Date Given: 6/9/19
Matthew 9:20-22 – Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.
January 1st, 2008. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Sallie and I were staying at her parent’s lake house about 45 minutes outside of college station. We were engaged at the time and I had traveled back from seminary for a few weeks between semesters. My parents had come out to the lake as well so that we could all celebrate new year’s eve together. We had waffles for breakfast that morning and it felt like the perfect end to a nice family celebration. At some point my dad excused himself for a minute before walking back to the table where we were eating. When he came back he simply called my mom’s name, “Karan,” and they went into the other room.
I had no idea at the time, but that one simple word changed everything. My mom came back a moment later and told us that my dad thought he was having a heart attack. She and I immediately loaded my dad into our car and drove toward the nearest town. My mom called 911 as soon as we had service and we figured out where we’d be able to meet an ambulance. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared or driven so fast in my entire life. We finally made it to the agreed upon meeting spot and the medics began to go to work. They confirmed that it was in fact a heart attack and suggested taking my dad to the hospital by helicopter.
My dad left on the ambulance that took him to the helicopter. My mom and I made the drive back to College Station where we were met by Sallie, her parents, and a variety of other family and friends who had heard the news. My dad’s helicopter arrived at just about the same time we did and the doctors rushed him in to do what they needed to do. I’m grateful that the doctors were able to save his life and that my dad is still with us to this day. But there were so many moments along the way when I had no idea what the outcome was going to be.
One of those moments stands out above all the rest. It was just after the doctors had taken my dad back and before we had any real idea how serious his condition was. Family and friends were gathered in the waiting room inside. I was finally coming down from the rush of the drive. In that moment, it sunk in that there was nothing to do but wait, so Sallie and I walked outside together.
I don’t think a single word was spoken by either of us. I just knew that I wasn’t sure if my dad would live or die. Either way, there was nothing I could do about it. Sallie didn’t try to tell me it would be alright. She didn’t tell me to keep positive or look on the bright side or trust in the doctors or offer any other overused and simplistic words. Sallie just hugged me. She held me there outside the hospital as I started to ugly cry and all the fear and panic and stress and worry of the last few hours came out all at once.
That simple hug was more healing in that moment than anything else anyone could have said or done. I felt safe. I felt loved. I felt like somehow, someway, no matter what happened inside I was going to survive the day. Tomorrow would come, and I would be able to face any future life could throw my way. A simple touch from my wife to be, was more than I could have possibly asked for.
This moment is the moment more than any other that comes to my mind when I read the story of the nameless woman who reaches up to touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. She had been suffering for 12 years and when she saw Jesus she thought to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” I don’t know if she had to fight through a crowd or if she just happened to be passing by when he was out in the open. But I know that Jesus felt the woman’s touch. He said to her, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” In an instant, she was healed.
This nameless woman provides for us an incredible witness to something far too easily and far too often overlooked in the Christian faith: in the simple act of touch, is an incredible power to heal.
This nameless woman is almost an afterthought in the way the story is told. When she encounters Jesus, he is actually making his way to a house where a young girl had just died. This nameless woman interrupts Jesus on his trip by touching his cloak, Jesus utters just 9 words to her in response, and then the story goes right back to focusing on the young girl who had died. If you blink, you might miss her. And yet this nameless woman reminds us of something about a life of faith that might just be more important than all of Paul’s letters combined: in the simple act of touch, is an incredible power to heal.
What is most remarkable about this passage may be just HOW often and HOW easily we overlook what really happens. The woman touches the cloak of Jesus. Jesus tells her your faith has made you well. And all we want to think about and talk about and analyze is the idea of faith rather than the power of touch. “…your faith has made you well.” Jesus comes right out and says the words. It’s not hard to see why we focus our minds and hearts on faith rather than touch. But the way we draw the distinction between faith and touch already undercuts the reality of both.
Faith, in the ways that we almost always speak about faith, is kept in the realm of philosophy or beliefs or morals. Faith as philosophy looks like the grand pronouncements of the brightest minds in Christianity. This view on faith might explore the most grand and fundamental questions of existence – what is the nature of trinity? How does evil enter the world? How can Jesus be fully God and fully human at the same time?
Faith as beliefs usually offers a bullet point list of the essential answers to those most fundamental and important questions. We believe God is creator of heaven and earth. We believe Jesus forgives sin and offers eternal life. We believe the Holy Spirit is present and active in the world. And then faith as morality is a way of giving clear and specific implications of those beliefs. Faithful Christians care for the poor and give back a portion of what we are given. Faithful Christians don’t murder, steal, or hate. Faithful Christians do and don’t do about a million different things. Depending on the time, place, and denomination you’re looking into the list could go on and on.
“…your faith has made you well.” Jesus said these words to the woman who was healed instantly. And far too often and easily we hear these words and start to explore faith as philosophy, beliefs, or morality. We ask the big and essential questions that have been asked for generations. We have conversations and bible studies and debates and go deeper and deeper asking all the right and important questions. And by the time we start to think we might be coming to a deep and lasting view of the faith we share… by then we’ve already forgotten the most essential witness of this nameless woman – in the simple act of touch, is an incredible power to heal.
The questions we ask, the beliefs we share, the ways we attempt to live it out – these are all important pieces of a faithful life. But none of that matters without first experiencing the healing touch of our Lord and friend. This nameless woman reminds us that faith shall make us well. But faith is not intellectual assent to propositional knowledge. Faith is not first in the realm of ideas or lists of dos and don’ts or any of the ways we so often speak about our faith. Faith is born in the desire, in the experience, in the reality of reaching out and touching the cloak of our Lord.
We put words to the world because doing so is one of the most basic ways to be human. But words mean nothing without presence. We talk and explore and question and write because these are the tools we have to capture and communicate the reality of our lives. But a million words can’t even begin to replace the power of a single well timed hug outside the doors of a hospital; the power of that reminder that no matter what tomorrow brings, we will be held, we are loved, we are not alone.
This nameless woman reminds us that at the heart of our faith is a God who looked upon the brokenness of the world; and rather than give a lecture, God gave his only Son. Rather than answer our questions, He lived our life. Rather than offer a list of do and don’ts, he offered to do the only thing that changes everything. God came so close that we can reach out and find a healing touch to carry us through all the seasons ahead. In the simple act of touch, is an incredible power to heal. Whatever importance or power there may be in the words of faith we say, those words only matter at all because God first came close enough for us to reach out and touch Him.
If I’m being honest, this should not be nearly as countercultural or controversial as it feels to say. We radically overemphasize words and arguments and statements of belief in the life of the church. But in every other part of my life, the power of a simple touch is obviously more meaningful, powerful, lasting, and important than anything anyone could ever say.
My wife Sallie is a marriage and family therapist. She has a few go-to exercises to help couples who are struggling to connect with each other. Quite often, one partner will express a problem or struggle they’re facing. And the other will be quick to offer the perfect fix to the problem – confront your boss; just ignore him; file a complaint! It’s amazing how easy it is to “fix” someone else’s problem. Only, a fix is not what the partner was asking for.
In one simple exercise, Sallie has the partner listening hold off on offering the perfect fix and instead they’re challenged to ask, “What do you need from me right now?” This gives the partner with the problem the opportunity to express their actual need and desire. And it gives the listening partner the opportunity to meet that need or desire rather than simply throw up a wall of advice or judgment. Quite often in most couples, the partner asks “What do you need from me right now?” and the other simply asks for a hug. Or to hold hands. They ask to be reminded that they are in this together and no one is looking for a way out and they just need to feel close to their loved one so they can find the strength to do whatever actually needs to be done.
When Sallie and I were in the height of our infertility struggles, I can’t tell you how often we leaned on each other in this way. There were no words that would help. There were no solutions to our problems, definitely none we were going to come up with that the specialists hadn’t already offered. What I needed from her time and time again was just to be held; to be reminded that no matter how hard this struggle became, it was never going to threaten the bond between us. The power of her healing touch meant more than words ever could.
The day after Hutch was born, we visited him in the hospital. Our adoption situation meant we couldn’t bring him home for a while, but we were able to go hold him. At the time, his birth mom hadn’t even signed away her rights. It would be 6 more weeks before we brought Hutch home with us. And it wasn’t until two days ago that the adoption became final and Hutch became legally, officially our son. But the moment we held him in the hospital we knew he is our son.
No legal status, no words no a page, no conversations with our agency could have possibly let us know that he is our son more than that very first touch, holding him in our arms. Holding him didn’t erase the previous years of pain, but one touch was more healing to our hearts than I could possibly put into words. Time and again in my life I am confronted with the obvious – in the simple act of touch, is an incredible power to heal.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. It is the day we remember that the Holy Spirit of God came rushing into the world, giving birth to the church and sending the disciples out to the ends of the Earth to share the good news of Jesus Christ. But perhaps more importantly, Pentecost is the reminder that God came close enough so that we could reach out and touch Him. And in the simple act of touch, is an incredible power to heal. One nameless woman in scripture offers a powerful witness; challenging us to embrace the nearness of our God.
At the heart of our faith is a God who would not be Lord above without also becoming a friend at our side. By the power and presence of the Spirit, even today we are held like a child. We are held in the hands that gave shape to our bodies and breath to our lungs. We are held no matter what tomorrow brings. We are held so that in the love of our God we will find health, and wholeness, and healing every day of our lives.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.