Monday, July 7, 2008

Touching the hem of the garment

One of the gospel passages that has fascinated me for a long time is the passage from today's Eucharist (Matt 9:18-26). The main focus of the passage seems to be the leader of the synagogue who summons Jesus to revive his daughter. While on the way Jesus encounters the women who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. Commentators note that this ailment would have made the women ritually "unclean" and she would therefore have been an outcast during all this time. Because of her shame the women can not bring herself to stand before Jesus to ask his help as the leader of the synagogue had done. Instead the best she can do is to reach out to touch the fringe of his cloak (hem of the garment) in the belief that by doing this she will be made well and her faith is rewarded. Her faith has made her well.

On one level both stories are of faith. Both the woman and the leader of the synagogue have great faith and their faith is rewarded by Jesus. On another level the story shows an important part of the mission of Jesus. These miracles are signs that the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus is indeed at hand. Still, I am struck by the difference in status between the leader of the synagogue and the woman. He is a man of great status and we see this when Jesus encounters a great crowd at the leader's house. By contrast the woman is an outcast. Still, the results of their encounters with Jesus are the same. Jesus fulfills their deepest needs. So, an important message that I get from this passage is that we should be careful about judging the faith of people by externals or by status. We see something similar in the story of the Pharisee and the Publican. The faith of people is not something external and cannot necessarily be judged by the Church groups a person belongs to or even (perhaps) how often a person attends Mass. Of course eventually faith does have to manifest itself in works of some kind. I find this insight helpful when dealing with inquirers to RCIA. We want them to tell their stories but we want to be careful about judging their initial motives for signing up. We do of course, want them to experience growth as they go through the process that is part of the RCIA.

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