A couple years ago, we probably wouldn't have thought much about the significance of Jesus touching people in the Bible. After all, we were touching each other all the time, so why wouldn't he?
Yet while living through a global pandemic, we think about it more often.
During the time of Jesus, touching other people had different consequences than it does now. When we understand what the implications were for touching, we can gain some insights into the Atonement of Jesus particularly the stories of 1) the woman with the issue of blood, 2) the widow of Nain, and 3) the sinful woman.
TOUCHING BLOOD AND SEED
When a woman was menstruating, she was considered unclean. This meant that she was not to be touched from the beginning of her period for seven days. No one was to touch the bed she slept in or where she sat. Additionally, she was considered unclean after giving birth.
To avoid breaking this law, the Pharisees had a tradition of men not touching women they were not related to. In fact, some Orthodox Jews practice this law even today.
Blood is the life-giving bodily fluid that comes from a woman. For the man it is semen, also known as seed. It too had laws explaining how seed can make one impure and thus requiring cleansing.
For more information on this law, click here.
TOUCHING DEAD BODIES
Another law, which is found in the book of Numbers, concerns touching dead bodies. Doing so made you ceremonially unclean and in need of a complicated cleansing ritual. Priests did not touch the dead at all or even attend funerals. Doing so prohibited them from being able to serve in the temple unless they went through a 7-day cleansing process. Temple service in Jerusalem was done on rotation, with priests getting an opportunity maybe once a year for just a couple of weeks. You can see why they wouldn't want to risk missing that chance.
#1 THE WOMAN WITH THE ISSUE OF BLOOD - THE ATONING POWER OF HEALING
When Jesus was in Capernaum, Jairus asked him to heal his daughter who was very sick. He was a ruler in a synagogue; therefore, one can imagine how humbling it must have been for Jairus to ask this of an itinerant rabbi. A large crowd forms around Jesus as he makes his way to Jairus' home where his daughter is dying.
On the way, a woman who has had an issue of blood for 12 years, reaches out and touches Jesus. Some translations of the Bible say she touched the hem or fringe of the garment. If this is the case, it most likely would have been his tallit.
While we don't know exactly what the woman was thinking or even if she actually did this, I think the symbolism of this act is really beautiful. On the fringe of the tallit are 613 knots known as tzitzit.
For those who like to study Hebrew numerology, you'll love learning about how these knots are formed. But for this story, I'll just mention that 613 is the traditional belief of the number of commandments in the Torah. So in a way, she's was reaching for the Law or the covenants that God made with Israel. But the Law is not what was going to save her, it was Christ. This faithful, suffering woman knew that. She knew that with just one touch, she would be healed.
And she was.
For 12 long years, this woman had been a social outcast. She could not go to the Court of the Women at the temple. She could not be touched; she could not serve. How many nights had she spent pleading with God to heal her and make her whole? How often did she try to obey the Law perfectly in hopes that it would somehow save her?
Like this woman, we too cannot "obey" our way into heaven. We are given commandments to teach us how to draw closer to Christ, not to negate the need for him. I love how this story shows us the power that Christ has to heal us making it possible for us to keep God's commandments.
#2 THE WIDOW OF NAIN - THE ATONING POWER OF DELIVERANCE
When we read the story of the widow of Nain who lost her son, I think we easily forget a major character in the story, the town Nain. The significance of this town really is in its location.
As you can see, it's far off the beaten path of a well-traveled road from Galilee to Jerusalem. It's a tiny village nestled under Mount Moreh with just a few hundred people. This widow, who has already lost her husband, has now lost her only son. While this would be emotionally devastating, it would have far greater consequences for her life.
Loss of Status - For someone to lose both her husband and son, this quite possibly would make her perceived to be punished by God. What has this woman done that would make God curse her not once but twice?
Loss of Property - Traditionally, women didn't own property, their husbands and sons did. To lose both, meant that she now would most likely be homeless.
Loss of Income - Without property and as a widow, she has no source of income. Traditionally, widows in this situation were left to beg on the streets and rely upon the mercy of others. In such a tiny town of Nain, they might not have the means to support her even if they wanted to.
Another interesting fact about Nain, is its location in relation to Capernaum. Why would this matter? Because we read in the scriptures that Christ was in Capernaum the day before. This means to get to Nain (a 30-mile journey) he most likely would have had to leave Capernaum early in the morning, if not during the night.
Imagine this widow's situation. Her son has died that very day. (Traditionally Jews buried their dead the same day they died.) She is now facing incredible loss, beyond that of just her son. They are carrying her son's corpse on a bed to take him outside the village to be buried. Truly this is her darkest hour. And up walks Jesus Christ.
He has come to her in her darkest hour. What he does next surely would have shocked all those who witnessed it. He touches the bed the dead man is laying on. He commands the son to arise, and the son is risen from the dead. I think my favorite verse in this story is Luke 7:15
"And he delivered him to his mother."
And Christ did so much more than deliver her son to the widow. His deliverance has truly set her free from the cares and worries she was facing. He came to her in her darkest hour and rescued her. And just like the widow of Nain, he will leave the beaten path to come find us when we need him most. We can all be delivered in our darkest hour.
#3 THE SINFUL WOMAN - THE ATONING POWER OF FORGIVENESS
I'll be honest, it really bothers me that this woman is known as the sinful woman.
For two reasons. 1. Aren't we all sinful? 2. The only person who calls her sinful is Simon the Pharisee, the one who Jesus chastises. So yeah, it bugs me that we call her the same thing as what the "bad guy" in this story calls her.
Anyway... back to the story.
While Jesus is dining with Simon the Pharisee. You know what? I'm going to call him Simon the Sinful Pharisee to make me feel better.
While Jesus is dining with Simon the Sinful Pharisee, a woman comes in and begins to wash Jesus' feet and anoint them with oil.
Now in today's world, this would be a really strange thing to do. However, back then washing a guest's feet wouldn't have been. The roads were dusty, and washing feet was a sign of hospitality. But here's what would have been strange. Jesus didn't mind this woman touching his feet. Because, according to Simon the Sinful Pharisee, the woman is a sinner. In my mind, I think he's accusing her of sexual sin, which means she might have some seed on her making her unclean and unworthy to be touched.
Jesus not only doesn't agree with Simon, but he also turns the tables and points out where Simon is sinful. He teaches with a beautiful parable that when we owe much, we love much. I have an entire blog post dedicated to this woman, so I won't say too much more here about her.
But I will say this. There is no sin that keeps us from being able to repent. No matter who we are, what are background, or what our story, all can kneel at the feet of Jesus and feel his love and forgiveness. That woman knew that, and we can know that too.
In the near future, we will all be able to freely touch each other again. We'll be able to offer handshakes, high fives, and hugs.
Hopefully, we will appreciate it more. But even more so, I hope we can all appreciate the gift and power of Jesus Christ's touch.
This is adapted from a presentation given at a Relief Society event on May 11, 2021.
If you'd like to learn more about these three stories, here are some videos to watch.
Not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.