“…Touch Me, Heal Me…” Roman Catholic Woman Priest Rev. Judy’s Homily: 23rd Sunday OT-9/6/15
“See me, feel me, touch me, heal me” is an excellent description of the healing powers of Jesus Christ and is also a famous line from Peter Townsend’s (The WHO) 1969 Rock Opera Tommy. They are a refrain that has replayed in my head and resounded in my heart since I first heard them plaintively sung. I applied them to myself and my own life as well as to the lives of those I serve, especially those who receive the least human touch in their poverty and outcast status.
This week our readings are : Isaiah 35:4-7a speaking about the time God comes with “divine recompense” to save God’s people.This is a time when” the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared… and the tongue of the mute will sing” (Is 35: 5-6). The Psalm is Psalm 146:6-10 where God keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed,gives food to the hungry and gives sight to the blind. The Epistle of James (2:1-5) exhorts us to show no partiality as we adhere to the faith of Jesus Christ-not to treat people by their status in society, not to put the rich above the poor who seek to assemble and worship with us, noting that God chooses those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kin(g)dom. The Gospel, Mark 7:31-37 shows Jesus healing a deaf and mute man in the cosmopolitan district of the Decapolis, near the sea of Galilee. (The word for muteness, mogilalos in Greek, is also the word used in Isaiah 35 and is closer to speech impediment-such that the man could not speak his joy or thanks and praise to God). In this healing in an area where people are likely Gentiles, non-Jews, Jesus touches the man intimately, putting his finger into the man’s ear and touching the man’s tongue with his own spittle, then from the depth of his being (he groans) Ephphatha!-“Be opened” and the man could Immediately hear and speak. (This opening of the ears and mouth is also a part of early and possibly contemporary baptismal celebrations).
There is little doubt that the meanings in these readings are metaphoric as well as literal. God is to open the ears of all people to know God, to know the gospel, and to know that ALL are welcome in God’s family. Jesus himself opens the ears of the deaf and frees their tongues to sing God’s praise. Jesus reaches beyond his people to ALL people. Jesus touches the outcast and marginalized intimately and brings healing. This healing comes from the very depth of Jesus’ being, as such outreach should come from our inmost heart. The reign of God is to free the oppressed and feed the hungry actually and metaphorically and to create a place where all can be felt, touched and heard.
And yet, for those who suffer as pariahs and for those who suffer illness of any sort or the diminishing of their senses and well being, the Jesus who reaches out,touches and heals is the one we seek. We have been called to make several hospital and hospice visits recently. And in doing so we enter especially sacred space. In offering the rite of sacramental anointing we literally lay hands on the very ill person, and we touch also with sacred oil. Some want to hear the words of the traditional rite and are comforted as these words are said. Others do not care about the words but grab our hands as we touch them, not wanting to let go. There is a sacredness in touch. Linda was visibly relieved when I placed my hand not only on her head but on the part of her body causing great pain. Claire grabbed our hands and said the warm touch warmed her whole body as she feels very cold, and her skin was indeed cold. Ruby said the oil felt good upon her forehead. Brenda and Gary enjoyed a big hug and I was soaked with their perspiration. Mary held on to my hands tightly as we prayed. I was aware of my strength pouring into her, and her faith infusing me. Whenever I pray with Roger and touch his shoulder or his ulcerated legs just above the sores he says that he feels better. He now has decent medical treatment but when he lived outside and met me in the park, this form of healing touch was the only treatment he received. Thank God, it got him through.
How wonderful it must have been to be touched by Jesus. And yet, it is clear we are still being touched by Jesus, and Christ is in the caring touch we give one another. While there are some people who do not feel comfortable being touched in any way, most people long for it. In my contacts with people the Spirit guides me to touch, hold, hug or just establish eye contact or sit next to and say comforting words. I am so thankful that I am able to offer these most basic of comforts. Sometimes they give actual healing and sometimes they are healing comforts. There are so many who are alone and who need human and divine touch.
We are particularly blessed and honored in our ministry now to have a Minister to the Sick who assists us with our hospital and home-bound calls. This is Mrs. Patricia Byrne a Nurse and a Masters level Pastoral counselor with experience in Chaplaincy who joined our congregation a few months back. She is dedicated to the poor and outcast as well as to those who suffer from illness. Our people are already enjoying visits from her and asking us when she will return. We thank God for providing this critical support to the people of the Good Shepherd and to us as we have much to carry.
Peter Townsend and The WHO were so right: it is touch that heals. In the rock Opera Tommy, Tommy was a young deaf,blind mute who became a leader in a religious movement. The “rules” were too hard for people and they abandoned him. People who wanted a feelgood short-cut to God did not want to be told what they should not do, or what they should do. But throughout the opera and particularly at the end, the haunting refrain punctuated the theme that “we can’t take it anymore” (the world with its unjust politics and rigid world orders and in general things as they are, especially for the outcast.). The hope was in calling people together and in allowing people to speak and be heard and respected, to be felt, to be touched. There was a hidden Gospel message in this, and from the world of hard rock, a most unlikely place. For the sick and the outcast even here in “the land of freedom and plenty” the level of injustice remains something that we can no longer take. Roger’s medical needs were so obvious yet he was denied both Medicaid and Veteran’s benefits and SSI benefits repeatedly until much advocacy made a way for him to get it. With Linda, we have a woman,a mother of five children living at home, who works very hard and earns less than Obamacare would subsidize and who had no medical coverage of any sort. She was in extreme pain from June to September at intermittent periods. In June she was seen in an ER but never admitted. The pain returned and returned. Finally now in early September she has received temporary Medicaid and has finally been admitted to the hospital where good diagnoses and treatment has begun to happen. How can we call ourselves righteous and tolerate the complete lack of medical care for the most needy amongst us? They have been freed to speak, it is we who must listen and make sure that medical care is truly for everyone.
Jesus makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. When the man was healed in today’s Gospel, he simply could not remain quiet. He had to tell his good news-he could hear and speak. Why can we not hear the cries of the poor, of the immigrant, of the outcast? And why can we not speak until we are heard?
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee ,RCWP-USA-East