The image that I’ve used in this weekend’s e-Church is one that I’ve found myself returning to over and over again since the first lockdown. It is an ancient and simple wall painting of a woman kneeling and reaching out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. It depicts the scene described in the gospel reading for this morning, the story of a woman healed of an illness of many years’ duration.
The painting is in the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, so named because of a legend that it was the final resting place of two Christian martyrs of those names.
What keeps drawing me back to this image? It is certainly beautiful. For me at least it is also an aid to prayer. I find a simple sung chant from the Iona Community springs to mind when I contemplate it: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, lover of all, trail wide the hem of your garment. Bring healing, bring peace.’
All of that, yes, but also this – she reaches for his cloak; he offers her his hand. They say that every picture tells a story, and if that’s so then this picture tells that story. She reaches for his cloak; he offers her his hand.
This is more than the Bible tells us, it must be said, an artist’s licence, an interpretation beyond the strict letter of the gospel. Never mind. Every visual depiction of a Bible story is an interpretation. In a sense, even the Bible story itself is an interpretation of the events it describes. What matters is whether the interpretation bears faithful witness to Jesus Christ.
And I think this image does that. Like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son(s), like the actions of God towards the people of Nineveh in the book of Jonah (also extensively illustrated in those same Catacombs), Jesus gives us ‘infinitely more than we can ask or imagine’. We come with our needs, our prayers, our slender hope that if we can just get near enough something might happen. We touch his cloak; he offers us his hand.
I wonder also if the artist has given us a very gentle reminder that not everybody is given the miracle that they ask for. The woman with the issue of blood was healed of her illness and I would be the last to suggest that things like that cannot be part of our own lived experience of faith. Nevertheless, not everybody is given the miracle that they ask for, but I think that everyone is given the miracle they need, the hand of Jesus offered to raise them up and lead them onward.
May God bless you all,