The hem of his garment
Question or Topic
Was there something special or significant about the hem of Jesus' garment? Why did the "diseased" desire to touch his hem that they might be healed?
Answer The specific reference to this part of Jesus' clothing does elicit the question whether there was significance attributed to "the hem of his garment" by those seeking to be healed of their diseases. Of course, our minds quickly go to an earlier record of one of Christ's many miracles of healing - that of the woman with "an issue of blood" who touched the hem/ border of his garment (Matthew 9:20-21; Mark 5:25-27; Luke 8:43-44). She came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood staunched (Luke 8:44). And likewise in our subject passage, it is recorded that as many as touched (the hem of his garment) were made perfectly whole (Matthew 14:36).
Surely, the account of the woman with "an issue of blood" had become common knowledge among the people and would have been of particular interest to those who likewise were suffering with ailments of the flesh. This miracle had occurred in the same area of Galilee and word would have spread quickly, for she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately (Luke 8:47). If she was healed by merely touching the hem of the Lord's garment, might not they also?
In this context, the touching of the hem or border of his garment could have become, at least for some of the "diseased," a mere superstition: a ritual to be gone through in order to obtain the blessing of this man of God. If this was the case, the Son of Man was compassionately tolerant of those who had heard of the former healing and thought if they could do likewise, surely they would become whole. Christ did not rebuke their superstitious attitude (if that was the case), for he graciously healed them of their physical infirmities.
In the parallel account in Mark, it gives the strong impression that they came one after another beseeching him that they might touch the border of his garment for just an instant. Jesus did not forbid them as it happened time and time again. Indeed, it is evidence of the Lord's sensitivity and sympathy for all who suffer. And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole (Mark 6:56).
It could have been the mere touching of his garment, that is, coming in physical contact with the Lord Jesus that made them whole. But perhaps it was more. In the case of the woman with "an issue of blood," we know it was more. As the trembling woman lay prostrate before him, Jesus kindly spoke to her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith has made thee whole; go in peace (Luke 8:48). It was her faith that provoked her to touch the hem of Jesus' garment, but why that particular part of his clothing? Also, was the knowledge of her healing in this manner the only reason that "all that were diseased" desired to touch him there as well? On the surface, it would seem an odd practice. However, once we understand the significance of the hem of one's garment, the responses of the woman and others take on an even richer meaning.
The Greek word translated "hem" or "border" (Strong's 2899) literally refers to the fringes or tassels of a robe or outer garment. The corresponding word in Hebrew is tzitziyot and it had special meaning under the Law concerning the outer garments of Jewish men. The LORD said to Moses, Speak to the Israelites and say to them: Throughout the generations to come, you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them... and will be consecrated to your God (Numbers 15:37-40 NIV). These tassels or fringes on the bottom of their garments were to remind each Jewish man of his responsibility to fulfill God's commandments. Because they were hanging on the four corners of their robes in full view of everyone including themselves, they would be a constant reminder to walk according to God's laws. The wearing of such garments with four fringes was still being practiced at the time of Christ, and even today among the orthodox Jews in the form of the prayer shawl.
This outer garment or shawl was the mantle torn by Samuel (1 Samuel 15:27). We also take note of Elijah's mantle that was conferred upon Elisha (1 Kings 19:19). Was such a mantle also worn by Jesus, and was it then the hem of that garment that was touched by the woman with an issue of blood (and all the diseased that besought him that they might touch)? In his glorious second coming, the Messiah will be wearing such a garment as revealed unto the Apostle John, And I saw heaven opened... And he was clothed in a vesture (garment) dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God... And he hath on his vesture (garment) and on his thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS(Revelation 19:11, 13, 16).
If the answer to the above questions is yes, then there is a strong connection established between the desire to touch the "hem of his garment" and the people's faith in the healing power of the one who was "the WORD made flesh." The border of his garment represented the Word and commandments of Yahweh. Those beseeching him displayed faith in Jesus that he was from God; that he spoke and obeyed all the commandments of his Father. It is the same faith that we must have; faith in the healing power that is found only through our Lord. We too must desire to "touch the hem of his garment" that we might "remember" and walk according to his commandments, and one day soon, we pray, be made "perfectly whole."