"Should I touch Him?"

A Reflection on Mark 5:25-34; Matthew 9:20-22; Luke 7:42b-48

William Loader

The reference to tassels draws upon Matthew's account. Wearing tassels on one's garment was a sign of devotion to the commandments (Numbers 15:37-40).

Should I touch him? The pain of stretching. Pushing my way through. Touching. Touching just his dangling tassel. No one will know. No one needs to know. No one knows. No one knows what it's like to be me. No one knows what I've been through. No one knows the shame. It's the blood. Not like the rest. Not every month or so. All the time. All the time! And you know what that means! Yes it means unclean, unclean. No big deal if its just once a month for a few days. That passes. But I'm different. I am the difference walking around; walking around bloody, unclean, unclean! I am womanhood all wrapped up into a few days and then smeared over the entire calendar. No room. No room for us at the temple. Well, at least, not on the inside. Always on the outside. The outside! That's where I am now. The outside! Why no room for me!

No I am not feeling sorry for myself. I've tried. You bet I've tried. All the best quacks of Capernaum and Tiberias and Bethsaida and Magdala and Sepphoris. Nothing! Nothing! How can I get in? There are reasons, they tell me. There are reasons! Of course there are reasons! There are always reasons! God's reasons. Go on, tell me. It is written.... Do you think I don't know? Do you think my father didn't tell me? Do you think my mother left me to grow up without knowing such things? You tell me to pray? Of course I pray. I pray! I cry! They don't hear me! I get sick of those washings. I wash and wash, but I'm never clean.

Unclean. Unclean, unclean - that's what they cry. Did you know that's what they have to cry? It is written. Unclean, unclean! I should join them: Unclean, unclean! Perhaps we should all join together, all of us, unclean. We could sing a chorus of unclean unclean. We could do it in parts: us, those lepers, and the half wits, the handicapped, the eunuchs, the queers. Just imagine we could march on Jerusalem shouting unclean, unclean. Up the hill through the city gate onto the temple steps, across the outer court, right through the women's area, into the men's special place; yes and right through to where the priests do their thing. I could see myself. I'd feel really at home; there's so much blood. Just picture me - past the altar and then I could reach out and touch the curtain and then...well, probably by then we'd all be hoarded together and turfed out or put to the sword. They wouldn't even give us a decent crucifixion!

Touch him? Touch his tassel. What if he found out? What if he knew? Is he psychic? There's something there. It makes me want to do it - go on, dare! What if he reacts like he did when that leper charged through the crowd and wanted attention? But at least he relented. Perhaps I can persuade him. Perhaps I could explain. Perhaps I could push him. Perhaps I should argue with him. What if he calls me a dog, too, like he did that Gentile mum who wanted help for her daughter? But she got through to him. She won him over. That's the trouble with these religious men. They're too bent on keeping it all within bounds, everything in its place, everything in order, nothing upsetting, maintaining the old prejudices and exclusive systems and scared to drop their guard. Look at him. Do you really think he's any different? Look at those tassels! The Word!

They whip me, those tassels. They lash out. I could show you where they cut me - right here, right in my heart! And I bleed. I bleed and I bleed and I bleed! You know what I mean. It's not just this. It's the pain of having to stay away, hang off, so religious people can be religious and religious people can have harmony or peace or whatever they like to call it - be pure, be clean, be holy, and know why they are clean and pure and holy and explain to others why they are clean and pure and holy and tell them how they can be clean and pure and holy so that they can be clean and pure and holy and know why they are clean and pure and holy and explain to others why they are clean and pure and holy - and keep God's industry going, 'cos he's there right in the middle of it all. He hides behind the curtain. It's all for him. He wants to be served. He wants everyone to do it his way, like my father used to be. Damn my father! He never understood.

Touch his tassel! Touch his tassel. Push through reach out, get in close behind and touch his tassel, just lightly, just enough; no one will see. Here I go, get out of the road, yes I've made it, got it; no I didn't pull it; just touched it. No one saw me. It was like I was reaching out for my life, like I'd touched the curtain, just enough to let God know I was there. What a tremendous relief! My body still shudders as I think about it. My faith had saved me. But it wasn't over. He got mad: 'Who touched!' I squirmed. I'd woken up God behind the curtain. Now I was in for it. Cheeky disciples didn't stand on ceremony. I quite like the way they stood up to him. It was after all a bit of a silly question when you're in the middle of a thronging crowd. They nearly saved my day. But he stood his ground and I - well, I could have melted into the sand - there was nowhere to go.

So I slinked into focus waiting for another dressing down, another flailing by the tasselled word, another whipping by the male organ, which was always there somewhere ready to ravish and thrust me to the ground. I often used to wonder as a child what God was like when he had no clothes on. What would it be like to see behind the curtain. Well, now was my chance. The hand that reached out to me had no pointed finger. It was turned upward as if it was only half for me but half feeling for the rain. But it wasn't raining. He didn't want me to kneel down. He didn't want me to run away. He didn't want to hit me or beat me. It was all so moving I couldn't really see what he was doing and I didn't really hear what he said. It didn't last very long. In fact it seemed just a moment. His hand touched mine. The crowd moved on. And I was alone with my joy, with my tears. As I turned to go home, I looked at my hand - there was a mark of blood.

I will never forget that day and the mark of the blood. I pressed it against my breast and then realised I'd made a big stain on it, the only decent tunic I had! I've still got it. I still wear it. I'm wearing it today. Do you see it, the stain? It's not as bad as it was. All the other women know. It's a sign. It's like a banner. We all belong now. We don't have to stay away or go recluse. We all get together on the night after sabbath whatever the time of month. And even the lepers hang out with us and that guy we used to call queer - and the children, and the people we used to call half wits and handicapped. There's so many of us we've been forming new groups.

We've just had a planning day. Our latest project is to draw up a constitution. It's mainly the people who went to the local school of rhetoric who are doing it. They've also got ideas about worship. They have been meeting all hours of the day in preparation. I look after the children. The others mainly stay away, because it's a bit out of their reach. One of the suggestions is that we embroider a mark of blood on the cloth we use for the table. Then I wouldn't have to keep wearing this tunic. Some of the women are very good at needlework. One of the men has crafted a shiny brass cross. We clean that, too. There's a lot to do. But I'm getting old now and I have to watch. I sometimes feel that pain again.