THE LIFE-CHANGING TOUCH

She so enjoyed coming here to the edge of the lake,

just to sit for hours gazing into its turquoise depths.

This was her favourite refuge in all of Capernaum –

a sacred ashram, secluded by bushes.

Here she could recover a sense of inner peace. Then,

when life’s weariness had been soothed by the stillness,

she would leave refreshed,

to face another gruelling day.

 

But the feeling of drudgery always returned

the moment she stepped back into

the hustle and bustle of town.

Also, the old helplessness would choke her again

because her basic medical condition never improved,

not even for a moment.

 

If only she could stay here for ever,

away from her neighbours’ averted eyes

and those almost imperceptible knowing nods

that they would exchange with one another

whenever she approached.

 

In this place of sanctuary her spirit could soar beyond

the drag of her physical limitations

and the attendant social shame.

In early mornings she drank in the atmosphere

of creation’s grandeur,

as the crystal-calm lake mirrored

the majestic tree-lined hills and cloudless sky.

And her heart joined in the celebration of life

expressed in the cheerful chorale

of exuberant birdsong

accompanied by the gentle hum

of industrious bees.

Then her free-ranging thoughts could escape from

the slavery of adult reality,

skipping and dancing through happier memories

of carefree childhood days.

 

How tediously slowly recent years had dragged by.

When exactly was it that her illness had started?

It seemed like an eternity,

but in fact it was about twelve years ago.

How she ached for the lost love of her late parents,

remembering how faithfully they had taught her

the Scriptures of truth, and how,

with awesome joy, they had celebrated together

the family Sabbath meals at home

and the festivals of Yahweh

in his temple in Jerusalem.

 

When the symptoms first appeared

she never thought her problem would be permanent.

The doctor who treated her at that time

had been sympathetic and re-assuring,

but he obviously had lacked any insight into

the cause of her body’s malfunction.

And over the years she had consulted

one physician after another,

listening attentively to their

contradictory diagnoses and clever theories –

some ancient,  some modern.

She had faithfully followed their

recommended courses of treatment,

stuck rigidly to their strict regimes of diet,

imbibed their herbal potions

and applied their exotic lotions,

but not one of their prescriptions

had ever brought even the slightest relief.

 

And to crown it all, she had spent the last of her money;

there was not one piece of jewelry left to sell.

So, what more could she possibly do?

 

She always felt utterly exhausted.

The continued haemorrhaging had taken its toll,

her appetite was pathetic, her sleep patterns erratic.

It required enormous effort on her part

just to perform very ordinary, simple tasks.

 

Gradually she had come to terms with being unwell.

She could live with her disability

for another twelve years – or fifty, if needs be.

But, oh, how she longed to be delivered

from the painful indignity associated with it.

Everyone who knew her avoided contact with her

and becoming unclean. She understood –

she knew more that most what the Holy Scriptures said

about women in her condition.

Even healthy women had their regular days

when they were untouchable.

But what made matters worse in her case was

that everyone seemed to believe

the opinion of the religious experts

that she was cursed by God.

‘Now, will someone tell me what dreadful sin

I am supposed to have indulged in secretly,

that none of them has ever committed?  Spiritual snobs!’

She had long since ceased asking why.

And she no longer dreamed of marriage and children –

no hope of all that now.

But would anyone ever know the deep ache

she constantly endured, day in, day out,

with no prospect of change and relief.

Her ravaged heart found this isolation and rejection

intolerable.  She yearned to be held close

and nursed back to wholeness as a person –

or even to be a child again

in the warm embrace of mother and father –

to feel wanted and appreciated.

This total absence of

kind words and loving touch

was unbearable.

 

By now she had become so deeply engrossed

in her reverie that she had failed to observe that

the shoreline was far from tranquil this morning.

She was jerked from her thoughts

by unfamiliar sounds.

Not now the soothing hum of bees’ wings

but the buzz of human voices.

Bright, excited voices,

adding suitable lyrics to the regular,

joyous melodies of the birds.

The snippets that reached her ears

were enough to arouse her numb, aching heart:

‘Boat trip across the lake … wild man totally healed …

hundreds of pigs stampeded over the cliffs … here he is …

Jesus  … in that boat.’

 

She struggled to her feet at the mention of

that name.  He had been in the news a lot lately.

Whoever he was, he had been causing quite a stir

by all he said and did.

 

Oh dear!  While her mind had ‘gone yonderly’

the beach had filled up.

Her gaze scanned their eager faces, then,

following the direction of the many pointing fingers,

focused on the fishing smack

being heaved up onto the shingle beach.

On board must be this new rabbi

and his regular apprentices.

 

Now, what should she do?

She certainly didn’t belong here

as part of this crowd.  In fact, she felt

she was eavesdropping on a private celebration.

She ought to head for home before she was noticed.

However, she would have to pass among them

to reach the road.  As the boat party disembarked,

their features came into view.

His face looked familiar, yet she knew that

she had never seen him before.

 

Tears pricked her eyes and

a deep sigh escaped her lips:

‘Oh, if only I could just touch

the corner of his cloak,’

she whispered to herself.

But no chance of that, for, all at once,

he and his friends were being mobbed.

 

Quietly she advanced towards the fringe of the crowd.

And, for once, no one noticed her defiling presence.

Ah, blissful anonymity!

 

She listened as they welcomed him back

from his recent trip across the water.

She could just make out his head

above all of theirs.

Surely he would be squashed to death!

 

Then the noisy excitement became suddenly muted

as a man flung himself on his knees

in front of Jesus.

She clearly heard him inform Jesus that

his darling daughter, twelve years of age, was dying.

 

Aye, she knew just about everything

a living person could know about dying.

For twelve long years

she had been dying inside

with no hope of deliverance!

As she listened to this father begging Jesus

to go with him to his home and heal her,

on an impulse she did something

she never imagined she could ever do.

She began to squeeze between the tightly-packed bodies,

pushing herself in the direction of Jesus.

Her progress was desperately slow,

But she must get to him.

She did not care now if they recognized her

and glared at her in anger …

Just a few more heaves and shoves and she’d be there.

She could hear his voice distinctly now,

but she had hardly any strength left

as she shouldered her way around his disciples.

Oh no!  He was starting on his way

to the house of the dying girl!

Lunging forward she landed

face down on the rough pebbles.

Would she be trampled to death

or expire from sheer exhaustion?

What irony, if both

the relentless sickness and a heartless society

joined forces to release her at last!

 

No! she must seize the moment, reach for life.

Mustering every remaining ounce of strength

she stretched out her hand.

As the tips of her fingers brushed the hem of his robe

a  shock wave of power flashed through

her dying frame from hair roots to toe nails.

A strength she had never known,

not even in her energetic childhood,

flowed to every part of her being.

She knew without a shadow of doubt

that she had been healed.

Now she must slip back to her favourite hideaway

and take stock!

 

As the thought popped into her head,

in that instant the sandalled feet

just beyond her outstretched hand

came to an abrupt standstill.

She shuddered with embarrassment

as she heard Jesus say,

‘Somebody has just touched me.  Who was it?’

 

But, wait … maybe she’d get away with it

and manage to maintain her privacy,

because his fishermen bodyguards

seem amused. With typical northern banter

they  humoured their Master:

 

Who touched me? We’re not still in the boat, Rabbi.

Remember?  And this isn’t

the Qumran monastery garden, you know!

 

Who touched me?  This reception committee is not

your average palace cocktail party!

This lot’s more like the stampede you get

if you shout “Fire!’ in the bazaar on market day.

 

‘Lord, this is your local fan club.

With them jostling and elbowing

you’ll feel bruised all over.

We’ve done our best to hold them off, honestly.

 

Merrily ,merrily, I say unto you,

            “Somebody bumped me.  Come on, own up,

                        whoever you are!”’

 

But their chuckling stopped,

and her trembling recommenced,

when he repeated: ‘Somebody touched me,

for I felt a surge of healing power leave me

just then.’  Awesome!  Her mind is reeling.

She can’t back out as she had hoped she could.

She will have to own up,

 

Rising onto her knees she finds

he has turned around, facing her way.

What warmth shines from his eyes.

His smile is most welcoming.

All his facial lines are laughter lines.

Though still trembling with shock,

she feels an artesian gush of joy

springing up from the depths of her very womb.

In a voice vibrant with confidence

she tells them all of the years of suffering,

and how fingering the tassels on the hem of his robe –

just one touch –

had brought her an instant cure.

 

He addressed her directly: ‘Daughter, …’

No one had called her that for such a long time –

it made her feel childlike again,

wanted, loved, buoyant

and ready to live life to the full.

‘Daughter, you took a risk in trusting me.

Your faith – that confidence you place in me –

has gained you health in your body

and wholeness in your soul.  Shalom!

Now you may go.  Live in peace.

Live well.  Live blessed.’

 

Before he turned to resume the procession

to the bedside of the twelve-year-old,

I’ll swear he looked at me, too.

His eyes said it all.

In fact, I think those eyes are looking into yours right now.

Hear his words to you:

‘Even if you cannot sense my presence,

because others seem to block your view of me,

press on into the holy of holies.

Get violent in your pursuit of me.

For, “when you seek for me with all your heart,

I will be found by you.”

 

‘You feel helpless.

Yes, the symptoms are well-established,

the experts are baffled,

and all who know you shake their heads

sadly but sympathetically.

Nevertheless, ruthlessly throw off

the well-practised pattern of thoughts,

and reach an open hand to touch me.

Draw from me that which I wish

to impart into you, now.

 

‘Wholesome day-dreaming belongs in its

legitimate place of solitude.

But, today, it is time to decide

to seek my face.

I have treasures I long to put into your hand.

Give up the paralysis of analysis,

leave the prison of self-pity.

I delight in you; delight in me.

Abandon yourself to me

and let me become

your greatest treasure.’

 

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