And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. (Matthew 14:34-36)
Somewhat anti-climatic after the whole walking on the water scene, huh? After the highs and lows of the night before, filled with rowing against a storm all night, seeing Jesus walk on water, seeing Peter walk on water and then almost drown before being saved by Jesus, and then Jesus immediately and suddenly calming the storm just by stepping foot on the boat, Jesus and the disciples jump right back into ministry. It’s almost a let down narratively. Still, two things jump out at me:
1. The disciples (who experienced the storm) have a more complete understanding of Jesus than the crowds (who experienced only the healing).
After their night in the storm concluded, the disciples worshiped Jesus, “saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'” (Mt 14:33) Their ordeal had led them to a greater understanding of who Jesus is than they had previously. We can’t know this for sure, but Matthew doesn’t record anyone in the crowd coming to a similar conclusion. Sometimes God reveals himself more fully during the low points in our lives than in the high points. Sometimes we will come to know him more when he delays rescue/healing or when he denies rescue/healing than we would have if he immediately rescued/healed us.
2. Even a brief, small encounter with Jesus has amazing results.
The crowds around Jesus were such that he couldn’t have a personal interaction with everyone. My family has had season tickets to the New York Giants since the 1950s, and when I was a kid, we would stand outside the players entrance after the games and wait for the Giants to exit the stadium so we could ask for autographs. Sometimes there were so many people there (especially for the stars of the team) that just a small percentage of the crowd was going to get an autograph, a picture, or a snippet of conversation. What’s going on here was like that, just multiplied several times. Only a small percentage of the crowd was going to get close enough to Jesus to talk to him or ask him for healing. The rest of the crowd was just trying to get close enough to touch the fringe of his garment. “And as many as touched it were made well.”
It’s easy to get discouraged in the Christian life. We see people who seem to have greater gifts than us, who are able to delve deeper into God’s Word than us, who experience more of an emotional/spiritual high during worship than us, and it’s easy to wonder why we even bother with those things at all when we seemingly don’t experience God at the same level as others. But as we see here, any encounter with Jesus, no matter how small it may seem, has tremendous power. We may not be able to pray as long or as well as others, or dissect the grammar and syntax of the Bible in it’s original languages, or get lost in the words and music of a praise song, but any genuine attempt to encounter Jesus will be rewarded. You don’t always need to immediately jump to the face-to-face encounter. Sometimes it’s enough just to touch the fringe of his garment. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)