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.’

Mel Ashworth and Hugh Thompson, Weston-super-Mare, June 1997

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