The Rector writes …
“Always read the small print”. It is a good piece of advice and we know that we should not sign up to anything without understanding the full consequences. In our reading of Scripture it is sometimes the smallest of details which can illuminate the text and bring out its meaning. One day this past week the Gospel reading was taken from Saint Matthew (9:18-26): “then from behind him came a woman, who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years, and she touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I can touch his cloak I shall be well again’”. That Jesus was an observant Jew is shown in his wearing of the tassels (or tzitzit) commanded in Deuteronomy 22:12: “you shall make yourself twisted cords, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself”. The unnamed woman has come to believe that the merest contact with Jesus will bring healing and, surreptitiously, she becomes part of the crowd around him. Not daring to risk a face to face encounter, she touches one of the tassels on the back of Jesus’s cloak – it is the lightest of touches but “Jesus turned around and saw her”.
Both Saint Mark and Saint Luke record the same event and it is Luke who has Jesus ask: “Who touched me?” “When they all denied that they had, Peter and his companions said, ‘Master it is the crowds around you, pushing’. But Jesus said, “Somebody touched me. I felt that power had gone out from me’”. The woman’s cure is instantaneous, but it has involved cost on Jesus’s part, he has sensed something being drawn from him even though the contact has been minimal. The detail (touching the fringe on Jesus’ coat) may seem trivial but it underlines the nature of the Incarnation in which God “empties” himself (Philippians 2:6-11) so as to share the human condition in all its day-to-day ordinariness. In bringing healing to someone Jesus has first to surrender something of his own wholeness; he has to let go and allow a part of his personal strength to flow out of him. We see here a tender demonstration of the real humanity of Jesus – he is not superman but a brother who, like us, knows what it is to be stressed and feel the emotional and physical weight of responding to the need of others: his human resources are limited by the need for sustenance and rest. “Jesus’ exercise of his mission of revealing the things of the Kingdom started from a total and true human existence: it is the Word made flesh who is the doctor of men” (Yves Congar OP).
The immediate consequence of Jesus’ sensing what has happened is that “seeing herself discovered, the woman came forward trembling, and falling at his feet explained in front of all the people why she had touched him and how she had been cured at that very moment”. What had begun as a private and interior act of hope and faith now becomes something of common knowledge, placed firmly in the public arena. One commentator observes: “the strategy of her hope is identical with the strategy of her love. Her faith in who he is is so clear and overwhelming that she leaps beyond all protocol of approach, entreaty and expectation of response, in order at once to attempt the essential: to cling to God, the source of all re-creation”. Jesus’ valedictory words to the still un-named woman sum up the whole event: “My daughter, your faith has restored you to health; go in peace”.
The Gospel account of the cure of the woman with the haemorrhage takes up only a few lines but the one phrase, “I felt that power had gone out from me“, reveals a beautiful and on-going truth. When we turn to Jesus with our concerns and needs – as we are told we must – our prayer is always heard and it always calls forth a response which costs something of our Redeemer. In taking our condition into himself, God allows each human heart to resonate within his own heart – strength goes out of him for our healing – our wholeness can only ever take the form of gift from the Divine integrity. Just as the two great commandments are inseparable, so, if we come to touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak and, time and time again, walk away with fresh grace, so we, in turn, must allow others to touch those same graces through us. What we ask for ourselves, we must never deny to others. “It is necessary to reveal to the afflicted and the needy the love, compassion and the closeness of God” (Robert, Cardinal Sarah).