The Hem of His Garment

It was an incidental miracle, really. Surrounded by sinners

and Pharisees, he was telling them all that new wine needed

new wineskins when Jairus, the Chief of the Synagogue at

Capharnaum, burst into the inner circle to throw himself at

the Master’s feet.

His daughter was dead: or she was dying – the confusion was

due to the agitation of a man who was no longer the Chief of

a Synagogue, but a father gray with anguish over the fate

of his only child. His dread was matched only by

his conviction that if the Master would but touch his

daughter, then “she shall live.” Jairus waited while an

intent stare from the Master plumbed his depths and seemed

to pierce his very heart – a heart that then leapt with the

rest of his body when Jesus rose to follow Jairus home.

The crowd parted briefly, then closed and surged after the

two men. The Master’s disciples were accustomed to the

wearying and sometimes dangerous job of what today is called

“crowd control.” Circling Jesus, they struggled to defend

their Master from the Pharisees, who, left to their own

reactions, were by turn scoffing, insinuating, and just

plain perplexed; from the curious, who enjoyed the Master’s

oratory and the spectacle of his miracles, but had no

intention of applying his teachings; and from the lame, the

sick, and the dying, who, half-mad from a volatile mix of

desperation and faith, accepted blows, shoves, and insults –

anything, if only to be near enough to just to catch his eye,

or to touch him. It was from these ranks that the

“incidental miracle” occurred.

A woman in disgrace watched Jesus and Jairus depart. She

should not have been there at all because of her internal

hemhorrhaging, which according to the law made her unclean.

In fact, any woman who suffered from “issue of blood” was

thought to be of wicked character, and fair game for scorn

and ostracism. To escape her fate she had sought many

remedies to her condition. Some, from the Talmud,

recommended putting “the ashes of an ostrich egg in a

poultice on the chest,” and the carrying of “a grain of

barley embedded in the droppings of a white she-mule.”

What’s more, she “had suffered many things from physicians,”

according to St. Mark, but “was nothing the better, but

rather worse.”

Upon hearing that Jesus was healing the sick at Capharnaum

she may have had the weary thought, “At least he is free.”

Yet she came. In spite of her initial reservations, and the

fact that twelve years of failed hopes had rendered her

immune to enthusiasms of the crowd around the Master, by the

time Jesus rose to leave she was convinced he could heal

her, for her thought is known: “If I shall only touch his

garment, I shall be healed.”

The garment he wore over his tunic was a common cloak held

together by a sash. Mosaic Law prescribed that blue tassels

be attached to the four seams, or hems, of a Jew’s cloak, as

a reminder that they were a Chosen People. But now the cloak

was leaving, along with the man who wore it, and a “great

multitude” who “thronged him,” says St. Mark. How she got

through the crowd is anyone’s guess. She ended up behind

him, and perhaps a desperate lunge allowed her fingers to

brush the tassels of his cloak. Or maybe she “touched the

hem of his garment” (St. Luke) after crawling through the

crowd on her hands and knees. But touch his garment she did,

and immediately “the fountain of her blood was dried up,”

(St. Mark), and “she felt in her body that she was healed of

the evil.”

Her “theft” of grace was not ignored. Jesus turned at once

and asked: “Who is it that touched me?” His harried

disciples, shoved, cursed at, and buffeted for his sake, may

be forgiven their exasperated response: “Master, the

multitudes throng and press thee, and dost thou say: Who

touched me?” But Jesus wasn’t joking: “Somebody hath touched

me,” he repeated, “for I know that virtue is gone out from

me.” He wasn’t talking to his disciples. His words reached

past them to the woman who for a dozen years had been on the

wrong end of the Mosaic law, who only seconds ago had been a

disgrace, but who now stood, or knelt, in the stunned

disbelief that even heroic faith does not preclude. She was

cured, but the Master wasn’t through with her yet.

It probably hadn’t occurred to her what to do if she really

was healed by touching his garment. Now she felt his eyes on

her. Looking up she was pinned, like a butterfly to a board,

by the same intent stare that had pierced Jairus. “Seeing

that she was not hid,” St. Luke writes, she “came trembling,

and fell down before his feet, and declared, before all the

people, for what cause she had touched him, and how she was

immediately healed.” Her secret was out, her “theft” now

public. And Jesus said to her, “Daughter, thy faith hath

healed thee: go in peace.” He wanted her to know – You have

not robbed me.

Her healing was an “incidental miracle” on the way to the

“real” miracle that occurred a short time later, when Jesus

brought Jairus’ only daughter back from the dead. The woman

of the first miracle returned to her homeland, where

tradition says she had made a statue of bronze showing her

prostrate at the feet of the Master. A flowering shrub grew

next to the statue, and when a stem grew to touch the bronze

mantle of the statue, the shrub itself was said to have

developed healing powers.

Those who smile at legends are reminded that the miraculous

shrub is not that much more unusual than Christ’s miraculous

clothing in his incidental miracle at Capharnaum. Nor was

this a lone incident. Later, Jesus’ “raiment became white

and glittering” during his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

In death he was clothed by his burial shroud, a garment

whose hems have been touched by countless numbers in the

centuries since his resurrection, and whose linen fibers

hold miraculous secrets even the most advanced sciences are

only now beginning to discover.

Christ was no materialist, and it is unlikely he assigned

clothing anything more than a functional value. Yet at times

his garments held his divinity as surely as a consecrated

Host. Only the Creator of the universe could effect such

changes in matter, and only a loving God could reward a poor

sinner’s faith – and humility – by making reality match the

idea he planted in her heart.

What can one say about such a Man? Only this: that his very

footsteps are holy and blessed; that we are still unworthy

to touch even the frayed hem of his dusty, travel-worn

garments; and that even in our disgrace and frailty he will

reward our faith in his divinity with as many incidental

miracles as we can stand, and answer our thefts of grace by

seeking us out, staring us down, and, hope of all hopes,

embracing us to himself saying, Thy faith has saved thee –

come and enter my Kingdom.

Notes

See Matthew 9: 15-26; Mark 5; 22-43; and Luke 8: 41-56, and

9: 29. Also, Abbe Constant Fouard, The Christ, The Son Of

God, Longmans, Green, And Co., 1895, Volume I, pp. 317-322;

Daniel-Rops, Jesus And His Times, Revised Catholic Edition,

E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1956, pp. 182, 224, 229; and Anne

Catharina Emmerick, Life of Christ, Vol. 3, pp. 65-67,

pp. 254-257.

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