I haven’t always been a vicar. My background has been computer programming and systems administration. I used to work for a parcel courier company across the M6 near Walsall. Parcels are an obvious target for thieves. Occasionally we would have lorries hijacked and parcels stolen from our sorting centres. As a deterrent thick black horrible anti vandal paint was very effective. Once you got it on your clothes and hands it’s really unpleasant to get off. It leaves you dirty and unclean.
If I’d had it on my hands this AM you wouldn’t want to go near me – let alone shake hands with me! You might even try and avoid me, “Don’t touch me!” Recall the foot and mouth or bird flu epidemics that spread through thousands of animals which had to be slaughtered. Much of the countryside was closed. To gain access to a farming area you had to walk or drive through disinfectant. That reminds me – what’s the difference between bird flu and swine flu? With bird flu you need TWEETMENT; with swine flu – OINKMENT!!
Seriously though in hospitals there are very strict precautions about hygiene. Disease, as we’ve seen, spreads quickly. In the same way in the Bible there were similar regulations. Nobody would touch a dead body animal or human, or go anywhere near someone with a skin disease, or internal bleeding. It’s not that surprising. This was eras before modern medicine and infections couldn’t be cured as easily as they are now. So God, in His wisdom, provided cleanliness laws to keep people healthy. It was all about staying pure and people that were considered unclean were excluded from the community.
Yet in this gospel passage we see Jesus reaching out and touching a little girl who is dead and an utterly desperate woman, with a severe menstrual disorder, reaching out and touching Jesus. These are good news moments that are real gems, particularly, when Jesus says to the woman: “My daughter your faith has made you well.” (v.22). It takes faith, and perhaps a loss of dignity, to reach out and touch the divine. The Jewish official (who we know from another Gospel was called Jairus) comes to Jesus as his last hope and throws himself down on the dusty road in front of his neighbours and reaches out: “My daughter has just died; but come and place your hands on her, and she will live.” (v.18). His faith contrasts sharply with that of the mourners who laugh at Jesus’ confidence that the girl will awaken. Compare their attitude with today’s “mourners”, those who have no confidence that “God sent His Son into the world, for their salvation” (Jn.3:17) – “from heaven you came, helpless babe” – those who won’t reach out in faith and who will never hear the words: “Cheer up my daughter! Cheer up my son – you’re spiritually healed.”
A man was on a long-haul flight when the sign came on: “Fasten your seat belts.” Moments later the pilot’s announcement came: “This is your captain speaking. We’re sorry, but we’re expecting turbulence ahead of us.” With that, the storm broke. The cracks of thunder could be heard above the roar of the engines. Lightning lit up the dark skies. One moment the plane was lifted on terrific air currents, the next, it dropped as if it were about to crash. The man began to share the fear and upset of those around him. Then he saw a little girl seated near him. Apparently the storm meant nothing to her. She had tucked her feet beneath her on her seat and was reading a book. Despite the buffeting of the terrible storm, she was completely composed and unafraid.
The plane finally reached its destination and all the passengers hurried to disembark. But the man lingered to speak to the girl whom he had watched with such astonishment. He asked why she had not been afraid during the storm up in the sky. “That’s easy”, she replied. “My dad’s the pilot, and he’s taking me home.”
Amazing isn’t it that the Most High God is also Our Father! Our “Pilot” – who, in desperate times when we’re lost in darkness, battered, and tossed about in the storms of life, wants us to reach out in faith and allow His holiness to transform the impurity of our sinful nature. The haemorrhaging woman didn’t infect Jesus. Something in Him infects her. He turns round, and tells her that she is well instantly healing her. And if our hearts are open, He will reach out to us, for by the wounds of His crucifixion we also are healed and made worthy to be in the presence of God.
Stand up anyone who’s perfect – (I’d better sit down!). You may have heard the one about A minister who once asked this and an older gentleman got slowly to his feet. “I didn’t know you were perfect, George”, he remarked. “I’m not”, George replied, “I’m standing on behalf of my wife’s first husband!”
Of course no one is above reproach. We in our modern world have many ways of dealing with personal impurity. Vigorously scrubbing anti-vandal paint off your hands will eventually make you physically clean. But like the woman and the dead girl – we need Jesus’ grace and inner healing touch to be brought to life for there is the pollution which gets into our minds and hearts. When we get rid of that we find peace and become a channel for God’s peace, love and joy to flow into the lives of others. Life is about priorities, but believing in Jesus and His sufferings and the power of His resurrection is the most important knowledge we can have in this earthly life. Reach out to Him – touch your faith – while there’s still time.
What the Gospel demonstrates is Jesus’ whole work of rescuing humanity, and all creation, from everything that pollutes, defaces and destroys it. And those who benefit are those who believe. The gospel message is reflected in a Christening. Today, xxxxx parents have reached out in faith, and through the wonderful symbolism of baptism have made promises to God on their son’s behalf. And when he is old enough to understand, our hope and prayer is that he will renew for himself the promises made this AM. For we all individually need to reach out and touch the Healer to be given a clean heart and to be transformed into a godly person. That’s the challenge that these verses pose for you and for me.
James was the younger half-brother of Jesus. They played together, were educated together – brought up in the synagogue, learning their Scriptures and Commandments.
For thirty years eating every meal at the same table together; working six days of the week in the same workshop together; and once a year going to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem together. But James didn’t reach out and become a disciple of the Lord until after His brother’s resurrection. No details of that momentous occasion are given. Just the bare fact that: “Jesus was seen by James.” The cross and resurrection made “all things new” for him, as for all believers touched with the love of God – who then must reach out and love others in the name of Christ our Saviour.
Who is it in your life that you need to love with the love of Christ? Who is it in your life that is crying out in desperation? Perhaps it might even be you. But remember, however sinful and polluted we are, we are worth more than all the riches of this world. In fact we are so precious that God sent His only Son to die for us so that we could be forgiven and restored to our proper place……no longer an orphan, but a son or daughter of our heavenly Father.
In the darkest hours of affliction, when it’s like we’re on a bumpy airplane ride, all we need to do is reach out to Jesus and He will never hesitate to allow the light of hope and peace to spring within us: “Your faith has made you well.” Praise God. Amen.