Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8, Year B – Mark 5:21-43
I’m usually the one that drives when my wife, Cyndy, and I go somewhere. If we’re going further than a few blocks I almost always roll up the sleeve of my right arm, lay my hand in her lap, and say, “Would you rub my little arm please?”
On the one hand it just feels good and I like it. On the other hand it’s about so much more. I want to be touched. I want to be seen, recognized. I want to be reminded that I am real and that I matter. I want to feel connected to someone and something beyond myself.
“Would you rub my little arm?” She’s heard it a million times. I don’t think I am the only one that asks that. I think all of us, in some way, want our little arm to be rubbed, even if we don’t like being rubbed. You see it’s about more than a physical touch. It’s about the touch that makes us well.
Years ago I heard a lecture from a physician who described his ritual of touching patients during his examination – pulling down the eyelids, looking at the tongue, percussing the chest, feeling the abdomen, listening to the heart. He would do this every time he saw his patient. He described a particular patient who was on his deathbed. There was nothing more that could be done. An examination was not medically necessary. He went to see this patient on what would be his last day on earth. When the patient saw his doctor he began to unbutton his pajamas wanting to be seen, touched, acknowledged; wanting to be reminded that he was real and that he mattered; wanting to be made well even though he could not be cured.
That’s the power of touch. Touch has the power to make well. It’s what Jairus and the hemorrhaging women in today’s gospel (Mark 5:21-43) know.
Jairus wants Jesus to come and lay hands on his daughter, to touch her, “so that she may be made well, and live.” The hemorrhaging women touched Jesus’s cloak, saying to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
And it’s not just those two. The gospels are full of stories about Jesus touching others and being touched by others. Jesus touches diseased skin of lepers, blind eyes, deaf ears, and mute tongues. His touch makes a difference. Skin is cleansed, eyes see, ears hear, tongues speak. He touches the hand of Peter’s mother in law and immediately her fever leaves.
“Wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed (Mark 6:56).
During a funeral procession he touched the bier that carried the corpse and the dead man sat up and began to speak (Luke 7:14-15).
It would be easy to hear those stories as magical miracles that happen in scripture but never in our lives. And it would be easy to believe that it’s only Jesus who has the divine touch.
But here’s what I wonder. What if those stories about divine touch, the touch that makes well, are happening all the time today? What if that divine touch is not unique or exclusive to Jesus? What if you and I are also carriers of the divine touch? What if that divine touch is a means of healing for ourselves and others? What if we are to open ourselves to being made well by the divine touch of others? What if we are to touch others and the world in ways that affirm, give life, and make well?
Before I go on I want to address and be clear about something. Much of what we hear about touch today focuses on violations and violence. There is a divine touch that has the power to affirm and give life, to heal and make well. But there is also a touch that has the power to destroy and take life. It’s the touch that violates the body, does violence to the soul, and crushes the human spirit. It’s the touch of abuse, neglect, violence, poverty, racism. That is not the divine touch. Do not confuse that with what’s happening in today’s gospel.
And if today your life is being touched in that way or if you are touching another’s life in that way – whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually – call me. Call a friend, your doctor, a counselor, the police. Get some help.
Every time Jesus reaches out with this divine touch, regardless of where or how it happens, regardless of who it happens to, the divine touch is about opening hearts. It never closes hearts. It’s about enlarging and healing the soul. It never diminishes or injures another. It’s about making whole and making well.
That divine touch happens in a thousand different ways. It’s not just one hand touching another hand, though it could be. The divine touch happens with expressions, gestures, and smiles. We touch another with our attitudes. The divine touch happens every time we reach out to another with kindness and compassion, when we offer hospitality and welcome, when we forgive. The divine touch is felt every time we offer another love, hope, encouragement, affirmation. It’s felt when we listen, offer our time, or create space and place for another in our lives.
I remember being an acolyte when I was eight or nine years old and standing next to the priest at the altar. I don’t remember who that priest was or anything he said or did. But he touched me in a way that made me wonder if I too could be priest.
When I was in the fourth grade my dad spent a year in Viet Nam. There was a man in our town named Jerry. His son was my best friend. Jerry made sure that when the cub scouts had a father-son camp out I got to go. He made time for me. He touched my life in a way that made a difference.
There is a retired priest that has been my teacher, mentor, and friend for years. I call him almost every week, at least once. Sometimes I have a question or something I want to discuss with him. Other times I just want to hear his voice and feel his presence. I can’t count the number of times and ways I have felt the divine touch from him. His touch has healed me and made me well.
I remember a particular professor in seminary that was the odd duck on the faculty. He didn’t talk much and he didn’t hang out with people. He spent his time in the library reading and I said, “I like that guy. I get him.” He touched my life in a way that said, “It’s ok to be like you are.” He touched me by his example and it made a difference for me.
These kind of things are happening all the time in a thousand different ways. Every one of you could tell stories about someone who touched your life in a way that made a difference, healed you, opened your eyes to see something new, called you into your better self, gave you courage or confidence, or told you a truth you didn’t want to hear but needed to hear.
Think about those people that you’ve known for years or maybe you meet them for the first time and you just want to rub up against them hoping that whatever it is they’ve got you’ll get some on you. They carry this presence, this life, this energy that when you are in it and around it makes you well. That’s the divine touch.
And there are people that you have done that for. Someone says to you, “Do you remember when you said or did …? It really touched me and made a difference.” And you don’t remember what he or she talking about.
This divine touch happens in simple and ordinary ways. It’s as simple as rubbing an arm or giving a hug and as ordinary as a phone call or an example. We might be touched physically but we can also be touched by note, a wink, a prayer. We’re remembered, recognized, and affirmed. And we’re made well.
What in your life today needs or wants to be made well? What in you needs to be touched. What do you need to get back in touch with? What would it take to allow that touch to happen? Maybe you need to face a fear, regret, guilt, disappointment. Maybe you need to let your guard down. Maybe you have to believe and learn that you really are worthy of being touched, seen, and recognized. Maybe it means admitting that once in a while we’re just not well and we need a divine touch.
What would it be like for you to go out into the world today looking for the people, relationships, circumstance that are waiting for and needing to be touched with a divine touch? What if you are the one to reach out and help someone else be made well, to offer hope, courage, love, a way forward?
When we touch we make a difference and when we withdraw from or refuse to touch we make a difference. The poet David Whyte says that to be untouched is to disappear. When I don’t get touched, when I’m not connected, I disappear, I’m lost. And when I refuse to touch another I impose that lostness and disappearance on them.
What if today you and I were to look for those places that need to be touched and made well in ourselves and in each other? I don’t know what that might accomplish but I know this. In today’s gospel the hemorrhaging women touches Jesus’ cloak. He turns and touches her with his gaze and then he says, “Go in peace.” Maybe the divine touch, when we receive it or offer it to another, is what allows all of us to go in peace.