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Fr Brendan's Excellent Homily
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Virtue

Aha!  We have all had experiences in life, when the little light bulb appears above our head, and we really get something in a new way.  I still remember, as if it were yesterday, an experience like that in eighth grade, encountering a word from today’s Gospel reading.

The Gospel reading for St Sergius of Radonezh begins immediately after Jesus calls His twelve disciples.  A huge crowd of people from near and far have come to listen to Jesus, and to be healed.  St Luke’s Gospel tells us “the whole multitude sought to touch Him: For there went virtue out of Him, and healed them all.” (Lk 6:19)

This was not just an isolated occurrence, but a constant in Christ’s earthly ministry.  In fact, St Luke mentions it again, a few chapters later.  Jesus is walking to the home of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, to heal his only daughter, who is lying on her death bed.

On His way there, seemingly in a tangent to what He was doing, He crosses paths with a woman with an issue of blood.  She had suffered for twelve years, and spent her entire life savings on doctors who were unable to help her.  But she had unwavering faith that Jesus could heal her.

By Jewish law she was considered ritually unclean, and forbidden to leave home, much less to mix among people in public, so she kept a low profile.  She didn’t even ask Jesus to heal her.  Instead, she sneaked up behind Him, touched the hem of His garment, and “was healed immediately.”

What happened next, to her surprise?  Jesus asked “Who touched Me?”  So much for low profile!  Peter and the disciples were flummoxed.  In the midst of a crowd, with people moving about, bumping and pushing each other, He asked “Who touched Me?”!  Jesus explained: “Someone hath touched Me, for I perceive that virtue is gone out of Me.”

By now you have figured out that virtue is the word from my “aha! experience.”

To me, as an eighth grade boy, the word virtue seemed like something from a Victorian novel, somehow combining “thou shalt not’s” with Miss Manners!  All of these are good things in their place, just not too engaging or compelling to an eighth grade boy.

Then one day in Latin class, we encountered the word vir / virtutis, with the definitions “virtue, power, manliness.”  I was amazed to “get it” that our words virtue and virility both came from this word.  With the help of the little light bulb, I could picture the virtue / power / authority flowing from Our Lord to heal the afflicted!

My perception of virtue (both the word and the quality itself) had been transformed from something static and passive into something dynamic.  Speaking of dynamic, the same word in the original Greek Gospel is δύναμις.  We get our words dynamic and dynamite from it.

In the Greek rubrics for Liturgy, at the end of the Trisagion, the Deacon boldly proclaims / exhorts: “Dinamis!  With power!” and the choir repeats “Holy God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, have mercy on us!”

Strong’s Concordance gives us a wealth of meanings: miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself); ability, meaning, might, mighty deed, power, strength, violence, mighty / wonderful work; from the verb “to be able.” (1411 in the Greek Dictionary of Strong’s Concordance)

Why did Our Lord ask “Who touched Me?”  He knows everything!  He certainly knew of the woman and her healing.  He was really asking not just “Whose hand touched My clothing?” but “Who reached out and touched Me in faith?”  He wanted Jairus, and the disciples, and all of us here now to know the witness of her faith!  It is this woman’s faith that opened the door for the virtue / power / authority of Jesus Christ to flow out of Him to heal her.

Blessed Theophylact points out that Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the source of this miraculous power.  The prophets and saints did not have “power that went out of them.”  Rather, through their faith in Him, the virtue / spiritual power / spiritual authority of Jesus Christ filled, informed, and empowered their mission, their service to others.

Today, as we are serving others [at the parish’s annual food festival], each in our own unique way, may we be mindful to reach out in faith, to touch the hem of Our Lord’s garment, and receive the virtue / power / spiritual authority which comes only from Him.

September 25, 2016  PDn Brendan Doss

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