The Power of Touch

June 27 2021 bwk

Mark 5:21-43

This is a story about human touch and what a powerful force for good it can be in our lives. It was a common thing in pre-pandemic worship services for people to share greetings with one another — to “pass the peace” — with a handshake, brief hug, or touch on the shoulder. In a time of epidemiological innocence, these greetings extended far beyond our personal bubbles. They enfolded not only those people we’d come with, but strangers. Our caring touch was a symbol of welcome, of community in Christ. Such a simple act. Such a powerful, non-verbal message.

There’s reason to believe that human touch is essential to human well-being, especially when we’re young. Frederick the Great of Prussia was a powerful ruler of the European Enlightenment, and a man of great scientific curiosity. He once conducted an unusual — and cruel — scientific experiment into the development of human language. There was a theory then that the babbling of infants was related to the ancient language of Eden, but children lost this mother-tongue as they grew and learned the language of their parents.

Frederick tested this theory by isolating newborn orphan babies from any contact with other people. Specially trained nurses would see to the babies’ basic needs, but no physical contact or exposure to language was permitted. Once the children grew old enough to speak, they would be brought into the presence of the other children in the experiment to see if they could converse with one another.

Frederick’s experiment was a failure. Not one of those children lived beyond infancy — let alone to the age when language begins to develop. The one thing Frederick did learn from his terrible, cruel experiment was that the physical touch of another human being is essential to life. If babies are not picked up, hugged and caressed, they have but a slim chance of surviving.

This Gospel reading could be about handling the pressing needs of the important contrasted with the urgent, and the tension of which to focus on.  At stake, How do we handle interruptions.  

Another approach would be to consider the celebrity affect and desperate people.  Let’s talk about that.

Jesus is very popular with the crowds.  He is surrounded by those who are amazed and want to see more stunning miracles.  He is sought after by those who need and want His loving intervention.  Jairus, a loving father who is also one of the synagogue leaders—he is a church guy with a great reputation among the religious folk.

Jairus’ daughter is at the point of death.  He begs Jesus to come quickly, lay His hands on her and heal her.  Time is of an essence.  Jesus agrees and goes with Jairus.  He is also accompanied by a huge crowd that is pressing in on Him on all sides, elbow to elbow.  No social distancing here!

Then add to this the woman with a twelve year hemorrhaging problem.  She must be a woman of status with financial means.  She has exhausted all her resources and tried every medical cure available. All to no avail.  Her bleeding continues.  That means she is unclean and not able to be in public anywhere.  She is taboo and isolated.  No friends could be near her.  No husband either.  No one.  She is isolated, lonely and desperate.  

That is when she overhears stories about the man Jesus who is able to heal people.  She hears how loving and kind He is.  So she determines, “If I can but touch the hem of His garment I will be healed.”  She doesn’t want to interrupt Him on His important mission to heal Jairus’ daughter.  She doesn’t want to be seen, heard or noticed.  She just wants to slip up through the crowd and touch His robe.  Imagine how determined she would have to have been!  The crowd is think and cutting through the mass of people is not easy.  But she does it.  And as she does so, Jesus immediately stops.

Everyone jostles to a stop.  The disciples are confused.  What’s up?  Jesus immediately spins around and says, “who touched my robe?”  The disciples think He’s lost it.  He’s been touched and jostled by dozens of people.  What’s He thinking!  He must be overworked and tired!  

Jesus then must look right at the woman who is now miraculously healed and has eye contact.  She had tried to slip back and disappear in the crowd, but now she is forced to come back toward Jesus.  The crowd gives her space.  She falls on her hands and knees before Him and tells Him she is the one who touched Him because she hoped to be healed.  She must even state that she has been healed.

Everyone—including the disciples—must expect Jesus to scold her for her interruption.  Jairus himself must be quite anxious for his daughter and now this delay in getting to her.  

Jesus, however, speaks kindly and compassionately to this unnamed woman.  “Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace.  Be healed of your disease.”  She was healed by Jesus’ gracious mercy.  Technically she was not healed by her faith, but her faith gave her the courage and confidence to approach Jesus and to actually touch Him.  Jesus’ power healed her.  Faith trusts that power of the Lord.

Then, even while Jesus is speaking the news arrives that Jairus’ daughter has died.  Mission failed.  Don’t trouble the Master anymore!

Jesus, however, is undeterred.  He encourages Jairus.  “Do not fear.  Only believe.”

They arrive at Jairus’ home where the mourning is in full swing.  There is shouting and screams of grief.  These Jewish believers are not quiet Norwegians!  They grieve out loud!

Jesus tells them that the girl is not dead.  Only asleep.  

They deride Him as crazy, and mock His confidence.  Jesus takes the girls parents into the death chamber where the girl is lying.  He takes her hand.  He speaks to the dead girl who is asleep and says in Aramaic, “Little girl, arise!”  And immediately she does and begins to walk about.  Picture the hugs and tears of joy.  The shock of the crowd of mourners.  The stunned and numb parents who are overcome with joy!  

“Give her something to eat,” says Jesus.  Dying and being raised again works up an appetite!  

Human touch.  God made us in such a way that we need each other.  We need companionship.  We need the warmth and love of others.  Jesus’ incarnation is all about human touch, God being approachable and accessible to us broken and wounded people.  

His presence among us gives us the courage to reach out and touch others who need our love and support.  

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