Jesus Asked: "Who touched me?"
see and be seen," said my grade nine geography teacher, "This is why
people go to tourist beaches, to ski resorts, and to church; to see and be
seen." Perhaps he was right
decades ago. Perhaps there was a day
when some people came to church for this reason.
They wanted to see; i.e., catch up on gossip.
They wanted to be seen; i.e., preserve their standing in the community,
even be able to do business on Monday. But
we live in a different era now. Today
no one comes to church for this reason.
why do people come to church? Curiosity
might bring a few, but if curiosity brought them here it would never keep them
here, because there isn't much in church for curiosity seekers.
We don't traffic in oddities or secrets or spookiness.
What the church traffics in happens to be simple, transparent, and highly
repetitive. We sing hymns that
congregations have sung for centuries; we read from a book that a child can
read; we listen to an address that uses illustrations everywhere lest people go
home mystified. I'm convinced that
people come to church today largely for the same reason that the woman in our
text stood, with scores of others, in a crowd.
The reason, Luke tells us, was that she had heard reports about Jesus.
about Jesus abounded in those days. We
are told that the common people heard him gladly and turned out in droves at the
same time that church leaders suspected him and conspired behind closed doors.
One report about Jesus was that he was compassionate: no wonder people
kept bringing their sick and disturbed to him.
And yet as compassionate as he was, people wouldn't have kept bringing
their sick and disturbed to him unless he was more than compassionate, helpful
as well, effective. People came to
him, lingered with him, and then bound themselves to him for one reason: in his
company they became different, life became different, the world became
different, everything became different.
come to church today, for the same reason. They
have heard reports about Jesus. They
have heard that he receives and helps, effectively helps, those whom life has
jarred and jolted, even wounded and warped.
are "shaken up" when they are surprised to discover they weren't able
to anticipate how they reacted to blows and irruptions and disruptions.
To be sure, all of us try to anticipate how we are going to react when
this happens to us or that happens to us. When
the "this" or the "that" does happen, however, we discover
that what we were able to anticipate in our heads we weren't able to anticipate
in our hearts. How we reacted had
virtually nothing to do with how we had thought we were going to react.
And now we fear irruptions in life as we didn't fear them before.
younger person, even the younger adult, unconsciously thinks himself to be
invulnerable. If you sat him down
and queried him about life's vulnerabilities, he'd say, "Of course I'm
aware that accident, disease, disaster can overtake anyone at any time.
Do you think I'm na´ve or stupid?"
Still, what he admits with his conscious, reflective mind he hasn't yet
admitted with his unconscious mind. And
it's the unconscious mind that governs so very much of everyone's life.
Then one day something befalls him that drives home at all levels
of his mind something he'd always admitted with his head but never with his
heart: life is fragile, life is precarious, life is brief, life is subject to
vulnerabilities that can never be rendered invulnerable.
years we manage to live in the illusion that we are in control.
We are in control of ourselves (of course); not only of ourselves but
also of our family, of our colleagues, of a significant corner of our world.
Then one day events force us to admit -- finally -- that while the sphere
of our influence may be great, the sphere of our control is slight, very slight.
And now we aren't even sure we are in control of ourselves.
years we remain untouched by grief in that we have suffered no overwhelming
loss, and untouched by guilt if only because we think ourselves superior to
everyone else. Then loss fuels
grief, and a realistic awareness that our own garbage smells spawns guilt.
years we listen to other people complain that they find life meaningless, we
quietly pride ourselves on the fact that we don't find it meaningless.
One day, however, we realize that our problem isn't life's
meaninglessness; our problem is life's meanings: so many of them, so many that
are incompatible, and in any case no single, true meaning, trustworthy meaning,
this point we are like the woman in our text: "If I but touch the fringe of
his clothes, I shall be made well; just the fringe."
In first century
not deceive ourselves. People at
their profoundest don't come to church because of something about us.
They come because they have heard reports concerning Jesus Christ, and
they've been told that this building and this institution have something to do
with him and may even help them make contact with him.
People at their profoundest come to church because they think that their
chances of meeting him and finding help are better here.
convinced it's no different with us whom have been coming to church for a long
time and will continue to come. To
be sure, there is much here that appears to have little to do with reaching out
to touch our Lord: shingling the roof, gassing the furnace, paying the light
bill. The truth is, however, all of
these matters have everything to do with making contact with him.
It is for this purpose only that we shingle the roof and gas the furnace
and pay the light bill.
woman in our text again: what did she think that merely touching our Lord was
going to do for her? Was there an
element, or more than an element, of superstition in what she did?
There may have been. If there
was, I'm sure our Lord would have corrected it eventually; he wouldn't have
allowed her to go on touching him as if she were pressing a button that gave her
a charge. He wouldn't have allowed
her to keep pawing him mechanically as though voodoo-like superstition could
ever substitute for spiritual maturity. Over
and over in the written gospels Jesus moves people beyond an understanding,
misunderstanding, of him that is so woefully immature as to be spiritually
threatening. When the mother of
James and John wanted positions of privilege for her two sons Jesus told her she
was asking the wrong question; she should have been asking if her two sons were
resilient enough to endure the long-term rigours of discipleship without
quitting. Of course he would expect
an apprehension of him deeper than feeling the fringes of his prayer shawl.
He would have corrected the woman eventually; but he didn't
correct her instantly.
our Lord knows something we must never forget: before we can begin to mature we
have to be born. Before we step
ahead maturely in the Christian life, we have to take a first step.
And the difference between no step and first step is a quantum leap.
In short, there are two dangers we must avoid.
One danger is expecting ourselves and others to exhibit exemplary
spiritual maturity without first having touched our Lord.
When this happens we expect people to swim confidently in the waters of
Christian wisdom and devotional richness and spiritual discernment and
self-renouncing service when in fact they can't swim at all.
They splash around for a while repeating formulas they don't understand
and pursuing a pathway they find pointless until one day they give up the whole
thing and we never see them in church again.
The other danger is making contact, all right, and then fixating
ourselves at an infantile level of Christian understanding and venture, content
to make contact, plainly enough, but never moving on to that maturity in Christ
which Paul says is ultimately the goal of Christian ministry.
woman touches Jesus. "Who
touched me?" he says. "Someone has touched me.
Who is it?" The
disciples remind him that the crowd resembles the subway train at rush hour:
people are squeezed together so tightly that anyone who faints won't even fall
down. Who has touched him?
Who hasn't touched him? The
question is silly.
that it isn't. "Some one
person has touched me," Jesus insists.
"Within this crowd there is some one person who has moved from
observing me and assessing me to contacting me.
Who is it?"
our society seems on the point of forgetting what richness the gospel has
brought the society in terms of our understanding of the person, and how quickly
that gospel-inspired leaven can depart the society.
of the hideousness that Marxism fostered. In
the Marxist set-up the individual person counts for nothing.
The collective counts for everything.
The individual has no rights at all.
The individual has merit only because of the individual's place in the
collective. Any exploitation of the
individual, however cruel or even deadly, is legitimate if it serves the greater
good (so-called) of the collective. You
don't need me to tell you of the forced labour camps in
of a spectacle seen every day in
then I think of a parishioner in my
long do you think such situations will continue once our society has become
thoroughly secularized and the indirect illumination of the gospel has
have said several times over that in a Marxist collectivity the individual is
The reason the individual is worthless here is that the individual isn't
a person; the individual is merely a cog in a giant machine, and any cog can
replace any other cog. The
individual isn't a person.
speaking, ancient Greek philosophy knew of the individual; it did not, however,
know of the person. The notion of
the person is the church's gift to the world.
The difference is this: the individual is an individual in herself, but a
person is always person-in-relation. So
far as the individual is concerned, to be is to be; but so far as the person is
concerned, to be is to be-in-relation. To
exist as a person is never the same as existing as an individual.
Ancient Greek philosophy spoke of the individual but never of the person.
The church knew the difference and insisted that every last human being
is a person.
there are some human beings whose lives are wretched.
They appear to be friendless. They
appear to be isolated. They appear
to be abandoned, forsaken. But in
fact there is no human being anywhere, at any time, who is ultimately abandoned
and finally forsaken, just because there is no human being whom God doesn't
must be sure we see the woman in our story in proper context.
She reached out to touch our Lord -- intentionally, wilfully,
deliberately seeking help. Others
didn't. Then did they lack all
relation to Jesus Christ? Do such
people still? The truth is, in his
death our Lord embraced every last human being without exception, without
qualification, without reservation, without hesitation.
Because of his embrace every human being is a person with respect to him.
Remember, to be is to be-in-relation.
The arms of the crucified ensure not only that individuals are
individuals rather than faceless cogs in a cosmic machine; the arms of the
crucified ensure that no one is finally forsaken, no one ultimately abandoned,
no one bereft of that "other" who guarantees that all individuals are,
more profoundly still, persons.
church's gift to the world here is breathtaking, and nowadays most of the world
doesn't know by whom the gift was given. What
will be the shape, the texture, of our society if, when, the indirect
illumination of the gospel recedes and the society is left not even with the
wisdom that ancient Greek philosophy could muster, but merely with the new
barbarism that looms around us?
I'm convinced that the indirect illumination still lighting our society might
remain if the church continues to hold up the direct lighting of the gospel.
Only the gospel insists that this one person matters inestimably to God
just because only the gospel (all human beings exist in relation to Jesus
Christ) insists that all persons are persons.
You and I are at worship this morning for many
different reasons. One reason,
surely, is that we want to make contact with our Lord again.
Centuries ago a needy woman, a courageous woman, reached out and grabbed
the tassels of his prayer shawl, believing thereby she would find in him what
she needed most.
has touched me?" Jesus responded. She
had. She mattered supremely to him;
but ultimately no more than all of us matter to him, for he has first touched us
all with outstretched arms, thereby rendering us persons whose worth, importance
and gifts are beyond price.
in the church know this. By coming
here today we want to remind the wider society of this truth lest our society
forget it and thereby imperil everyone.
Dr Victor Shepherd