’ve touched Jesus in Holy Communion, they touched him like so many in the crowd bumped into him, rather than with the faith and trust, reverence and gratitude, that we see in Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage.
Today, whether we can get to Mass to touch Jesus or whether we need to reach out to him in prayer and in spiritual communion , let us beg his help so that we may touch him with true faith, to touch him with the same desperation, the same recognition of our need for him, as we see in Jairus and the woman.
At the same time that we reach out to touch Jesus, we have to recognize that Jesus wants to reach out and touch us, too. He’s not just passive, waiting for us to establish contact, but he is very active, extending himself with love to us. Like he did with Jairus’ little girl, so he wants to lay his hands on us.
He does it through the priest on the day we’re baptized. He does it in silence in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. He does it routinely through the raised hands of a priest giving God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, whereby he who is the resurrection and the life wants us to share in his resurrection and life, so that he may be able to say of us with joy what was said by the Father of the Prodigal Son, “My Son, my daughter, was dead, but has come to life again.”
Every reconciliation is meant to be a resurrection. That’s the power of Jesus’ touch in that great sacrament he instituted on Easter Sunday evening. What Jesus does in the Sacrament of Confession, St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests, used to say, is greater than the raising of Lazarus, or the son of the widow of Nain, or the daughter of Jairus, from the dead, because the healing of the soul in the Sacrament of Confession has eternal consequences.
The question for us is whether we allow Jesus to lay his hands on us in this way to heal in us whatever is dead, whatever has been killed by the fatal spiritual blow of mortal sin. The question is whether we try to imitate Jairus’ love for his daughter by bringing those we love to receive that same healing, reconciling touch. Today’s Gospel reading inspires us to try to do both.
Today tells us what he told Jairus: “Do not fear, just believe.” He wants us to reach out to him who is reaching out for us.
That’s what the “great cloud of witnesses,” the saints, about whom we read in today’s first reading did in their life. And that’s what they are praying for us to do now.