Monday, July 03, 2006

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Hug Your Relatives!

Readings: Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24; 2 Cor 8:7,9,13-15; Mark 5:21-43

Dear Sisters and Brothers, at a house-blessing yesterday, a cousin was observed reminding her children to “give auntie,” or “give uncle a hug.” She explained that she was trying to teach them to hug their relatives. So, when her youngest boy – who’s in primary school – had to leave early for a school activity, and wanted to shake my hand to say “goodbye,” I managed to wrangle another hug out of him by telling him that it was his mom’s wish. J

But it wasn’t only because of its obvious benefits for me and the other aunties and uncles that I was struck by my cousin’s “hug your relatives” campaign. It was also an invitation to reflect upon the importance of touch in human life and relationships.

We live in a society where touch has become ever more ambivalent and problematic. The clergy paedophilia scandal in the United States some years back provides a striking example of how touch can be abused and with what horrible consequences. Even here in squeaky clean Singapore reports of molest cases are a regular feature in the newspapers. Not to mention the recent buzz over the mushrooming of “massage parlours” in the heartland.

At the other extreme, we probably know of those who, for one reason or another, are averse to all forms of touch, and others who tend to interpret any touch as being inappropriately sexual in nature.

Yet, whether we care to admit it or not, we all need the human touch. The doctors among us will know better, but I remember reading somewhere that the healthy growth and development of an infant will be adversely affected if it doesn’t get enough physical human contact.

Indeed, touch is crucial for life. And if we are to attend carefully to our readings today, we will notice how certain kinds of touch are crucial even for eternal life.

To set the scene we are first reminded that we are created for light and life. In the first reading, we heard that God made us “imperishable… in the image of his own nature,” but that it was “the devil’s envy that brought death in the world.” And in the opening prayer, we declared that the light of Jesus has scattered the darkness of hatred and sin,” thus reclaiming our birthright for us: the brilliant radiance of eternal life. In the words of the responsorial psalm (30:6): “at night there are tears but joy comes with dawn.”

Much as this is true, however, isn’t it also true that there are still many areas both in our lives – yours and mine – and in our world which have yet to be penetrated by the life-giving light of Christ? It’s sort of like working in an air-conditioned office or cubicle without any windows. Even if the sun’s shining brightly outside, if not for the artificial light, we’d still be in darkness inside.

How then might these areas be illuminated by God’s light and life? Here’s where we see the significance of touch. In particular, our readings highlight the importance of two kinds of touch.

The first is the touch of faith. This is the touch of the woman with the haemorrhage, the touch of the one in need, the one suffering the effects of darkness and death, and, having nowhere else to turn, places total trust in the power of Christ. Notice how the gospel emphasizes the extraordinary nature of this touch. “You see how the crowd is pressing around you and yet you say, ‘Who touched me!’” exclaim the amazed disciples, even as Jesus looks around for the one responsible. Why does he look around? Because, we are told, as soon as Jesus feels the touch of faith, he is “immediately aware that power had gone out from him.” Even before Jesus knows who touched him, his healing power works its wonders in the woman. Never mind that it is only his cloak that she touches. She, who had lived in the painful darkness of an incurable illness for twelve long years, is healed instantly. And Jesus himself acknowledges the cause of the cure. “Your faith has restored you to health,” he declares, “go in peace and be free from your complaint.”

Of course, this is not to question the faith of those who are sick but who, in spite of fervent prayers, have not been cured. The life and light that the touch of faith brings is first and foremost that of renewed relationship with God and neighbour. And even if physically healing does not result, the one in darkness is somehow enabled to see the light of the dawn. He or she is somehow given the strength to bear the suffering in peace.

Neither are we to think of the touch of faith only in physical terms. Do not the victims of sinful habits and broken relationships, of religious persecution and economic injustice also called to reach out to the Lord in faith, so as to claim his healing power? And do we not also reach out with the touch of faith on behalf of others when we pray for them each day, and at each Mass?

Here we come close to yet another form of touch spoken of in our readings today. We find it in the second reading, where Paul is engaged in a mighty fund-raising effort for the church in Jerusalem. He invites the Corinthians to “put the most into this work of mercy.” In so doing he is calling them to reach out to their needy brothers and sisters in Jerusalem with the touch of generosity.

Apart from giving them advice about how they can strike a balance between meeting their own needs and generously helping to meet the needs of others, Paul also reminds the Corinthians why they should be generous in the first place.

“Remember,” he says, “how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty.” The Corinthians are to reach out to others with the touch of generosity because they themselves have experienced the touch of Christ.

This is the same touch of generosity by which Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter in the gospel. We are told that Jesus took the hand of the dead girl and called her from death to life, from darkness to light. And this is not an isolated incident. Do we not believe that this was how Jesus lived his whole life – continually reaching out to others with the touch of generosity? And is his death on the cross not the ultimate touch of generosity – by which our loving God, gathers his wayward children into the warmth of his Fatherly embrace? By his life, death and resurrection, Christ made us all sons and daughters of the Father, and brothers and sisters to one another. Is this not the wealth of which Paul speaks when he says that Christ “became poor for (our) sake, to make (us) rich out of his poverty?” By Christ’s touch of generosity, we have all been made relatives, relatives of God and of one another.

Sisters and brothers, my cousin intended her “hug your relatives” campaign only for her children. But in light of our reflection today, we might also find in it a summons to us; a summons to reach out with the touch of faith and the touch of generosity, so that the floodlights of God’s divine life might shine more brightly upon the areas of darkness in our hearts and in our world.

Sisters and brothers, how and to whom are we being called to reach out today? How are we being summoned to “hug our relatives?”

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