Sitting at breakfast this morning the words of an old chorus we used to sing as children came from nowhere into my mind. I had not remembered it consciously for many many years.
She only touched the hem of his garment
As to his side she stole
Amid the crowd that gathered around him
As straightway she was whole
Oh touch the hem of his garment
And thou too shall be free
His saving power this very hour
Shall give new life to thee
The incident from which the words are drawn is a very interesting one –
“Just then a woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding came up behind him (Jesus). She touched the fringe of his robe, for she thought, ‘If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed’ … and the woman was healed at that moment.”
Matt. 9:20 (NLT)
The power and symbolism of touch, both in life in general and in the spiritual life in particular, is something of great importance. Yet we live in a world where touch is on the wane – and at this time of social distancing is almost impossible. Yet long before the current pandemic touch was in terminal decline, in the West at least, due it association with sexual misconduct.
Francis McGlone, a professor in neuroscience at Liverpool John Moores University, is worried about the natural consequences that may follow –
“We have demonised touch to a level at which it sparks off hysterical responses… [and] legislative processes, and this lack of touch is not good for mental health… We seem to have been creating a touch-averse world.”
The symbolism and importance of touch can be found everywhere in the Bible. The woman in our story was, no doubt, fully aware of the prohibitions on touch found throughout the Old Testament. In the first book of the Bible we see death as the consequences of merely touching the wrong tree (Genesis 3:3) and the ceremonial law of the Israelites considered unclean a person who had simple touched an unclean thing or person, even accidentally (Leviticus 11:8 & Leviticus 15:19 & Numbers 19:16). However to touch a holy thing resulted in whatever had touched it also becoming holy (Exodus 29:37).
It is very interesting to see that, in Jesus healings, many many times, touch was involved. Here are four examples –
Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared.
But when Jesus touched her hand, the fever left her. Then she got up and prepared a meal for him.
Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘Because of your faith, it will happen.’
They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed.
Take note of the last of these instances – ‘all who touched him were healed’. There is a discussion to be had here regarding physical healing – but today I am interested in a healing deeper than the physical – that of inner healing, restoration and renewal. I am firmly convinced that it was in the embrace of the father that the prodigal son in Jesus parable was restored, saved, converted or whatever other term we might use for the restoration of his relationship with The Father. The other indications of his repentance where in fact those of self preservation.
I also believe that the teaching of the Bible is that true repentance comes about as a result of recognising the love, mercy and goodness of God. Paul teaches this –
‘Do the riches of his extraordinary kindness make you take him for granted and despise him? Haven’t you experienced how kind and understanding he has been to you? Don’t mistake his tolerance for acceptance. Do you realise that all the wealth of his extravagant kindness is meant to melt your heart and lead you into repentance?’
Romans 2:4 (TPT)
I sometimes ask myself the question – ‘If true repentance involves a recognition of the love and goodness of God – what about the things that so often pass for repentance but are actually acts of self preservation?’ If I am honest I have to admit that this was my first motivation for ‘asking Jesus into my heart’ as a child who was taught to fear hell. I suspect that the journey to true repentance motivated by the love and mercy of God came much later for me. All of which leads to another question – how do we guide people to the place of true repentance? How do we accomplish it? Is there a formula that is consistent with the teaching of Jesus as opposed to my evangelical upbringing? Is it an instant ‘born again’ experience or a gradual realisation of the truth of it all. Personally I have come to the conclusion that there is no ‘one size fits all’ on this journey. For some it may be an instant experience – for others a gradual dawning of our place in God’s Kingdom along with the desire to follow the Divine Lover on the journey of faith. However for each one of us behind it all is that desire to reach out and touch the hem of his garment! We know something is far wrong and only he has the power to heal us.
I recently heard someone speaking of the journey back to God from the place of brokenness. He said this -‘If you can run, run – if you can walk, walk, and if you can only limp then limp.’ Today we may only be limping toward God. We will certainly not have all the answers that’s for sure. But as our trembling hand reaches out towards the hem of His garment be assured of this – you will always hear this voice of reassurance and comfort – ‘Take hope! Your faith has healed you.’ (Matt 9:22 NLV)