The power of a touch. It has often been noted that physical contact is very important between a mother and her new baby, between parents and their children, and between adults who are lonely or scared. The Gospel writers make a point of this when describing Jesus’ interaction with the sick, but it is a point that we sometimes miss.
In the Gospel of Mark, the actions of Jesus are emphasized more than his words, and we can read the story of how Jesus healed the sick and drove out evil spirits. From the beginning of his public ministry as a thirty-year-old teacher, Jesus demonstrated his willingness to violate the social practices of his day in order to bring healing and restoration.
Mark tells us how Jesus, in a compassionate response to the leper who begged him to be cleansed, reached out and touched the man. Immediately the leper was healed. That act of touching the leper is a very important detail because it clearly shows Jesus’ willingness to be “defiled” according to Mosaic law.
One of my favorite Gospel stories is the encounter Jesus has with the bleeding woman, told in Mark 5. The context is Jesus’ early popularity with the crowds who gather around him and bring him their sick for healing. I can just imagine what it was like to see the people pressing around him and the disciples trying to protect and shield him.
A woman suffering from bleeding for twelve years and unable to get any relief from the doctors, follows Jesus and decides if she can just touch him, she will be healed. It’s important for you to know that this woman’s condition was not only debilitating, but also disqualified her from marriage and from community and religious life in general. Yet she pushes her way through the crowd and is able to touch him. Immediately she knows she has been healed!
Then a remarkable thing happens. Jesus stops, turns around and asks the crowd, “Who touched my clothes?” I can identify with the disciples — probably Peter in particular (I am so like Peter) — who says in effect: “You must be kidding? Who touched you in the middle of this mob? Lots of people!”
But the woman come forward, and falls at his feet and, trembling with fear, tells him what she has done. Tenderly Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” The Shalom that Jesus offers her is both spiritual and physical.
The compassion of Jesus is striking, as illustrated in his responses to both the leper and the bleeding woman. By stopping the crowd and highlighting the fact that he has been touched by a bleeding woman, which in his day meant he was now “unclean,” Jesus is teaching his disciples – and us – that he brings both spiritual and physical healing to hurting people, as the prophets predicted. Jesus is willing to touch the “unclean” in order to bring restoration and new life. Later he talks about this with his disciples as we will see in the weeks ahead, but it is important for them to see Jesus in action first.
- Over the years this encounter has made an impact on my own life. It also helps that I am three-quarters Italian by blood, so hugs and embraces and physical contact with others is a part of my lifestyle. Marge has encouraged me to hug widows at our church periodically because they often miss physical contact. Has this been a part of your life? Have you experienced the power of a touch?
- The false dichotomy that Christians often create between social action and evangelism is also made clear by this encounter. The Shalom that Jesus offered to hurting people was not just spiritual, but also had physical dimensions. It was clearly care for the whole person, body and soul. Do other similar encounters with Jesus come to mind?
- Did you get any new insights from this story? Please share them by adding your comments to this blog.