Today’s story brings to life an image of how God moves in the world. Actual, physical movement. The movement in today’s scene is so vivid, perhaps all of us worshiping in this church and online can try to picture it, as if we were dropped right into this vibrant scene.
We can imagine: Jesus moving with and in between throngs of people on the roads of this side of the Sea of Galilee, perhaps folks accidentally jostle one another since it was crowded. Jesus sitting down and eating with everyday people like you and me. Together we can imagine the movement of bread being dipped in soup or broth or wine, satiating people’s thirst. Disciples’ elbows, arms of sinners, hands of tax collectors’ holding bowls and distributing food. Then, Jesus’ sandals touching the ground as he walked. People coming up to Jesus, wanting to touch him. Wanting him to touch them.
In today’s story, we see that this scene is not only about movement. It’s about the power of touch.
Scripture says the leader of the synagogue knelt before Jesus. His knees touching the ground, he asked Jesus to lay hands on his daughter who had just died so that she could live again. A woman who had been hemorrhaging wanted to touch Jesus’ cloak so that she would be made well.
So movement and touch are a big deal in today’s story. But after the movement, after the touch, what we have here…is HEALING. Jesus as healer. Jesus doing what Jesus does. Jesus doing what our God of love does.
There are many ways we can read today’s story, one of which is through the lens of the Matthean community that is its audience, which sees this book as anticipating Jesus as the expected messiah, tracing his genealogy back to Abraham, in fulfillment of Old Testament law and prophesy, even quoting from the Old Testament 62 times, which is more than any other gospel writer.
But one way this story of touch and healing came home to me, outside of any theological framework, is through a story with my daughter Vivian.
Years ago, we were in my car, I was driving, Vivi and her friend were in the back seat, I think they were in 4th or 5th grade. The friend used to live here and had moved away but was back visiting us. They had just been on an island vacation, so I asked the friend how the vacation was. Vivi’s friend said it had been a tough, sad vacation and that they really didn’t like it because they had gotten some really bad news. The friend’s voice sounded quiet and like it was tensing up and on the verge of tears. The instant I heard that I was ready to pounce with all kinds of helpfulness! I saw it as a chance to wax poetic about how sometimes it’s in the most beautiful places that we hear tough news, but life still goes on. That it’s in the most serene settings, that we go through difficult experiences, but we’ll end up ok! I was going to sympathize with this child and empathize with this child and HELP this child through what she was going through. I was ready! I breathlessly blurted out the beginning of my self-help-speech-turned-Ted Talk that was going to shatter records for grandiose helpfulness for 10 year olds! So I earnestly said, “I know. I’ve been there. Because sometimes it’s in the most beautiful settings that we go through…”
I stopped talking. Let me tell you why.
Because I felt a touch on my shoulder. It was Vivian.
Vivi had placed her hand on my shoulder. I can feel it now. Her touch felt soft, yet firm, it felt insistent.
Vivi did not say one word, but I knew to stop mine. She kept her hand on my shoulder. Somehow I knew that her touch was conveying to me to keep quiet, and to let her do whatever she was going to do. Which was, I saw in the rearview mirror, Vivi turning to her friend and asking, “So are you excited to see your old friends when we get to the mall today?” Her friend answered yes, and sounded calmer, and relieved.
I remember thinking Vivi’s touch felt wise beyond her years. But it was not beyond her years, it was her, as she was, right then, right there; her 10 year old self, doing what Vivi does, which is to read the moment with a precision that can only be divine.
Vivi doing what Vivi does. Vivi doing what love does: which is to soothe a friend.
But that experience wasn’t only about Vivian’s touch. It was about Vivi’s touch as healing. Maybe healing for her friend and certainly healing for me. For her friend, perhaps Vivi’s touch dissolved the tension that my earnestness infused in our car. That’s why the friend’s voice went from tense to relief. For me, Vivi made me aware of when to insert myself…and when I should leave well enough alone. There was the power of touch in that car, and there were moments of healing in that car.
This is Vivi reading the moment. Vivian doing what love does, just as Jesus did. Now, I am not equating my daughter with Jesus. But Vivian read the moment in the car. Jesus reads every moment, aligning his will with God’s intent. God’s intent for each person to live into how God made them, which is to live into the fullness of themselves.
In today’s story, we see Jesus reading moment after moment. Scripture tells us Jesus sees Matthew, a tax collector who according to societal law at that time would been viewed as a questionable character. Jesus sees him and says “Follow me.” The tax collector does. The leader of the synagogue comes along “suddenly” and Jesus follows him right away. The woman who was bleeding for 12 years comes along “suddenly.” These words and phrases “follow me” and “suddenly” and “Jesus turned and seeing her”, the touch of his cloak, him taking her by the hand…All of these moments happen in instant. In fact, Jesus’ healing is instantaneous. Which sounds like a dream. There’s a line in today’s story that reads like a dream come true. The line is this: “And instantly the woman was made well.”
When I first read that line, can I just tell you the kingdom-of-me thought that I had? I thought, Why can’t I be made well in an instant? Why can’t Jesus heal me, right here, right now the way he seemed to heal her?! The way he healed in today’s story and in his torrent of miracles all throughout Matthew.
Because I want to have all my shadowy parts turned over to God in an in instant, so that God can access them and transform them NOW. I want to be like Jesus right this instant. I want an open and soft and receptive heart NOW. I want to have the peace that surpasses all understanding right this instant. I want my heart to be aligned with God’s heart. I want this all to happen in an instant. But I thought it never happens that way.
Maybe you have some of the same impulses. The insecurities, our collective trauma and your individual pain, our bad decisions, the things that haunt us or make us feel self-conscious, the things that make me feel like I’m backsliding or going in and out of spiritual maturity, the moments that each of us turned away from God…all the things that I want healed, all the things you want to be made well…we want this healing to happen in an instant.
PLEASE tell me I’m not only one who wants that!
But healing can be a funny, triggering thing. Are we ever really healed? In my life, often it’s time that has dulled the edge of my pain. Or you choose a different focus that gives less weight to your struggles of the past. Maybe you’ve tussled with something for such a long period of time that you think it’s become simply a part of you and you think it’s not gonna change; no matter how much you want to be freed from it or made well from it, it’s still there.
How many times have we prayed for healing and we think that healing never happens? I have experienced that, and maybe you know something about that too. You don’t have to be hemorrhaging for 12 years or near death to know how frustrating and life-churning it can be when the healing you envision doesn’t happen when or how you want it to.
But here’s the thing about healing: Sometimes all it takes for us to be healed…is a spiritual tap on the shoulder. And that CAN happen in an instant. Reading today’s story made me realize that I spent so much time trying to contort myself into some future healing, that I hadn’t realized the healing that CAN and DOES happen in an instant. This immediacy of our faith is available to us all. That tap on the shoulder? You know what it does? If we read what the moment needs, that tap on your shoulder reminds you of your faith.
Jesus says, “Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.”
“Your faith has made you well.” We can choose to show our faith in an instant without contorting ourselves.
In Matthew, Jesus repeats that throughout! After he gifts us with his glorious discourses about how to live our life with God, Jesus says to the centurian’s servant that he healed: “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And again. After making the person who was paralyzed walk again, Scripture says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Then again. Later in Matthew when the Canaanite woman who asks Jesus to include her daughter who was NOT Jewish in needing Jesus to heal her demons. Scripture says Jesus read the moment by telling her, “‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” And again, to the woman in today’s story, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.”
THAT’S the moment of instant joy that I want. For us Jesus followers in this church and online, we can show our faith in an instant. We show our Christian faith by touching Jesus in our prayer life. We get close to him through reading his teachings in the Bible and in our adoration during worship when we come to church in gratitude every week. We can look at one another with the same look of love that God gazes at us. Scripture says “Jesus saw her.” What did he see? The book Seeds of Trust shares that Jesus sees something deeper. “Christ sees the hidden depths of those who listen to him, their deepest identities, and wants to reveal them. Christ makes us too realize what we are, what our eyes do not yet see.” He sees our full identities. He saw how God made her. He saw the fullness of the woman and the girl in today’s story. He saw them already healed.
I can feed someone who is hungry. I can visit someone who is imprisoned or isolated or sick or lonely. You can soothe an anxious friend the way Vivi did. You can read the moment and have faith that someone is guiding you the way Vivi’s God-given insight guided me in that car. Because yes Jesus heals…and healing also happens in community. Part of our healing is that we heal others. Community healing is Christ healing, which we can choose to show through our faith, in an instant.