“Reach out and touch—faith!”
by Clint Schnekloth
Gospel Reading: Mark 5:21-43
For Sunday, July 1, 2012: Year B – Ordinary 13
There is a lot of touching going on here, a lot of sheer physicality.
Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet. He begs Jesus to place his hands on his daughter. The people are swarming (Mark 5:24; CEB). A woman is menstruating. A woman is touching a man’s clothes in public; a woman who can sense things in her own body. Jesus can tell when power goes out of him. A crowd is pressing against Jesus (Mark 5:31; CEB). The woman falls down in front of Jesus.
Compare this to a recent complaint I heard from a pastor attending a synodical event, who was offended that all the worshippers were invited to pat each other’s heads. Or compare it to my own discomfort with dispensing hugs at church unless I am hugged first.
What disembodied souls we are becoming.
There is simply something about touching and healing, and there is no getting around the touching and feeling and healing here in Mark. It’s a sweaty, swarming crowd, and in the middle of this teaming crowd there are people bleeding, and others willing to fall in the dust or the muck at the feet of one man in that crowd.
For such a short gospel, Mark devotes an inordinate amount of space to describing the details of how people move their bodies, where they place their hands, in and around what is actually spoken. It is as if the two—touching and proclaiming—are intimately connected.
Compare this to the fact that while you sit here reading these brief hermeneutical insights, you are probably not touching anyone. Am I right? You are just touching a computer, maybe a chair, perhaps a desk. When did you last touch someone, some-body?
Screw commentaries and other disembodied resources for a minute here, and get bravely, brazenly physical.
Yes, some kinds of physicality are problematic. Yes, we need to keep proper and safe boundaries. But we can’t get around the truth illustrated here in this gospel lesson, that healing is about touch. See, for example, the widespread and growing efforts of “The Healing Touch Program.” Before you do any more hermeneutical work in preparation for the sermon this week, go exegete some body! Hold hands with your child or spouse. Give or get a hug. Get a massage. Lick a wound. Laugh out loud really loud. Dance on a grave.
The Hardest Question
By now you are thinking: How the hell is this hermeneutics? Shouldn’t I have been referred to some commentary? I have to craft a sermon, slap some words together here, and you are telling me to lick wounds? What we get in Mark is nothing less than the word made flesh. Get used to it. There will be way more of this before Mark is finished with us. This time around, in the immortal words of Depeche Mode, “Reach out and touch—faith.”
Can there be a gospel of Jesus Christ that doesn’t include touching each other?
Clint Schnekloth is the Lead Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas. He has written extensively for Augsburg Fortress, including the Seasonal Essays for Sundays and Seasons and the baptismal resource Washed and Welcome. Clint blogs at http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com.