The Fifth Sunday of Pentecost [Proper 8], June 27-28, 2015
Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA + The Rev. Roy Almquist
Then they brought little children to Jesus that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.’ And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them. [Mark 10: 13-15]
How can we possibly measure the importance of touch? Child psychologists tell us that when children are deprived of sufficient loving touch, they can grow up emotionally unresponsive and distant in their relationship to other people. Obviously some children have had damaging, negative experiences with touch, but most of us grow up with a hunger for loving, physical contact.
Touch is the most powerful of all non-verbal communication. Touch can be experienced in a myriad of expressions … a handshake, a pat on the arm, an embrace or a hug, a gentle hand on a child’s shoulder. We generally touch at weddings, funerals, and other occasions of great joy or sadness. Babies need to be touched and cuddled, but all children need hugs, including through the teen years, when such gestures may seem awkward. An appropriate physical touch conveys the message, louder than words could say … We care about you.
Make no mistake … adults also need to be touched. As we mature we certainly do not grow beyond the need for such caring contact. The search for intimacy with another person is a central drive in human development. Single people have just as great a need to give and receive healthy touch and hugs as anyone in a partnered relationship.
If you would like a good example of the importance of touch in contemporary life, go no farther than the world of sports. Sports teams use a great variety of touch from high-fives to back-slaps to head-butts to chest slams.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley studied basketball teams over a complete season. After identifying twelve specific examples of positive touch between teammates during games, they detailed the occurrence and duration of each one. Their results showed that the “touchier” players and teams actually performed better than their less-contact counterparts.
This is one reason why I have always believe that passing the peace in the context of a worship service is one of the healthiest, most positive experiences that this or any church can provide. Sadly, the passing of the peace may be the only time a person may have physical contact with another in our measured, controlled society.
You cannot read the Gospel account of Jesus without hearing about touch. The crowds that were drawn to Him reached out to touch Him and Scripture tells us that Jesus constantly touched the people with powerful results. The healing power of Jesus’ touch is found again and again:
And they came to Bethsaida And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. [Mark 8:22]
And behold, a leper came and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean. Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, I am willing; be cleansed. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. [Matthew 8:2-3]
Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him. [Matthew 20:34]
Our Gospel lesson today is a story of touching … a woman touching Jesus and Jesus healing a child, thought to be dead, with his transforming touch.
In his account of these two events Mark reveals to us a unique feature of his Gospel … his love for sandwiching one story within another. Mark blends these stories with the intention that each story will heighten the meaning of the other. This unusual story of the woman with the profound physical problem is clearly the inner story; the healing of Jairus’ daughter is the outer story that enfolds the entire event.
At the heart of our Gospel lesson, the inner story, we discover a truly tragic figure ~ a woman with a flow of blood that she had endured for twelve years, a condition that weakened her, rendering her ritually impure, a condition that would have prevented her participation in the community. Her chronic condition no doubt left her incapable of bearing a child, a inadequacy that would provide grounds for divorce. This unfortunate woman would have been considered an untouchable in Jesus’ day, not unlike a leper.
The discomfort and banishment this woman endured was not the end to the indignity. We are told that she had also suffered at the hands of physicians, who drained her of her financial resources as well as her hope. This was a woman who had lost so much that she literally had nothing to lose.
So when she heard that Jesus of Nazareth had come to her village, she was determined to make contact with him. In her despair she had one intention: If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well! Suddenly the opportunity was before her. She reached out and touched Jesus’ robe, and Mark tells us, she was healed by that touch.
The outer story in our Gospel lesson is Mark’s account of Jairus, the leader of the local synagogue, who came to Jesus with another form of despair … his twelve-year-old daughter was near death. Most of the Jewish leaders in Mark’s Gospel account resisted Jesus. Despite that fact, Jairus came to Jesus not as a leader, but as a father. He came convinced that Jesus could help him.
I have two grandchildren about the age of this man’s daughter. We have no trouble understanding what drove Jairus to fall on his knees before Jesus; we would do the same! I cannot imagine anything more terrible than watching your child’s life ebb away before your eyes.
Today we remember two nameless people: a little girl whom Jesus returned to life with his healing touch, and a woman who had life restored to her by touching Jesus. As we remember these nameless women, let us remember the event that gave us a name … and a destiny as the baptized children of God. In our baptism we have been uniquely touched … given a destiny and a purpose in this world.
Let us cling to that name we have received in our baptism, when we were touched with the water of new life and marked with the cross of Christ forever, with that precious name … beloved child of God. Let us, therefore, resist the urge to use destructive names and say things that belittle and degrade other people. With our minds still on Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, let us not forget the danger of poisoning young people with thoughtless, evil ideas … ideas of hatred and bigotry and cowardice.
Each of us has the ability to reach out and touch those around us, to rekindle hope, to bring back joy … particularly within those whom society so often short-changes and overlooks … people who are also children of God and thus our brothers and sisters. When we look at the challenges around us, we know what Jesus would do … the question is ~ what will we do? Let us be instruments of healing nd peace.
Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light:
Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home. AMEN.