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Untouchable

Sermon preached by
The Revd Dr Joan Crossley
9th June 2002

I am a great devotee of the American medical series ER. People who don't like it criticize the fast pace of the dialogue, the endless rushing down corridors and highly dramatic situations. 

By contrast, we fondly imagine that in the New Testament era life was much slower paced, even relaxed and leisurely. Yet in today's passage from the Gospel according to St Matthew (Matt 9:9-13, 18-26), Jesus is described as having a frantically busy morning. 

Jesus has been healing the sick, calling Matthew the tax collector to follow Him, and He is on his way to an emergency call to save the life of a young girl when he has an encounter with the woman on whom I shall be focusing, in my sermon this morning. 

The busy pace and sheer number of vivid human stories in the gospel passage are actually quite reminiscent of ER and other medical dramas. A friend who is a doctor in a casualty department, tells me that they do indeed see the kinds of cases shown on television, but spread out over perhaps over two months, rather than packed into an exhausting forty minute episode. It may well be that the writer of the Gospel according to St Matthew is taking the same liberty with time, perhaps drawing together a number of healing miracles and recording them as though on the same day. 

The doctors and nurses in ER are fearless and unshockable, at one moment up to their elbows in human entrails, the next diagnosing obscure illnesses, but every now and then they are faced with a patient with a disease or condition so unspeakable, so horrible, so icky that they practically fight not to treat it. 

It was very much the same with the lady who touched the edge of Jesus' garment. Under Jewish religious law the nature of her illness, continual bleeding, made it impossible for her to go to Synagogue with the other women. She was supposed to avoid the company of her husband (if she had one), as well as all other men. Not only was she suffering from a painful and miserably draining illness, she was rendered untouchable by it.

The very brief sentences in the Gospel make it clear that even in the pushing and shoving of the eager crowd, Jesus somehow knew that he had been touched by a person in need of healing. He immediately stopped and turned to speak to her. And, being the Son of God, knew instantly the nature of her need. 

A man who was obsessed with religious rules would have shouted at her, because under the Law laid down in Leviticus, touching a woman with an issue of blood would have made Him unclean. According to the strict laws He would have been obliged to go and ritually purify Himself even after so fleeting a contact. 

But Jesus showed no sign of feeling contaminated by her touch, but saw straight into the very nature of her desperate loneliness and unhealthy state. And He cured her, not by keeping her at a distance but by including her in the family of God, by claiming her as His daughter. "My daughter", He said, "Your faith has made you well". 

In these brief few sentences we gain an extraordinary insight into God's dealing with us. He does not keep his distance from us, contaminated as we are by our sins of selfishness and greed, our uncleanness of smugness and meanness. He knows us always and forever as we are, and is always longing to make us well. 

To God none of us are untouchables and all we have to do is reach out to Him. But the story of the untouchable who Jesus claims as His daughter has severe challenges for us too. For if she and other outcasts are Christ's children, then they are our brothers and sisters. Really like us, really part of us and entitled to the greatest consideration and intimate love. Jesus' way of loving was to allow the outcast and untouchable to draw close and we must too. 

In the coming week, perhaps we should be walking around Bedford, trying to discern who are the new untouchables, and asking God how He wants us to draw close to them ?  

Amen

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