Touching God

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

Jesus then asked, “Who touched me?”
cf. Lk 8:43-48

You have to sympathize with Peter in this scene. The crowds surround our Lord, a mixture of the faithful, the curious, and the suspicious. They swarm around this Nazarene celebrity as He journeys through the little towns and villages of Galilee. So when our Lord stops and asks, “Who touched me?” Peter has every reason to be a little confused. Point is, many people had touched Him. Peter responds with a simple observation, perhaps gesturing to the mass of humanity in the crowded little town, “The multitudes surround you and press upon you…”

Luke 8But someone had touched Him differently, “Someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me.” Unlike those who bumped into Him accidentally, or who touched Him to be able to say that they did or out of curiosity, someone touched Him in faith. This nameless woman, seeking healing for her illness, provides a profound example and instruction on the personal dimension of faith.

There is, first of all, and before any of us, the ecclesial dimension of faith. The Church believes before we do. We receive our faith from the Church and profess it within the Church. But faith must also be personal. And if we do not invest ourselves personally, if we do not personally make an act of faith, then that gift of the Church profits us nothing. The Church gives us our faith, but She cannot do the believing for us.

The woman with the hemorrhage believed in Jesus personally. She did not know everything about Him. But she entrusted herself to Him by the simple touch of the fringe of His garments. “For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well'” (Mk 5:28). Her touch was different from the others because it was made with faith.

To believe in Jesus Christ means precisely this — to entrust ourselves to Him. We do not believe things merely about Jesus. As Saint James observes, even the demons believe in this way (Ja 2:19). Rather, we believe in Him, which in the Latin has the sense of entrusting or handing ourselves over to Him entirely. That is faith.

Faith touches God. That is what the woman teaches us in this scene. Nor is that a pious thought or a even a metaphor. In his encyclical letter on faith Pope Francis cites Saint Augustine’s summary of the woman’s action: “To touch Him with our hearts: that is what it means to believe.” It is not only the poetic Augustine that makes this observation. The more systematic Saint Thomas speaks similarly about the “spiritual contact” that faith makes with Jesus Christ Himself. To say “I believe in Jesus Christ” is not a wishful statement spoken into the void, but an act of the soul that touches Him and moves His Heart.

But many of us, rather than imitating the woman with the hemorrhage, behave more like the crowds in Galilee. Like them, we are familiar with all the stories about Jesus, have been in the room when He was there, have even been present for His miracles (the Mass, for instance). But we remain accidental Christians, encountering Him and bumping into Him because we happen to be in the same place at the same time — not because we have touched Him in faith. We may have grown up in the atmosphere of our Lord, but never directly believed in Him.

Our Lord’s question to Peter therefore also functions as an invitation. Not only “Who touched me?” but “Who will touch me?” He asks for our faith, for that touch that only the personal belief in Him can accomplish.

This is the fifth of seven posts that will take up some questions of God that satisfy more than the answers of man.

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