This sounds very much like the reasoning behind the credit unionmovement in America, in which workers in a particular trade, oremployees of a particular company pool their savings, so that low interestloans are available to everyone. In order for the idea to work, it requires agroup identity among the people involved. And it requires a degree oftrust. The feeling of identity clearly exists among, say teachers, orelectrical workers. The trick for us Christians is to extend Paul's idea toembrace people on another continent who are hungry, or people whom wewill never meet who are suffering from some disease for which a cure issought.
One problem is that the "payback" is likely to be less tangible. Thenext time there is a financial crisis in the U.S., we are unlikely to receivedisaster relief from Burundi or Eritrea. But we will all benefit from living ina world in which human beings have compassion for one another.
A bigger obstacle is the decay of the sense of fellow feeling in ourculture. For a variety of reasons, we tend these days to regard otherpeople not as "one of us," but rather as threats to our security andcomfort. We are afflicted by an increasing sense of isolation. Our parentsand grandparents might have spent their evenings in a village pub, or atthe local cinema. People today are more likely to drink alone in theirrooms while binging on Netflix. Most households used to be made up ofseveral people of two or three generations. Now, in the United States,twenty-seven percent of households consist of one person.
It is in this context that we have to try to make St. Paul's wordslive. The woman in our gospel is healed because Jesus, despite thetaboos of his time, allowed her to touch him. We need to allow people inneed to touch us -- to allow ourselves to be touched by their want. Thismight mean putting an arm around the shoulders of an elderly neighborwho may literally have been untouched by another human being for years.It might mean allowing ourselves to be touched by the hunger of a child athousand miles away. When we cooperate with the forces that isolate usfrom one another, we diminish ourselves and the world. When we reachout to one another there's a chance that we will be Christ's hands in theworld, so that he can heal the world, through us.
Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called "Fractio Verbi."