today's other readings are Hebrews 7 and Psalm 110
There are many ways of trying to describe believing, of making a decision or action of faith. One of the best explanations I heard came from a personal trainer I was working with 15 years ago at a gym. He quickly learned that I was a priest, and it turned out that he was a strong evangelical Christian. So there were more than a few discussions of faith while he worked with me. One thing I constantly heard from him was an insistence on the importance of stretching every day - even if one wasn't doing a workout, one should still at least stretch for 15 minutes.
When I asked him his rationale on the need for stretching, he then added another interesting point. He said to me, "Father, stretching isn't just something we doing for our physical being, but stretching is something that we do when we believe." As an example, he spoke of story we find in today's gospel, when Jesus urges the man to stretch out his hand to Him - in stretching his hand out to Jesus, the man is asked to perform an act of faith by believing in the power of Jesus. Seeing his faith, Jesus heals him.
Pat Marrin in today's NCR commentary further explains this: The crowds were constantly reaching out to touch Jesus when he passed by. When He encountered a leper, Jesus stretched out His hand to touch him, crossing a line that defined the leper as untouchable. Jesus stretched social protocols and moral limits by eating with public sinners.
There is an element of stretching in every miracle. Faith requires us to extend our trust beyond the safe limits of logic and social comfort, to expect something extraordinary.
Jesus praises those who initiate the encounters; they take the first step to reach out to him. The blind man on the side of the road lifts his voice and cries out. He keeps calling even when the crowd reproaches him. Zacchaeus climbs a tree just to see Jesus, hoping to catch his eye. The fishermen risk their predictable futures by following Jesus as disciples. His parables challenge our safe worlds of comfort and familiarity. New wine stretches the wineskins. We are invited to walk an extra mile, to take the next step, to expand our safe zones.
My dear reader, my old personal trainer was right - as people of faith, we need to keep stretching - and not just our bodies, but our faith as well.