In thinking about next Sunday's (Proper 8) lectionary Gospel text (Mark 5:21-43, Episcopal reading) I see, or rather begin to see the real extent of the grace of God. In this scripture, Jarius comes to Jesus to ask if he will touch his deathly ill daughter and make her better. Jesus agrees and walks to his house. On the way, a woman who has suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years touches the hem of Jesus' cloak so that she may be healed. She is; Jesus feels it; Jesus confronts the woman. The woman falls before Jesus and explains everything and Jesus tells her that her faith has healed her. As Jesus continues to Jarius' house a messenger meets Jarius and tells him not to waist anymore of Jesus' time as Jarius' daughter has died. Jesus still insists on seeing her, tells the mourners that she is not dead just sleeping, whereupon they laugh at him. Jesus goes to the girl's room, touches her hand, and tells her to get up. She gets up, everyone is amazed, and Jesus tells them to keep their mouths shut.
There it is more or less. However, there is, to me, a great revelation of God that I have lingered on for years in this passage. It is the touch. There are two touches of significance here. There is the touch of the woman who has bled for twelve years, and there is the touch of Jesus that raises the dead girl. The touch is something that perhaps we glaze over as we read this story. We've heard it enough anyway and there are surely more important things to focus on, why would Jarius, a Jewish leader, seek Jesus out for help, or the faith of the woman versus the faithless mourners. However, I focus on the touch in this story. It is the thing that moves me.
Touch is a sense that makes sense to a sensory people whose lives need sense. Think of the paternal or maternal touch that can be so comforting for some, yet so abusive for others. Think of the excitement of the touch of the first hand you held. I think I was so excited that I had to pee. Think of the first kiss, a touch still, and the rush of adrenaline and hormones that can't possibly explain all there is to feel in a first kiss. I remember the first time I brushed skin with my wife (of course then she wasn't my wife) and every time I think about it I smile. Think about the first punch you threw, or took. Think of the last time a loved one died and a friend or pastor put their hand on your shoulder or hugged you. Think of what touch really means. It is one fifth of all that we sense and when it comes to sense the parts are just as great as the sum.
Now, think of God in the flesh. In Christ we see God/Man. Christ is both fully God and fully man. He was born a baby, wrapped in strips of cloth, and laid in a trough out of which cows eat. He grew up, died as man, was risen as man, and ascended to be at the right hand of God the Father almighty as man. But this was no Greco-Roman half god, half man, Hercules. Jesus is the real deal. He, while fully man, is also fully God, present at creation, fulfillment of the law, God with us.
This is my dilemma with the passage. God touches the little girl to raise her from the dead. He touches her and she is moved. God became man and touched people. People were changed because of it. It happens all through the Gospels. Jesus heals the sick, touches children, lepers, mother in-laws. It's amazing. God touches people and they respond by being moved, healed, transformed. This is heresy. Certainly God would not debase himself by touching people. Yet he does. And people respond, all glory and honor be to God, they respond. God touches us.
If it ended there, all heaven would rejoice and all Earth would seek to be touched by God, but it does not end there. The bottom falls out. Logic is shattered. Economies spill like milk from a screaming child's glass. The world is turned on its ear as God allows the unthinkable. This story is not merely about God touching people. It is also about people touching God. This is the part of the story that could offend those who stand so firm in their belief of an ineffable, immutable, self-sufficient, invulnerable, changeless (oh, did I already say that) God. If you believe in such a deity, please do not continue reading. On second thought, go ahead, your comments will be fun to read.
The crowd pushed in on Jesus. They were uncomfortably close and someone wreaked of body odor. Who is that? The static electricity of excitement about Jesus and what he would do about Jarius' daughter built like leather soles and a wool sweater on thick pile carpet. Something was going to pop at any moment. This was her chance. She'd been bleeding for twelve years and had heard what Jesus could do, but people were too close for her to get to him. She thought that if she could just touch, even the hem of his cloak, the bleeding would stop. She leaned over at just the right time when two people had stepped ahead. She reached out and touched. All hell broke loose. Jesus just stopped. The crowd couldn't stop in time and fumbled getting control of itself. Three people fell and were embarrassed. Jesus knew he'd been touched. He'd felt his power move out in blessing. He was affected. He was moved and the woman was healed. She told him what had happened and he told her that her faith had healed her. But it was too late. History was changed forever and God had been touched by people. The unmoved mover was suddenly moved.
God was touched by a person and not just any person . . . A woman and not just any woman . . . An unclean woman. Suddenly, the ineffable God doesn't seem so far away. The unaffected, self-sufficient God isn't so ivory tower any more. It seems when God became man, he really did get off his high horse. This is why this passage affects me so much. God not only touches us and we are changed forever, but God is touched by us and he is changed forever. In YHWY the Transcendent and Imminent are One. We are invited by God to be touched by God and to touch God. What an invitation. I accept. . . With everything that I am, with everything that God will make me.