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13th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2018

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13th Sunday of Ordinary Time: “To Be Touched Can Mean to be Healed.”

          We have five senses that we use every day.  The one that is least talked about is the sense of touch. Maybe we do not think it all that important.  We all dread having our sight fail.  We worry about hearing loss. But what about never being touched? Or, being touched inappropriately.

The thing that we notice about the gospel we just read is that there are all kinds references to touch.  Touch is mentioned seven times from how the crowd pressed close to Jesus to how the woman with the hemorrhage reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. 

            A study was done in 1945 by Austrian physician Rene’ Spitz.  Spitz wanted to see what would happen if he nurtured babies in a germ-free environment. The presumption was children would be healthier. The children received first class nutrition and medical care.  But they were barely touched to keep contact with germs to a minimum.  To Spitz’s surprise, after two years 37% of the babies died.  What his research showed is that empathetic physical touching is essential to life.

            Another study was done of men at Harvard business school in the 1940’s.   The men who came from loving homes earned 50% more during their lifetime than those who felt they grew up in homes where little love was shown.  Men from affectionate homes suffered less from chronic disease.  And they suffered less from dementia.  

            Catholics consider touch important in the religious sense.  Perhaps that is why it is an important part of the sacraments.  When the Anointing of the Sick is celebrated hands are laid on the sick person.  The moment when this is done can be a very powerful moment.  When I have celebrated this sacrament, it is very sad when families leave the room when we’re praying.  Perhaps they are uncomfortable for some reason.  In contrast when friends and family stay in the room to pray it is very striking. You can feel God in the room.  Did not Jesus say, “Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in their midst?” I have had the experience of laying hands on a sick person and then having other loved ones joining in to touch the person.  All of this is done in silence.  The moment is powerful for the sick individual.  Also, there is a sense of awe for those who touching their loved one who is ill.  A calmness will come.  Healings can take place at many levels in that moment.

            In contrast to those times when we are touched in a loving manner are those times when we are touched without permission.  Victims of crime never forget when they are mugged for example. Who can ever forget getting slapped by an authority figure as a youngster? Adults talk about that years later.  We also remember physical altercations that we have with other children later in life.  We could give many other examples of unwanted touching from things that are sexual in nature to violent acts that leave us traumatized. 

            We could ask the question, what the difference between a touch that is desired versus a touch that leaves a scar on us.  Jesus’ interaction in this gospel can give us a clue.  The woman who sneaks up behind Jesus seeking healing is the example of an unwanted touch.  Perhaps that is why Jesus made such a big deal out of it.  He felt like he his space had been violated in some way, something had been taken from him.  He insisted on knowing who had touched him.  Only when the woman admitted to her forwardness did Jesus relax. The unwanted touch became a gift that Jesus gave to the woman because he understood why she needed healing.  Sometimes unwanted touches can be transformed with apologies and truth.

            Jesus’ cure of the young girl was an example of a touch with permission.  Jesus went into the girl’s room with her parents, parents who were asking for compassion.  He lovingly took the girl by the hand.  When Jesus touched her with affection death left her.

            We need guidance as to when touch is appropriate, when it is not.  The answer to this question would seem to be that touch needs to originate from a sense of mutuality and love, then, it is appropriate.  When an affectionate touch is given with permission it is a blessing.

            David Brooks wrote an opinion piece recently regarding the Me-Too movement.  He closed with the following remark.

            “It seems like the smarter we get with technology, the dumber we get about relationships.  We live in a society were loneliness, depression and suicide are on the rise.  We seem to be treating each other worse.  The guiding moral principle with touch is not complicated: try to treat people as if they possessed precious hearts and infinite souls.  Everything else will follow.  Or as Jesus put it. “Treat others in the way you would want to be treated.