SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR B
By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Gospel
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The Healing Touch

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15 Mark 5:21-43

“No minister will ever get close to a person who he is unwilling to physically touch. If you are not willing to touch a homeless person, or an alcoholic, or a terribly dirty person, you psychologically are unwilling to minister to them.”

These are the words of an eminent psychologist, Dr Charles Gerkin of Emory Divinity School. His student, Larry Daniel, who became minister of First United Methodist Church in Murray Kentucky, learnt this lesson the hard way in 1988 when one of his church member came down with full-blown AIDS. He had gone to the hospital to visit with the sick man and the nurse advised him to put on rubber gloves before entering the room. He did. The sick man was so happy to see his pastor and immediately extended his hands in welcome. But when the pastor extended his own hands all he saw was the latex gloves. Instantly the initial feeling of joy and comfort turned into that of embarrassment for both of them. The pastor apologised. In future trips to the hospital he wore no gloves. “I simply felt that I could not be Christ’s representative in that situation,” he later explained, “unless there was direct touch contact.”

Touching, like hugging and other forms of gentle, direct bodily contact, express love and acceptance of the other person in ways that words cannot. Touching is a two-way traffic; it affects both the person touched and the person doing the touching. Traditional societies 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 the one doing the touching and render him or her unclean. According to ancient Jewish ritual law, the woman suffering from haemorrhage 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.

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 was expected to dress in special attire and move through the crowds surrounded by a circle of disciples who would prevent anyone suspected to be unclean from touching him. But Jesus did not avail himself of this religious protocol. Apparently everybody in the crowd had access to him. That is why when he turned and said, “Who touched my clothes?” the disciples answered with surprise, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mark 5:30-31).

Actually, two kinds of touching are happening in the story: the touch of the crowd which produces nothing 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? You are right if you say that the difference lies in the degree of expectant faith with which the touching is made. There is a joke which asks the question: What is the difference between people who pray in church and those who pray in casinos? And the answer is: The ones in the casinos are really serious! The woman with haemorrhage 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 or with a faith that you were going to be transformed and made whole? Well, actually Jesus is here today and you have a chance to touch not just his clothes but his very body. This is what we are privileged to do in the Eucharist. Let us put all our heart and soul into it as we say the prayer before receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

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