Recently, I attended the High School Graduate’s gathering held in Niagara Falls by the Niagara Catholic District School Board. The annual event brings together all the Grade Twelve students of the eight English-speaking high schools in the area and features addresses by senior administration, the Bishop and a guest speaker. The guest speaker is then featured at a special dinner celebrating Catholic education in the evening.
This year’s speaker works in Campus Ministry at Texas A and M University in the United States and brought a lot of energy and great ideas to the assembly. During his talk he pointed out something in the story of the woman with a hemorrhage who Jesus healed (Mark 5:25-34) which got me thinking.
The story begins with Jairus (a synagogue official) asking Jesus to heal his very sick daughter. As Jesus was walking towards the house within a crowd of people, he would have made incidental contact with dozens of people. The woman with a hemorrhage, who was desperate to be healed, sneaks up on Christ and brushes against his clothes. Jesus then stops and demands to know who touched him because power had gone out of him. His disciples are incredulous because dozens of people likely had touched him: what was the big deal? The difference between the woman and the others was she did it intentionally as an act of faith.
How often do people have incidental contact with Jesus? Maybe they see him on a crucifix worn around someone’s neck as a piece of jewellery. They may see a statue or picture of him as they drive by a Church. Perhaps they hear some of his words quoted in a speech. They may overhear someone talking about how he has changed their life. Most of these individuals will forget about that contact within minutes.
Yet, there are people who are desperate to make contact with him. It might be a teenager with low self-esteem who simply wants someone to notice her. The individual could be a cancer patient who sits in a hospital room day after day hoping for some good news about his condition. It could be a single mother who is struggling to raise her children on a limited income with little emotional support from family or friends. The person might be an elderly man who waits in vain for a visit from his family.
These individuals do not have signs attached to them saying “I need help”. As a result, they often go unnoticed by others. Like the woman in the story, they may have spent all their money, time and energy trying to get out of their situation and have failed. Their faith may be weak. They may not be able to articulate it. Some may think they are not worth Christ’s time. They believe if they could just make contact with something holy, like his clothes, things might change for them. Hope is about all they have left.
These people cannot make contact with Jesus because he is no longer on earth. But they can make contact with us. Today, we are the Christ in this story. We may not be able to heal a woman’s hemorrhage or a man’s cancer, but we can take away the isolation. We can tell a teenager with low self-esteem that she is loved by God (and us) exactly as she is now. We can listen to a single mother share her worries and hurts with us. We can substitute for an elderly man’s family by checking in on him periodically.
The effect of Christ’s healing was not just to change a medical condition. The blood made the woman ritually unclean (someone a pious Jew would avoid) and likely an outcast with her family and friends. The miracle restored her former condition. We can heal relationships.
Those in ordained ministry or undergoing formation for it should recognize the importance of making contact with such people. Parishioners must also be reminded how being a disciple involves such activity. Those to whom we reach out may be uncooperative or fail to express gratitude after we help them. Yet, if we are “alter Christ” (another Christ) we must respond as he did.