HomeCommentaryHealing Touch

Healing Touch

Some touches can defile; others can purify. Some touches can kill; others can give life. Some touches can help; others can only aggravate the problem

In this time of pandemic, if there’s one thing many people have been deprived of, it’s the experience of TOUCHING AND BEING TOUCHED.

We have consciously restrained ourselves from shaking hands, embracing, making “mano po,” doing “beso-beso” (kissing), or sitting close to each other. Even priests are now instructed to pray over or lay hands from a distance, and use cotton for anointing.

We do this to protect each other, but we might forget that touching is also one of the most powerfully therapeutic things in our human reality.

Our Gospel is about two people who desire, either to touch, or to be touched by Jesus, believing that they could obtain healing from him. There’s Jairus, who is desperate to have Jesus lay his hands on his 12-year old daughter who is mortally ill. And then there is the woman who has suffered hemorrhages for 12 years.

Unlike Jairus, the woman is not even asking for any attention. She helps herself by sneaking in in the midst of a crowd. She seems to have gotten used to suffering alone and unnoticed, because she knew that, according to Jewish tradition, she was unclean, and anyone who touched her would also become unclean.

This woman reminds me of the Roman centurion who was so considerate, he did not even require Jesus’ physical presence. Remember how he said, “Just say the word…” But this woman did not even ask for a word! She just wanted to touch his clothes. It did not even have to be a skin-to-skin touch because she did not want to defile Jesus. Touching even just the hem of Jesus’ garment was enough for her.

As far as she was concerned, Jesus did not even have to be aware of it. But then of course, Mark tells us, Jesus became aware of it. There were no such things as magical or automatic healings for Jesus. Neither did he do mass healings; it was always one person at a time. The disciples were right when they reacted and said, “But why are you asking who touched you? So many people are touching you!”

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There were indeed many people who were touching him, but the effect was not the same for each one. Like I said, it was not automatic; It was not magic. Only the touch accompanied by faith could gain access to God’s healing power. That is why Mark tells us Jesus felt it and needed to know who had touched him. And when he found out, he said, “Woman, YOUR FAITH has saved you!” Meaning, you have discovered the secret of gaining access to God’s power. I think Mark is insinuating that Jesus had said this, not just for the woman, but for Jairus.

I like the way Mark tells his story. He sandwiches this woman’s story within the story of Jairus’ daughter, on purpose. He is doing it precisely to demonstrate the contrast between this woman’s faith and that of Jairus. Look, Jairus was already holding on to Jesus but was still tempted to lose hope when the news of his daughter’s death reached him. And so, Jesus tells him, “Just have faith.” Short of saying — like this woman over here.

This woman also reminds me of the Canaanite woman who did not mind getting even just the “crumbs from the master’s table.” But quite unlike her, the bleeding woman is not even asking for attention. In fact she reacts with fear when she is noticed. Why? Like I said, she was ritually unclean according to Jewish law. She could be accused of contaminating people by touching them, and this was unlawful for the Pharisees. And so she came out to apologize for what she had done.

Jesus insisted on wanting to know “who touched him” not because he believed as the Pharisees did that he might get defiled. So why did he want to know? I am sure Jesus also had to deal with a lot of people who tended to be unruly. People who grabbed or pulled him or clung desperately to him?

Pope Francis blesses attendees wearing a face mask as he arrives to hold a limited public audience at the San Damaso courtyard on Sept. 6 , 2020 in the Vatican, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)

Remember that woman who pulled the pope’s hand and hurt him? Remember how annoyed the pope was and how he instinctively slapped her hand, and later apologized for it? We also have stories of Jesus getting annoyed, like by the Canaanite woman. He may have also have been annoyed by Jairus who was almost literally dragging him to his home. (Halos kaladkarin na nga siya.)

I wonder if that was not the reason he deliberately tarried. In some instances, Jesus even asked his disciples to prepare an escape boat, otherwise people might crush him.

Jairus actually believed that Jesus’ touch could have its effect on the sick girl. But I feel that he was still treating it like magic. And so when the daughter died and people told Jairus, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer,” as far as Jairus was concerned, it was too late. He was presupposing that Jesus’ touch could not possibly have an effect anymore on someone who was dead already. It was the same case with Martha’s lament about Jesus’ late arrival, remember? Too late the hero.

There is a twist after the daughter dies. This time, it is Jesus, no longer Jairus, who will insist on proceeding to his home. But when he enters the house, he seeks the company only of those who believed and asks the others to leave. Mark tells us the house was full and some of the people inside ridiculed Jesus when he said the girl was just sleeping. Meaning, their faithless presence would not be of any help.

And so he asked only Peter, James, and John and the child’s parents to accompany him. Later when the child is raised, he would ask them to feed her and not talk about it. This reminds me again of the raising of Lazarus, how Jesus also involved the people who accompanied him to assist in unbinding the dead man, after he was raised back to life.

The point is: not every touch has the same effect. Some touches can defile; others can purify. Some touches can kill; others can give life. Some touches can help; others can only aggravate the problem. Some touches can cause people to be sick; others can effect healing.

It is faith that enables us to distinguish between the two. It is faith that gives us access to God’s healing power. And it is compassion that enables us to share this faith and touch others with God’s healing power.

Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time 27 June 2021, Mark 5:21-43

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