On the Fringes
“She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased.” (Luke 8:44)
Luke and Matthew both tell the story of Jesus healing a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years. She was a woman who had herself lived on the fringes of society for all those years of her illness. Widely known as ritually unclean, she could not attend public worship, could not go to market, could not converse with others, could not enjoy the affectionate touch of another human being. So skittish has she become that she won’t even approach Jesus face to face; she sneaks up behind him and reaches out to touch the fringe of his garment. The fringe is where she is used to operating.
It’s a bold move for her and one that pays off. Immediately Jesus feels healing power leaving him. The healing he possesses is not even limited to his knowledge of who needs or wants healing. The woman touches him without his awareness and instantly she is healed. Jesus heals by his presence, even unawares. While we sometimes get lost in wondering about who might qualify for healing or what might need to be done for us or others to get closer to God, maybe the truth is that we are being healed and loved simply by virtue of God’s abiding presence in the world. Maybe God heals and loves just because that’s God’s way. Maybe God can’t help but heal. God heals first and asks questions later, instead of the other way around.
After Jesus feels healing power leaving him, he asks a question. He asks who has touched him. It’s not that he’s insulted or believes something has been stolen from him. He just wants to know who he has healed. The question brings out a response of fear from the woman healed. She sheepishly approaches with her head hung down and admits she was the one who dared to touch his garment. Jesus embraces her, looks her in the eyes, and says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
There’s a 30 year old photo in my office of my daughter and me. She’s about 4. I’m holding her and we’re both smiling for the camera. She has one hand on my shirt front, the other affectionately behind my neck. We look really happy and peaceful. As Jesus looks the woman in the eyes, there is peace and happiness. You can feel it in the story. He’s inviting her to come in from the fringes of society and be in the warm center of the community. He wants her to know the great love available to her.
From time to time, we all live on the fringes. We think we’re not worthy, unnoticed, too weak to handle life, frustrated, depressed, stuck. When we’re in those places, desperation and panic set in. We feel hopeless and consigned to hardship.
Jesus lives on the fringes of society himself. He walks among the poor, the lame, the lepers, the little children and the women, those with no power. He dies on the fringes, out there with the criminals and those society has thrown away. Jesus lives and dies on the fringes because God is present even there. There is no place in life where we are away from the reach of God’s love and touch. The fringes of Jesus’ garment contain everything that his very hands do. God loves because God can’t help but love. It’s God’s nature. And it’s found in surprising places.
God’s love is issued to all for the purpose of bringing us into the warm center. God doesn’t heal us or love us only to move on or to send us back to the fringes where we came from. God loves and heals to bring us closer to God’s heart. And closer to the community. We don’t have to figure out a puzzle to get God to notice us. God’s love extends to wherever we are. God loves and heals first, without question. And then God invites us closer and closer.
Part of the power of this story is that it occurs while Jesus is traveling to heal someone else. Jesus is busy, on the move, but his heart goes out to this woman who needs his touch. Sometimes we picture God as outside ourselves, as if he lives on the fringes of our world. While we’re asking him to come closer, God is fully with us and inviting us to see him more as the center of our world. God heals us on the fringes and brings us fully within his saving embrace.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.