“Who Was it That Touched Me?”
Our last installation in our series, Questions Jesus Asks, really tries to get at the heart of the theme title—We have surveyed a number of questions from Christ; what is it that Jesus wants to know? What is it that Jesus wants us to know and understand? This morning, I want to argue that the specific question Jesus asks, the one we see in Luke 8:40-56 (“Who was it that touched me”) paints a clear portrait for us, as the reader, about the kind of faith that Jesus wants to see in us. I think this can be a bit of a point of confusion, can’t it? I mean, if you’ve grown up in the church, or have a long-time exposure to the faith, you might find yourself asking, “ok, I’ve accepted Jesus, but what do I do about it?” Or maybe we find ourselves evaluating the claims of Jesus and we ourselves hesitate fully trusting in him or committing our lives in service to him.
So as we embark on our last question, let’s turn to the Gospel of Luke and seek to uncover what is at the heart of Jesus’ question. And as we do this, let us pray that we will gain a broader understanding of what it is that Jesus desires from us, and how we might conform our lives to meeting that expectation.
“Most Excellent Theophilus”
In order to understand what Luke is attempting to do with his gospel we must take note of Luke’s very specific introduction; I invite you to just flip back to Luke chapter 1, verses 1-4, and we see that Luke has not only informed us to whom his gospel is written, but also, why it was written, take a look:
"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught" (Luke 1:1-4).
There is much speculation as to whom Theophilus was; some suggest that he was simply a Roman official (hence deserving of the title), others, a Jewish priest whom Luke was instructing in the faith, and some, perhaps most interestingly, suggest it might have been Paul’s lawyer (as we note that at the end of Acts , Paul is in prison and awaiting trial), and Luke was providing what we might call the ancient equivalent of a legal briefing. We will return to this question at the conclusion of our time, but for our purposes now, I want us to briefly observe why it is that Luke is writing, look at verse 4: “4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” So all of what follows in Luke’s account is so that Theophilus might have certainty about the things he has been taught, that he would have proof, evidence, reason, a clear idea about the truthfulness of his ideas about the messiah.
And so it is that when Luke wants to explain to Theophilus about what sort of faith he is to have in this messiah, he uses to three distinct examples to demonstrate to Theophilus the nature of what sort of faith it is that Christ requires. And Luke does this, beginning in chapter 8, verse 4. Let’s flip over there and take a look:
The Parable of the Sower
"And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 'A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.' As he said these things, he called out, 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear'" (Luke 8:4-8).
This is one of the rare occasions where Jesus takes the time to explain his parable to his somewhat confused disciples (which, we must admit, we are often in the company of!). And so we see, in verse 9, we see the disciples ask for clarification, and we as readers benefit from their inquiry, take a look:
"And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, 'To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that "seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand." Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience'" (Luke 8:9-15)
And so we see exactly what this parable is about. The disciples receive special revelation from the Son of God himself about the sort of “soil” that is necessary for the word of God to plant and successfully bear fruit. We see that the “seed” is the word of God. Now in this sense we do well to remember that Luke’s audience does not have “The Bible” as we in our modern churches do. The New Testament wouldn’t be canonized for some time. To be sure, the people have what we would call the Old Testament, but what Jesus refers to in his phrase, “the word of God” is his uniquely identified mission and message. It is the kingdom of God that Christ is proclaiming that is “the seed”. The seed is variously received, but where I want us to focus is verses 14 and 15.
"And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience" (Luke 8:14-15).
Jesus recognizes that there are pressures in life that seek to choke out the truthfulness and flourishing of the gospel. It will become especially important to pay attention to Luke’s use of the verb choked, here, as we shall see it come into play later. But notice too what it is that constitutes these thorns: the cares and riches and pleasures of life. Jesus is saying look, you can hear the gospel about the good news of the Kingdom and that can result in some life and a bit of growth. However, the myriad concerns and cares in our lives can actually extinguish that meagre seedling and prevent any living giving fruit from growing on it. And in this way, I think we can agree with what Jesus is saying for we too have felt the tendrils and thorns press into our commitment to Christ—the pain distracting us from him, or the pleasure of life’s passing joys dims our vision of the beauty of Christ. And the thing is, I think Luke knows this. I think Luke knows that we, like Theophilus, understand this tension between the cares of life and the care for Christ. And so it is, that Luke heightens his narrative by giving Theophilus a direct example of this very reality in the story of Jairus and the Woman with the Flow of Blood. So Luke wants to make Jesus’ teaching come alive, and he does this through the use of what we call an enacted parable. Let’s see what we’re talking about—jump over to Luke 8:40.
Jairus and His Daughter
Now there is a fair bit of text to deal with here, so I’m simply going to read through this story and then we’ll look at how this parable is an enactment of what Jesus was talking about in Luke 8:4:
Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened. (Luke 8:40-56)
Ok, so, a lot here to deal with, so let’s just take this one piece at a time. We have two distinct characters involved in this story, and both have their fair shares of “cares” in the world; the first one we encounter is Jairus. Notice that Luke is quick to point out two distinctive features of Jairus, the first being that he is, vv.41, that Jairus is a ruler of the synagogue. In the gospels we tend not to have too favourable accounts of the Pharisees and the ruling class, but here Luke gives us our second noticeable trait, and that is that Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, doesn’t really approach Jesus as the rulers typically did. We see Jairus “falls at Jesus’ feet” which is to say that Jairus comes acknowledging his very real need, in humility.
We learn, quickly, that Jairus seeks Jesus’ healing hand over his 12-year-old daughter who is laying at home, on the brink of death. Jesus, no doubt from his endless stream of compassion responds and departs with Jairus, at which point we meet our second character, the woman with the flow of blood. Luke’s description of the woman is telling for a number of reasons, the first being that she has suffered from here affliction exactly the same amount of time that Jairus’ daughter has been alive—12 years. Not only that we can infer a number of other things about the cares of this woman—the issues that seem to press in upon her. First there is the issue of physical suffering. To be plagued by this malady for 12 years would be a significant physiological burden on this woman, no doubt creating significant obstacles. Not only that one might think of the psychological and social burden that such an illness would create. To suffer from a constant flow of blood would make this woman perpetually “unclean” according to temple law (Lev 15:19-33), and as a result, this woman would have been cut off from the religious life of her community. Should would have, like others who were ceremonially impure, have had to alert others to her condition, ensuring she wasn’t making them unclean by proxy, even if they weren’t aware of it. Added onto the physical and social burdens, we see that there is a financial one as well, when Luke notes, in vv. 43 that she has spent all her money on physicians trying to solve the problem. And so it is that we see that both candidates who reach out to Jesus are pressed, indeed, in the case of the woman, choked by the cares of this life, and it is from these two candidates that Jesus will elicit an expression of true and genuine faith.
The Woman’s Grasp
In what seems like a moment of desperation, we see in verse 44 that the woman grasps at what seems to be her only hope of survival. The crowds are pressing in on Jesus and the crowd is moving on. Her chances for healing are getting slimmer by the second. And besides, we can’t forget who Jesus is with; Jairus! If the woman is found out, she will almost certainly be punished by the synagogue ruler, but she chances it anyways and grabs at Jesus’ robe and is healed instantly. This prompts Jesus to stop, and turn around, asking who it is that touched him. Peter, along with us, is incredulous that Jesus could even ask a question such as this. There are a lot of crowds who are following Jesus, interested in what he’s going to do next.
And if I could step out of the story for a minute, doesn’t this seem true to life? Jesus has a lot of admirers, doesn’t he? A lot of fans? A lot of folk want to suggest that Jesus—he was a pretty wise teacher, wasn’t he? Jesus? Wasn’t he the one who was gentle and compassionate to the sick? Lots a folks interested in the stories of Jesus, lots of fans, but as we can so clearly see today, not a whole lot of followers. And I think Jesus knows this too. The crowds are pressing in on Jesus and they’re distracting from his true mission—to seek and save the lost and to make disciples, not encourage followers who want to see bread and miracles. And here it is that our previous conversation about the verb choke comes into play. The word that we saw in Luke 8:14 is only used twice in Luke’s gospel. Once, obviously in 8:14, and here in 8:42, when it notes that the crowds pressed in (lit. choked) on Jesus. So what is Luke showing us? He is showing us how vibrant faith grows. Jesus has healed this woman, and he demands a response for the faith to be genuine; but the challenge here is the crowds that threaten the sapling of faith. The crowds that pronounce judgment, and that desire to keep flourishing faith at bay. Let’s take a look at what happens.
"But Jesus said, 'Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.' And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace'" (Luke 8:46-48).
Pay special attention to verse 47. Can you feel the trepidation from the woman? She has every reason to hide. All the cares of life are bearing down on her in that moment. Because notice, she is the woman with no name in this story. She is the woman who is unclean. She is the woman who is an outcast. How much easier would it have been to encounter Jesus and slink back into the crowd and save the mockery, the embarrassment, or worse, the persecution.
Do you ever feel like that? That you have experienced health and healing from Jesus Christ, but when the eyes of the crowd are on you and the stakes are just ratcheted right up there it seems easier to just fade into the crowd that is just a fan of Jesus, but won’t own up to the healing? Lots of fans, but not a lot of followers. We see that the woman manifestly does not take this route. Verse 47, “and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.” And friends, this is the kind of faith Jesus is looking for. For truly, this is the faith, according to Luke 8:15, that has landed “in the good soil” for this woman has heard the word, held it fast in an honest and good heart, and has borne fruit with patience. How much patience? 12 year’s worth.
The Response of Christ
Crucial to this exchange, and our own considerations of it, is Jesus Christ’s response. Because I think it’s worth asking, isn’t it? If this is the faith that Jesus desires to see, we have already acknowledged how costly it can be. Indeed, it has cost this woman absolutely everything to be identified in this way. And maybe we’re here this morning and we’re thinking of the same thing. That to manifest that faith that Jesus seeks is going to cost us in some very dear ways indeed.
Look then at Jesus’ response and receive your encouragement: “And he said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace'" (v. 48). Isn’t that just so beautiful? She has gone from outcast, unclean, oppressed, burden, and vaguely, woman to the designation and declaration of daughter. And here it is we see that Jesus pronounces her fully clean. Daughter you are well. And the beauty of this scene would be the pin-drop silent crowds and look who it is that is standing beside Jesus—it’s Jairus. It is as though Jesus is saying to Jairus, look, I have pronounced here clean and restored her to the family of faith. So Jesus’ pronouncement alleviates 12 years of suffering and exclusion, restoring wholeness and community to the life of the woman.
The story, however, would not be complete if we did not address the very plot that initiated the passage—the plight of Jairus daughter. We see, tragically, that Jesus’ delay has resulted in Jairus daughter “falling asleep”. "While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, 'Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more'" (v. 49). Of course, as the readers we know that all will be well, but notice what is going on here. Jesus is drawing out from Jairus the same kind of faith that was required from the woman, indeed, any that desire to follow after Christ. We even see Jesus exhort Jairus to patience, the hallmark of sincere faith, "But Jesus on hearing this answered him, 'Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well'" (v. 50). And so it is that Jesus travels to Jairus house.
I don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time here, except to note one or two things. We see that when Jesus arrives at the house, the crowds that vague and anonymous group that obscures Jesus responds negatively to Jesus’ pronouncements concerning Jairus’ daughter:
"And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, 'Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.' And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, 'Child, arise.' And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat." (vv. 52-55).
In this passage we see that Jesus is not solely concerned with restoring the outcast and the marginalized, but the mighty and lost as well. For we see a direct parallel between the woman with the flow of blood and Jairus’ daughter. Look at what happens. After the crowd tells Jesus the daughter has passed on Jesus exhorts Jairus to deep faith. Believe, Jairus, and she will be well. This is in direct opposition to the crowds. Don’t be like them, Jairus, have the kind of faith that separates you from the crowds. The kind that might be thought of as embarrassing to people who know better. Do you see that? The crowds say she is dead and Jesus looks at Jairus and he says, believe in me and see your daughter again. Well what did Jairus do? How did he respond? Did he have the kind of faith that Jesus needs? Well I think that Jesus healed the woman with the flow of blood first in order to teach Jairus about the kind of faith he needed, and indeed, Jairus does respond to Jesus’ exhortation, for we see in in verse 55 that the spirit of the girl returned, and she arose, as if from a deep sleep. Now notice what Jesus commands the crowds right after this happens in verse 55—get her something to eat. Why is this important? Well, what is it that families do that is one of the clearest expressions of who is in the family? What is a sign of radical inclusion? It is eating together. Just as Jesus restores the woman to the family of faith, Jesus restores Jairus’ daughter to her family, symbolized by the breaking of bread together.
As we seek to conclude this short series that we have embarked on, Questions Jesus Asks, we do well to meditate on the kind of faith that Jesus asks from us. And it is my prayer that in this consideration that we would come to recognize that Jesus doesn’t ask these questions for his own sake, as though he were a mere man, trying to gain information from us. But rather, as God incarnate, Jesus asks these questions so that we would come out from the crowd and identify ourselves as ones who have received the restoring touch of Christ, and are not afraid to own up to it. That we would be the disciples, the followers, who fight through the thorns of life, and cast away the cares and the pleasures for the greater glory of knowing the resurrected Christ.
That whatever our circumstances are, whether the religious elite or the downtrodden and outcast, we would return to Jesus the kind of response he desires—we must come out from the crowds that press in upon Jesus and reach out and touch him for the healing that we so desperately need. And he will heal you. He will raise you up. He will restore you to his Family. Joyfully, fully and finally.