The woman touches Christ’s garment believing that doing so will save her from her illness.
This may sound superstitious, like a person who believes that knocking on wood or throwing salt over your shoulder gives you good luck.
Superstition is an irrational belief or practice based on ignorance. It can involve a false idea of causation. For instance, if I touch a horseshoe nailed to my wall when I leave my house every day and believe that I will therefore have better health, that is superstitious because there is no relationship between touching horseshoes and your health. Or if I refuse to pay for a purchase because the total comes to six dollars and sixty-six cents, as some people do, that is a superstition based on a misunderstanding of words in the book of Revelation.
Nowadays, the word “superstition” may be used by people to include any belief in the supernatural or God. Such a broad sense of the word “superstition” is justified by saying that any spiritual beliefs are irrational and go against plain evidence to the contrary.
But having faith in general is not irrational. We put our faith in different things all the time that may or may not have absolutely proven their reliability. I drive my car down the road even though I know that cars can break down or have accidents. God, on the other hand, has proven His absolute trustworthiness in a multitude of ways, whether people want to admit it, not least of all by giving His Son into death and raising Him the third day in order to fulfill His promise to save mankind.
We may sometimes see evidence with our eyes that we feel prove this or that about God. But we should not trust such evidence. For instance, a person may pray for something and not receive it and therefore conclude that there is no God. But that simply denies that God has a will to decide things by His wisdom. So we trust in God even when things we see may try to convince us not to believe in Him.
It is very difficult to tell whether the woman in the Holy Gospel was superstitious because it depends on what her internal thoughts were. All we are told is that she thought, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” Now, she did not have a specific promise that told her that touching the clothes of Christ caused healing. On the other hand, if she believed that He was the Son of God, then perhaps it is reasonable to think that she would. And she was right.
Why touch only the clothing? Perhaps she did not want to render Christ unclean. It is likely that, with her bleeding condition, touching Christ would make Him ritually unclean under the Law of Moses. She would reasonably want to avoid that.
Most likely, I think, is that she had very strong faith, like the centurion who believed his servant could be healed from a distance by Christ. Similarly, the woman thinks that Christ can heal her with the slightest touch. She believes that the Son of God is that gracious and full of power to heal her.
Christ says, “Your faith has saved you,” that is, saved from her bleeding. He does not say, “Woman, how dare you be superstitious!” No rebuke here. He commends her.
May we hunger for the least touch from Christ. Yet we do not have to settle for small touches of garments. We have the fullness of His preaching Word to save. We have His grace-filled Supper. We have absolution of all our sins. We have the promise of eternal health with no bleeding or sickness.
That is the center of this passage. Christ is the life-Giver. He ends sickness. He ends death. He wakes the dead. He is Life.
The woman’s life was flowing out of her, day by day. The life is in the blood, says God, and her blood was escaping her, threatening her life. Certainly she was badly anemic. Perhaps she was close to death, or would be soon.
But Christ ends the threat. He stops the loss of life with His healing. Was He unaware at the time of the healing He was doing? Perhaps, in His state of humiliation, He did not use His divine knowledge to be aware of her action. He felt the power go out of Him, yet He acted as if He did not know who touched Him. Saint Matthew shortens the account and omits some of these details. But regardless of exactly what Christ knew or intended, He did come into human flesh in order to bring healing and life to men. His very presence is health to the sickly.
The little girl was obviously in worse shape than the woman. All life had ceased in the girl’s body. Breath and heart had stopped. Her spirit had left her body.
Yet Christ is not daunted by the loss of life. He says, “She is sleeping.” He is not mistaken, nor is He denying that death is real and serious. His point is that, as a sleeping person awakes, this little girl would awake. So also with all believers in Christ who, although their bodies sleep in the earth, they will wake up on the Last Day.
Then Christ touches her. He takes the girl by the hand, making physical contact. As with the woman who touched His garment, Christ’s presence is a life-giving one.
Saints Mark and Luke add that Christ also spoke to her, although Matthew does not record that. The word of Christ raises the child. She awakes from her sleep. The Lord of life breaks the hold of death. The grave is no match for Him.
Later, Christ deliberately stepped into death. He lay down and His breath left Him and all life ceased in His body. His heart stopped and His spirit left His Body.
Yet He would not be stopped by His own loss of life. He would leap up victorious from His tomb. He is the Lord of life, after all. The grave cannot conquer Him. Death cannot vanquish the Son of God. So He rose on Easter Day.
This Lord of life is our Lord. He has touched us through the waters of Baptism to give us life. We have touched His Body and Blood in His Supper. His life-giving Word touches our ears. He will not leave His own, precious possession in the hands of death any more than He remained in death. We will lay down in the ground to sleep, but our dear Lord will wake us on the Great Day that is coming.
Knowing this, how much should we yearn for His presence? We should desire greatly to receive His gracious touch in this Divine Service. We should fervently want His Body and Blood to touch our lips and tongue. This is no superstition, but it is the promise and presence of the Most High God to give life and salvation to His subjects. Without His life-giving touch, we die. With His touch, we are eternally saved.
The Lord continue to give us life. Amen.
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