The psychiatrist Smiley Blanton is widely quoted for having attributed a number of human problems to the simple failure of people when it comes to making contact with other people.
According to his conviction, 9 out of 10 people who wish to see a psychiatrist don’t need to; what they need more is to be in touch with somebody who will love them with God’s love (!), and take time with them in direct contact, and they would get well.
In fact, what this specialist is saying is something that we experience in our relationship with people that we trust. We feel this daily as we shake hands with our close friends, and through the gentle, direct and genuine hugging which is part of our traditional way of greeting.
We already know very well and from our own experience that these genuine bodily contacts are healing, but in addition, they do express love and acceptance of the other person in ways that words cannot.
There is a strong power of touching which is a two-way traffic; since it affects both the person touched and the person doing the touching.
If we take care to observe, we find that all of nature is a witness to the power of human contact or of a simple touch. It is amazing to note that in fact if the plant world is not kept in touch with mother earth, no life can exist.
And this kind of lack of touch would be catastrophic to any kind of existence on earth! Jesus acknowledged this power of touch. In most of his miracles he used to extend his hand and touched those who were not feeling well and in need of cure.
For him there is a necessity for constant contact in the Christian life. In John 15:4-5 he said, “Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bare fruit of itself except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.
However, the contact that Jesus meant is far from the artificial or superficial contact, the kind that we get when we are in a crowd. It is rather a personal and intentional touch as he teaches us in Mk 5: 21- 43.
As he was hurrying up through the crowd to go and heal the little daughter of one of the synagogue official, a woman who had suffered for twelve years from a painful and humiliating disease of bleeding, secretly managed to touch on the clothes of Jesus without attracting the crowd. She believed that it was enough for her to get healed.
Without the crowd knowing it, she was healed immediately and the bleeding which had persisted for more than a decade stopped at once. But that was not all. Jesus felt his power attracted by a single genuine touch different from all he was getting from the crowd, and he turned around asking his disciples who had touched on his clothes.
The disciples did not understand what he meant because sandwiched in such a crowd, every body had access to everybody else! And so they answered him but with a surprise: “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mk 5:30-31).
They were seeing things differently, for Jesus there were two kinds of touching happening to him: the touch of the crowd which was empty and fruitless and the specific touch of the sick woman which had produced the miracle. The disciples would not get it.
For them unlike Jesus there was no difference between the many touches from the crowd and the one touch from the woman which was capable of releasing the power of Jesus due to the kind of faith that its subject had.
Here Jesus teaches us a great and life long lesson, which has been in fact repeated by the above psychiatrist in different words: a number of our problems and sufferings can be dealt with by the right human touch.
There are times we might opt for a physical remedy where a simple touch from a friend would suffice. Perhaps the next time you will feel like visiting a psychiatrist, first try a hand shake with your closest friend and see whether the pain persists.
If it does, check whether you have applied a crowd touch and do it again! If it continues; perhaps you have not found the right friend? As far as the right friend is concerned, know then that Jesus cannot fail you. He is never distant and he is ready for you and me.
Like the bleeding woman we all suffer from something. For the time being let us call it “imaginatio hermogie” as each one continues to identify his or her particular disease. Since you have identified your illness, if Jesus were passing in the crowd of which you are a part, how would you touch him for a cure?
Would you touch him with curiosity or with a faith that you were going to be transformed and made whole? Well, actually Jesus is here today and you have a chance to touch not just his clothes but his very body.
This is what we are privileged to do in the Eucharist as Christians. Let us put all our heart and soul into it especially as we say the prayer before receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
Then we touch him with faith.