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Friday, December 29, 2017

Touch Me

by Lawrence Fox

The “children (were)  being brought to Jesus so that He might touch them.” (Mk. 10:13).

“Where in the Old Testament is there an example of multiple children being brought to a patriarch, holy man, prophet, or rabbi so that he might simply touch them?” The homilist’s question was insightful. Let’s consider the request “that He might touch them” and more specifically the action verb “to touch” as it relates to man’s desire to experience the
presence of God through the senses. 

"Now show me your glory.” Moses desired “to see” the face of God. The Lord answered, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Ex. 33:18 & 20) Man passionately wants to experience God with his whole nature. In fact we are told to love the LORD, our God,  with our whole heart and our whole soul and our whole strength. (Deut. 6:5) 

This is because man’s knowledge begins in and through the senses. Man  abstractly understands the “form” of things in nature without taking the actual material into his
mind. He sees a rock, recognises it, but the rock is not physically taken into man.  This is evidence of that man is a spiritual being. He has a rational soul.

Man’s experience of things outside himself begins with his senses. We are not  born with innate knowledge (as taught by the Platonists). We observe reality through the senses and see that nature over and over again pursues a destiny of perfection. This enables man to reason that he himself has a destination (perfection). But man’s desire for perfection is insatiable leading to the reasonable conclusion that man’s perfection is not rooted in the corporeal realm but in the cause of all being. This desire for the source of all being leads to the Person of Jesus Christ.  

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched, this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 Jn. 1:1)  So the Apostle John shows that faith in Jesus Christ builds upon the testimony of holy men and women who saw Him, heard Him, touched Him, ate with Him and “recognised Him in the breaking of the bread.” (Acts. 24:35) This is in keeping with man’s knowledge of reality beginning in the senses.

St. Thomas’ profession of faith “My Lord and my God” flows from a request to touch the wounds of Christ. “Then Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting
and believe.”
(Jn. 20:27) Thomas’ desire to touch the wounds of Christ is a complementary movement of the heart as Moses’ desire to see the face of God. 

Thomas is looking for something tangible so as to see with the eyes of faith. He reasons to faith while other’s assent to faith without seeing. The intellect of both remain in the state of inquiry until the end is reached (i.e. the beatific vision). Moses on the other hand wants to see, so as to increase what is seen with the eyes of faith. Thomas saw the man once dead and now alive, and so he believed saying, “My Lord and My God.” His human senses enlightened his intellect which moved the will to make an act of Faith about that which “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard....” (John 20:28)  Let us not fault Thomas. All men desire to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell the things of God; which is why God became man and dwelt among men.

Now we look at touch in the Gospel of Mark. Mark exposes  the reality of the need to touch God. He uses the word “to touch” (hapsētai) four times within the Gospel. The first is to identify the reason people were bringing their children to Jesus. A person reading these words may sometimes miss what is being made obvious. Like Moses, the people of God want to see and touch the things of God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8) and again, “Phillip if you have seen me you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9) Why is there this rush to see and be touched by Jesus?

Mark, a couple of chapters earlier in the Gospel identifies people in the village of Bethsaida, “...as bringing forward and begging Jesus to touch a blind man.” (Mk. 8:22) This
pattern of touching is repeated again when Mark identifies a woman -- subject to bleeding for twelve years -- touching Jesus’ clothing, “When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his
clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (Mark 5:25-29)

When the authors of Sacred Scripture repeat a word, theme, or event, the reader is being called to attention. For Mark the expression “to touch” testifies to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ; God’s Word became flesh and blood and was therefore not a bodiless Gnostic demiurge. As Moses wanted to see the face of God, the people want their children to be touched by Jesus expressing ever so deeply that the flesh of Christ is a cause for belief, a means for healing, a source of consolation and sanctification, and an opportunity for man to worship God in Spirit and Truth (Jn. 4:24) “To you all flesh will come with its burden of sin; too heavy for us our offences but you wipe them away.” (Ps. 64 [65]) Jesus obliges man’s request since,  this desire between God and man “to touch” is rooted in our creation. 

In the Old Testament, God Touches Man. Jeremiah the prophet writes, “Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.’” (Jer. 1: 9) Jeremiah receives his prophetic vocation as a result of being touched by the hand of God. God speaking through Jeremiah tells the people of Judah that He will establish with them a new covenant, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah...”(Jer. 31:31-34) When Jeremiah spoke these words, the house of Israel was removed from the Holy Land by the Assyrians (721 BC) and the house of Judah was soon be taken into captivity by the Babylonian Empire (597 - 581 BC). Israel’s and Judah’s restoration would be a miraculous manifestation. God’s new covenant with humanity including  the restoration of Israel and Judah would be manifested miraculously with the touch of God’s hands, “And Jesus took bread (with his sacred hands), gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you...” (Lk.22:19-22) To be touched by Jesus is to partake in God’s presence and holiness; this is true even for the most simple things in nature. 

In Old Testament, the profane is made sacred by touching the sacred. The laws and ordinances of Moses incorporated numerous instructions on ritual cleanliness and uncleanliness -- again what could be touched and not touched. (Leviticus 5:2-3, 12:4, 22:4-6) Sacred Scripture reveals that vessels dedicated for worship and which touched the altar of sacrifice were made holy, ”For seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it; then the altar shall be most holy, and whatever touches the altar shall be holy.” (Num. 4:15, Ex. 29:37) 

Peter identified Jesus as God’s Holy One, “We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn. 6:69) Paul describes the people of God as earthen vessels who received a tremendous and precious blessing from God. (2 Cor. 4.7) Paul has in mind the image from the Old Testament in which things touched to sacred things become sacred things. Being touched by God and the things of God bring about healing, forgiveness, blessing, and sacredness. For example in the Book of Kings, there is the story about some Israelites
burying a man and when suddenly seeing a band of raiders they throw the man's dead body into Elisha's tomb. When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet. (2 Kings 13:21) Elisha it should be remembered received a double portion of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies all things. In fact, Elisha’s body was so anointed with the Holy Spirit that even his dead bones healed. But the touching of holy things not only brings healing; it brings forgiveness.

In the Old Testament, forgiveness and blessing are conveyed by touch. The Prophet Isaiah’s lips were touched by a flaming ember taken from the altar in heaven and he was made clean, “With it the (Seraphim) touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah. 6:7) The prophet Daniel -- while in exile in Babylon with his people -- received a vision of the Son of Man coming to him and touching his lips, “And behold, one who resembled a Son of Man was touching my lips; then I opened my mouth and spoke...” (Dan. 10:16) Who is this Son of Man which places a word within the mouth of Daniel? 

Jesus who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8 ) is that Son of Man who touches the lips of Daniel the Prophet.  Here in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is the Son of Man who is now extending his hands so as to touch the children in the land of Judah. Jesus continually identified Himself in the Gospels as the Son of Man. (Matt. 8:20; Mk. 2:10, 14:21; Lk. 7:34; Jn. 1:51) 

Jesus is something greater than the Prophet Ezekiel who is constantly identified by the Lord God as “son of man.” The High Priest Caiphas demands that Jesus identify Himself to the Sanhedrin, “Are You the Christ, the Son
Event that occurred 66 A.D. recorded by Jewish historians.
A heavenly army was seen coming against Jerusalem
at the beginning of the siege by Rome that would end
in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
of the Blessed One?”
Jesus replies, “I am,” adding, “and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” At this, the high priest tore his clothes and declared, “Why do we need any more witnesses? 

Being touched by the holy things of God imparts a blessing upon a person seeking the face of God. It should be noted all three Synoptic Gospels recount the story of the woman, who suffered with bleeding for twelve years, as being miraculously healed by simply “touching” the tassels of Jesus’ garment. The
sacred authors write, “She came up behind him and touched the edge (tassels) of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.” (Lk. 8:44, Mt.9:20)

The people of Judah bring their children to Jesus so that He might touch them; so that the children may become sanctified and prophetic like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Daniel. The people of Judah bring their children to Jesus so that He might touch them so that they would able to look upon the face of God, like the blind man in Bethsaida and be made clean like the haemorrhaging woman. The people bring their children to Jesus (the son of Man) so that they -- as earthen vessels -- may be made holy and sanctified to live as vessels upon God’s Holy Altar. 

In response to the faith of the people, Jesus blesses their children, repeating something which happened earlier in His life as an infant when He Himself was touched by created man. 

Luke writes in the Gospel, “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him (Jesus as an infant) to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” (Lk. 2:12)  They are immediately met by the holy man Simeon, who is identified as righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel and the Holy Spirit leads him to Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus into the temple. Simeon takes the infant (brephē) Jesus into his arms and
praises God.  Some thirty years later, things are turned around. Jesus as the Messiah is greater than the righteous Simeon because in Jesus is the fullness of consolation. Luke by identifying the word infant (brephē) reverses the infancy narrative. This time people are coming down from Jerusalem and presenting their children and infants (brephē) to Jesus Christ (of Nazareth). Like with Simeon, the Holy Spirit now draws people with their infants to Jesus who takes the infants into His arms. Jesus who was identified by Simeon as being the cause of men rising and falling in Israel — seeing the movement of the Holy Spirit — now touches the infants so they may rise and not fall; He has become a father to the children of Judah. One of Jesus’ prophetic names is Everlasting Father. He is the Father of All Nations. 

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And
Everlasting Father 
 he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) In the Old Testament, the father of the family blessed his children, giving especially his firstborn son the blessing of inheritance. In Christ Jesus, everyone becomes an adopted first-born child of the Father. Jesus identifies his disciples as “children” in the Gospel of John. (Jn 21:5) The placement of hands by the patriarchs upon their children was an outward sign of paternal authority and the bestowing of earthly blessings. Jesus placing his hands upon the children and infants was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah which identified the Messiah as the Everlasting Father, "As for me, this is my covenant with them," says the LORD. "My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants--from this time on and forever," says the LORD.” (Is. 59:21) It is Jesus who gives to every generation the promise, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (Jn 14:3) Jesus blessing the children in the land of Judah points to Psalm 147 which states, “O praise the Lord Jerusalem! Sion praise your God! He has strengthened the bars of your gates, He has blessed the children within you...” Jesus’ touch is sacramental. We partake in the things of God by touch. 

When the apostles saw the people bring the children to be touched by Jesus, they attempted to mitigate the situation. Jesus was not pleased with their behavior and said, “Let the little ones come to me; the Kingdom of God was made for such little ones.” Jesus told Nicodemus that a man could not enter the Kingdom of God unless he was born from above. Jesus by His words and
deeds enables the Church to understand that the gift of the Holy Spirit as received in Baptism belongs to believers and their children and infants.

Jesus command his apostles, to “Baptize all nations...” and on Pentecost, Peter tells the people that the gift of the Holy Spirit is for them and their children,“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise belongs to you and to your children and to all who are far off, to all whom the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:39) Each child baptized by the Church fulfills the prophecy about the name of Jesus, “Father of the world to come.” 

Moses commands the people of Israel to “Love the LORD your God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their strength.” 

Man’s knowledge of God begins with the senses and in the fullness of time God became flesh to so that all God’s children might be touched by Him.

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