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Sermon by Rev. Mark Covington, Pastor
First United Methodist Church
Quitman, Mississippi
March 18, 2012
(Fourth Sunday in Lent)

Topic: “Who Touched Me?”

Scripture Reading: Luke 8:43-48 (NRS Version)

43. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her.
44. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped.
45. Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter {Other ancient authorities add [and those who were with him]} said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.”
46. But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.”
47. When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.
48. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

In A Night to Remember Walter Lord tells in detail the story of the sinking of the Titanic in April, 1912. There was an appalling loss of life, when that new and supposedly unsinkable liner hit an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic. After the tragedy had been announced, the New York newspaper, The American, devoted a leader to it. The leader was devoted entirely to the death of John Jacob Astor, the millionaire; and at the end of it, almost casually, it was mentioned that 1,800 others were also lost. The only one who really mattered, the only one with real news value, was the millionaire. The other 1,800 were of no real importance.

The tragedy of what this woman was enduring is lost on us. With modern medicine she could have been cured long before it had gone on for 12 years.
But the doctor’s had done everything they knew but nothing made her well.

The Talmud (a record of rabbinic discussions of Jewish law, ethics, customs, and stories, which are authoritative in Jewish tradition) sets out no fewer than eleven different cures for it. Some of them were tonics and astringents which may well have been effective; others were merely superstitious remedies. One was to carry the ashes of an ostrich-egg in a linen bag in summer, and in a cotton bag in winter; another was to carry about a barleycorn which had been found in the dung of a white she-ass. When Mark tells this story, he makes it clear that this woman had tried everything, and had gone to every available doctor, and was worse instead of better (Mk.5:26).

The condition from which she was suffering rendered her unclean.

Leviticus 15:25-27 says,

25. If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean.
26. Every bed on which she lies during all the days of her discharge shall be treated as the bed of her impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her impurity.
27. Whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening.

But probably worse than the condition itself was the fact that the condition from which she was suffering not only made her unclean but anyone with whom she came in physical contact was also rendered unclean as well. She was absolutely cut off from the worship of God and the fellowship of others including her own family. Technically speaking she should not have even been in the crowd of people surrounding Jesus as he walked along because anyone she touched was automatically unclean.

It was out of utter desperation that she entered the crowd with the intent of just touching the fringe of his garment.

These fringes were four tassels of hyacinth blue worn by a Jew on the corners of his outer garment. They were worn in obedience to the Law in Num.15:37-41 and Deut.22:12. These tassels were four threads; each passed through the corner of the garment and doubled. One of the treads was longer than the others and was twisted seven times around the others and then tied in a double knot. Then twisted eight times and knotted, then eleven times and knotted, and finally thirteen times and knotted. The thread and the knots stood for the five books of the Law. These fringes were sometimes referred to as wings.

The purpose of the fringe was two-fold. It was meant to identify a Jew as a Jew, and as a member of the chosen people, no matter where he was; and it was meant to remind a Jew every time he put on and took off his clothes that he belonged to God.

So this woman sneaks through the crowd, risking her own safety and the ritual purity of all she came in contact with because she believes that if she can just touch this tassel she will be made well.

Through the crowd she goes and when she gets close enough she reaches out and touches one of these tassels. What she has believed comes true, she is made well.

But then, what she possibly had not even considered happened. When she touches him he stops dead in his tracks and asks, “Who touched me?”

Can you imagine what rushes through her mind? She was caught, with no where to run.

Peter says to him, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.”

But Jesus insists saying, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.”

With this the woman, realizing that she could not remain hidden from Jesus, steps forward trembling with fear, falls down in front of him and tells Jesus and all the people why she had done what she had done and how upon touching him had been made well.

Jesus looks at her with compassion and says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

The words of Jesus tell us a great deal about this whole episode. Nowhere does it say that this was a Jewish woman. Jesus performs miracles for Gentiles as well as for Jews. He calls her “daughter” in recognition of her identity as a member of the Jewish race. Jews often referred to other Jews as “daughters of Zion.” So Jesus recognized her as a Jew.

Perhaps the most important thing in this text is not that Jesus knew who she was but rather that she knew who Jesus was.

He also says to her, “your faith has made you well.” What faith? We have seen no great act of faith on her part? Or have we?

Let’s go back to these tassels for a minute. These tassels were called tassels or corners or in some cases wings. These tassels, not simply ornaments on the clothes, were reminders of who they were.

All preachers, I suppose, have preached a sermon or two on this passage with the purpose being to say that this woman had faith that if she could just get close enough to touch him that that would be sufficient to heal her. We emphasize her faith and the reward for that faith.

But her faith may have gone much deeper than that. If we look back at the book of Malachi, the last book in our Old Testament, the last book before Jesus, we find this obscure little passage. It comes from Malachi 4: 2.

But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.

She may have gotten the idea of touching the tassel, or wing, of his garment from this passage. If that is the case then her faith is indeed great. By knowing the scriptures that well she may have studied them in an effort to find a solution to her problem. She may also have recognized this man as the Messiah because of her study and thus came to the conclusion that if she could just touch the tassel on his garment then she could be well.

This would be a good place to end this sermon, but I am not going to. There is one more thing that the scripture says to us today.

Once the woman touches Jesus she becomes the singular focus of his attention. At that moment he is on his way to the home of Jarius, a leader in the Temple, whose daughter is dying. Jarius pleads with Jesus to come to his house and heal his daughter, which Jesus is in the process of doing when this woman touches him.

Even with the prospect of a dying child Jesus still has time for this woman. He wants to acknowledge her faith and celebrate her healing.

You know the rest of the story. People come from Jarius’ house and tell him that his daughter has died and that there is no use in Jesus coming. But Jesus continues the journey anyway, telling them that she is not dead, just sleeping.

If Jesus is that focused on this one woman and this one child, then don’t you think that Jesus is that focused on you and on your needs? I do.

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