The Rector writes …
Each of us will have passages from Scripture which we find particularly helpful. One such for me came up in the daily cycle earlier in the past week. Saint Matthew (9:18-26) interrupts his account of the restoration to life of a synagogue official’s daughter with the approach of an unnamed woman who believes that the merest contact with Jesus will resolve her medical condition (she had, we are told, suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years). That is all there is: a minimum of material with which to work, but more than enough for some very positive conclusions to be drawn. Matthew is thought to be the most sympathetic of the Evangelists to Jewish tradition. When the woman touches the fringe of his cloak, we are being reminded that Jesus as an observant Jew would have worn the “tzitzit” (Deuteronomy 22:12) probably from the time of his bar mitzvah. The point being made here is that the woman chooses the most discreet point of possible contact – not even touching Jesus’s clothing as such but only one of the tassels attached to it.
In another context Jesus could say: “If your faith were the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mountain’ move from here to there’, and it would move; nothing would be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). The woman of Mathew’s Gospel places her hope in Jesus: and it is not misplaced. “Courage, my daughter, your faith has restored you to health”. The woman must have been worn down physically and emotionally from the constant haemorrhaging: she must have longed for some way out of a condition which would have been debilitating and distressing (and which also rendered her ritually impure in religious terms). What is so fascinating in the concise, almost terse, account given by Matthew is the tentative nature of the encounter. The woman hides herself in the crowd – she does not want to be noticed and yet instinctively she recognises that here is the opportunity for her life to change. She must literally reach out and allow her fingers to touch the edge of what Jesus is wearing she senses that even the most ephemeral of contacts will be enough. Given the circumstances of her immediate history, the woman must have suffered low esteem, she was by definition one of the anawim of Israel (literally those who were “bowed down”). Her humility is obvious – but so is her conviction that God can change her situation: and so he does. “From that moment the woman was well again”.
The models of faith with which we grow up are usually strong ones which is both right and as it should be. We do need to know that there have always been men and women who have lived the integrity of what they believe, often at great personal cost. But we are not living in an atmosphere conducive to faith: as Catholics in this huge metropolis at the beginning of the twenty-first century we know that we are out of the mainstream. Many around us are hostile, and most indifferent, to the things we hold most precious. In the woman with the haemorrhage who approaches Jesus in such a tentative way perhaps we can find an icon of our own journey of faith. Yes, we believe in God and we accept all that the Holy Spirit has revealed about the nature of the Godhead through his Church, but we question and struggle in making the truths of faith our own. We are like the old man of the Jewish proverb who carried two pieces of paper in his trouser pocket: one said: “for me the whole world was created”, and the other: “I am but dust and ashes”.
The woman of the Gospel senses that it is through her contact with Jesus that
she will find new life. At base, her reaction is ours. Although there are times when we find it hard to affirm, nevertheless, it is impossible for us ever to deny that fundamental relationship which Saint Paul describes: “the life you have is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). When many of Jesus’ first disciples melted away in response to his teaching about the Bread of Life, the Twelve were asked: “What about you? Do you want to go away too?” Saint Peter’s response has to be ours too: “Lord who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe: we know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6: 68).