August 13, 2019
The Hem of His Garment
Much on my mind in recent weeks: The gospel story of the woman who just knew she would be healed if only she could touch the hem of Jesus’ garment (Matt. 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-30; Luke 8:43-38). The story is poignant in so many ways. Here is a woman who has suffered with a humiliating condition for twelve years. She is considered unclean by her own people, even though her illness is not of her own making. She is humble, not presumptuous; she doesn’t stand up and confront Jesus with her request for healing, but rather, in her simple faith (the best kind of faith!), she knows she only needs to get close enough to touch the hem of his garment (or in some translations, the tassel of his cloak).
And then, just like that! Busted! The gospels of Mark and Luke both tell of Jesus’ sense that his power has been called upon, and he in turn calls the woman out. She’s horrified! Exposed, in front of all the people who considered her unclean!
But why is she exposed this way? Jesus does so, I think, for two reasons: to reward her simple faith and to remind both his followers and his critics of who he is and how things work in his kingdom. Jesus saves through faith, and he rejects human standards in favor of the standards of divine love, mercy, and compassion.
The more I reflect on this gospel story, the more ways I found it applicable to the way we live out our response to Jesus’ call to follow him.
And over time, I began to think that this story tells us something rather astonishing about our calling. I began to think that we might think of our calling as a way of being the hem of his garment – as being the way that Jesus can readily convey his healing, mercy, love, and compassion to the world around us.
Being the hem of Jesus’ garment is to be at the place where our personal relationship with Jesus gives life to our work of finding, serving, and consoling him in others.
As this idea began to take shape in my mind and through prayer, I began to think about the qualities of the hem of a garment – especially the hem of a long garment such as Jesus would have worn in his itinerant ministry – and how those qualities translate into our life of faith and to our calling.
The hem of a garment is carefully crafted; it is designed and made to fulfill its specific purpose. It gives shape to the garment, finishing what otherwise would be a rough edge prone to ravel and tatter with even normal use. By doubling and tripling its folds, the hem gives strength and form to the rest of the garment, allowing the garment to fulfill its own purpose. The hem, as the very lowest part of the garment, brushes the ground – but in doing so, it fulfills its purpose and is neither afraid of nor repelled by what it touches.
The hem of a garment is exactly what it needs to be and is nothing that it does not need to be. It is both a utility and a finishing touch. Sometimes, it is decorated, and the decoration may get it noticed – but that isn’t the real point of its existence.
When the hem tears or ravels, it can distract from the integrity of the whole garment and thus will need attention and repair.
The hem of a garment is closest to the ground and thus the most accessible part of the garment to those who are also smaller in stature. And the hem of a garment may be lifted in order to avoid obstacles or to prevent it from being soiled.
When I thought this way about the qualities and purposes of the hem of a garment, I began to see more and more how it is both possible and perhaps even essential for us to see ourselves as the hem of Jesus’ garment.
We are, after all, carefully crafted – knit in our mother’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139). We are each of us God’s very intentional creation, loved into being by our heavenly father with a specific purpose for our existence. Each of us, in the way we live to that purpose, gives shape to the whole of the garment. Certainly, having been born into original sin, we are a “rough edge” that God finishes with stitches placed by his own hand – grace, the Sacraments, sanctification, all coming through the redemption bought with Jesus’ own precious blood. He finishes us with stitches made of trials and suffering as well, and those stitches are set more firmly in place when we trust him fully and accept all in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. Those stitches are placed to protect us from our tendency to ravel and tatter, and to protect the strength we are given as God continues to craft us.
We find ourselves, through God’s crafting, to be essential to the form and strength of the rest of the garment. If we ravel or tatter, it risks damage to the integrity of the whole garment, and it requires attention and repair. Our Triune God is always ready, and we must turn to him in those times rather than letting the damage grow.
We, like the hem of the garment, are at our best when we are exactly what God calls us to be and nothing that he does not call us to be. Scripture tells us, in the book of Genesis, that the creation of humans was the crowning glory of God’s work; we continue as such when we let grace make us what God calls us to be.
We, like the hem of a garment, may have our “decorations” – skills, talents, other qualities that seem to make us stand out from others. These may get us noticed by others – but as we understand ourselves to be the hem of his garment, we see that the decoration is merely another way to serve him. If we get too wrapped up in the decoration itself, or in the attention it may bring, or if we start to think the decoration is our own, it will get in the way of our calling. The decorations aren’t the point of having a hem!
We, like the hem of a garment, should find ourselves “closest to the ground” – that is, in our right and proper place, the place God wants us and calls us to be. Only when we are there can we fully perform the exact function we are called to perform.
In fact, we, like the hem of a garment, will brush the ground constantly. In our human pride, we may consider that a thing to be avoided, may be repelled by what that brings – and thus we may miss fulfilling our purpose, the purpose God has for us. We must understand that we, as the hem of the garment, must be closest to the ground in order to be accessible to God’s littlest ones, the ones he calls us and needs us to serve. And rather than trying not lift ourselves above it all – thus possibly missing out altogether on the fulfillment of our purpose – we must let God decide when or if we need to be lifted, like the hem of a garment, to avoid an obstacle or a mess.
For if we, like the hem of a garment, sometimes get dragged into a mess and become soiled, we have a Father who continually creates us, his Son who continually redeems us, and their Holy Spirit who continually sanctifies us. The grace that this Trinity offers, through Word and Sacrament, is always all we need to cleanse us and put us back right to continue to live our our calling.
Then, understanding how wonderful it is to be the hem of his garment, we can be what others know, in faith, that they can touch as a way of finding a channel of grace. Then, as Jesus knows that his power goes out to his beloved little ones through us, through the hem of his garment, he can say again and again, “Your faith has saved you.”
Dear Jesus, let me be content to live as the hem of your garment – all that I need to be and nothing that I don’t need to be. Precious Lord, use me, as the hem of your garment, to send your healing power and love and light and mercy into the world. Let me live joyfully in that place where I am most accessible to those you call me to serve. Grant me the grace to see my purpose and fulfill it, to use my “decorations” for your honor and glory, and to live in true understanding and fulfillment of the calling to which you have drawn me. Lift me, Lord, above the obstacles and snags and filth, and cleanse me of them if I fall. And gather me, please gather me, with your loving hands at day’s end and refresh me to live my purpose and your will anew each day. Through the intercession of your blessed Mother, let my life be a life of service, and let me always see my way to serve your people as the hem of your garment. Amen.
Comments on: "The Hem of His Garment" (1)
I love the image of being the hem of Jesus’ robe, and came across this wonderful sermon titled, “When The Hem of His Garment Seems Out of Reach”.
Click to access Sermon20120722.pdf
It concludes with the beautifully written sentence, “That is our task in the face of tragedy, in the midst of a broken and sinful world – to be the hem of Jesus’ robe that people might know in us, in word and deed, the love and the healing that can only come through Him.” I am tempted to post a simple reminder for myself, perhaps on my coffee pot where I will see it every morning, with just the three simple words:
“Be the hem”.