Let us consider the case of the woman recorded in today’s Gospel. The incident occurs whilst Christ is on His way to see Jairus’s daughter. The fact is not unimportant as we shall see in a moment. The woman had been bleeding for 12 years, and quite apart from the illness that underlay her symptoms, she would have suffered tremendous social consequences. She was ritually unclean and so could not participate in any religious activity. This was made worse by the rule that to come into contact with a woman who was bleeding was to become ritually unclean. As a result she would have been shunned. This is why she came very quietly (lest she rendered others ritually unclean) but in faith. She was aware that Christ had the power to heal and she had the faith that all she needed was to have contact with Him.
What can we learn from this story?
Firstly let us be clear; there is nothing that God cannot sort out. There is no depth of complex sin from which we cannot be rescued; there is no problem that God cannot deal with. This woman was an outcast yet she received healing. St Paul made the same point in his letter to the Romans 8:38 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In fact it was pure prayer the woman demonstrated. This was supported (as all good prayer is by action) when she went to Christ. It is another example for our Christian life, of metanoia, of turning to Christ. She was an outcast but she received healing. So, all of us can be blessed wherever and whenever we need it.
Secondly, I cannot accept that God’s love is restricted to the respectable, or to the ones we find attractive or socially acceptable. In fact it is rather the opposite. If God’s love is available to all, we dare not restrict our compassion or access to the Church to those who “fit in.”
Thirdly, God can draw on our circumstances to strengthen us from this experience. St Cyril of Alexandria when talking about the healing of the woman said: “And this too was for the benefit of Jairus, though it was indeed a hard lesson. For he learns, that neither the legal worship, nor the shedding of blood, nor the slaying of goats and calves, nor the circumcision of the flesh, nor the rest of the Sabbaths, nor ought besides of these temporary and typical matters, can save the dwellers upon earth; faith only in Christ can do so, by means of which even the blessed Abraham was justified, and called the friend of God, and counted worthy of especial honours.” (http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/cyril_on_luke_04_sermons_39_46.htm, SERMON XLV)
In short, Jairus learns the importance of faith - which he needed in what was to follow.
This is the faith then that frees God to act. It was seen in the trust of the Theotokos at the wedding in Cana when she told the servants to follow her Son’s instructions; it was seen in the actions of the boy sharing his food which led to the feeding of the five thousand. It is shown in the Church today.
This brings me to the the last point. This healing power is not just available to us all, it is also our calling to make it available to the world. This is a massive challenge. Some of you will recall a sermon I preached a while back before I was ordained priest on the subject of humility. One of the points was that a priest has to submit to having his hand kissed. I get kissed on the hand quite a bit, which serves to keep me humble. I find that not only my hand gets kissed but also my vestments. There is an obvious echo of today’s Gospel in that. The clothes themselves are rendered holy because of what they represent. I refer you to what Archbishop Chrysostomos has said:-
“The Priest must set himself aside, when he understands his religious role, and become a mere image. [If] he thinks the kiss is directed toward him means that he has usurped the honour due his rank and the Grace operating within him, somehow fancying himself more than a Priestly Icon. He denies, therefore, the lay people a vehicle for expressing their own humility before the holy.” (http://orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/pridemask.aspx)
Yes, the clergy are called to be icons of Christ. In fact we all share in the priesthood of Christ, and we all carry the tremendous responsibility of being agents of Christ on earth, empowered by the Holy Spirit. To do that we all need to surrender to Christ and apply His teaching. For, let us be clear, the world will see our actions and judge both the Church and God by them.
But let us also remember the simple faith of the woman who approached Christ. She was healed, as we all can be and that is a great reassurance. We too can approach God without fear and in faith, knowing His love will make us right.
St John of Damascus wrote a prayer for preparation for Holy Communion. I invite you to pray it with me now, in faith:-
“I stand before the doors of your temple, yet I do not put away evil thoughts. But Christ God, Who justified the publican, and had mercy on the Canaanite woman, and opened the doors of paradise to the thief, open unto me the abyss of your love for mankind, and receive me as I come and touch You; as You received the sinful woman and the woman with an issue of blood. For the one received healing easily by touching the hem of Your garment, while the other, by clasping Your most pure feet, carried away absolution of sins. And I, a wretch, daring to receive Your whole Body, let me not be consumed by fire; but receive me, as You received them, and enlighten my spiritual senses, burning up my sinful errors; through the intercessions of her that without seed gave You birth, and of the heavenly hosts, for blessed are You unto the ages of ages. Amen.”