Recently my youngest son had a high fever that lasted for several days. Many times during those stressful days, in the evenings, I would hear crying coming from his room. I would get up and make my way to his room to find him writhing in discomfort. Feeling somewhat helpless against his body’s battle with the virus, I would often simply put my hand on his back or on the top of his head and his moaning would stop. He would let out a sigh and fall quickly back to sleep.
This event got me thinking about the power of touch. The simple fact that my touch brought a calming effect to my son demonstrated the power of touch. As I thought more and more about this event, my mind shifted to a story in the Bible about another touch.
There is a story that is told in the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, where Jesus reaches out and touches a man afflicted by leprosy. Today this may not seem like a very big deal, but in that day, the social taboos around such an act alone would have been enough for anyone to think twice before getting close to someone with this flesh eating disease. Because lepers were outcasts in their society. They had to leave family and home and live on the outskirts of town.
The Bible lumps many different skin conditions together under the category of leprosy. I don’t know if this man had what we call Hansen’s disease today or something else, but I do that know that whatever he had, it was bad enough to have him cast away from those he loved to live a life of isolation. The fear that he would transmit his disease to someone else made him a social reject.
To make the matter worse, leprosy has a way of deteriorating the body and the tissue and leaving a revolting mess. While I was on a mission trip in another county I encountered a young person with leprosy and the smell of the open wounds alone was enough to encourage me to keep my distance. But through the duration of that trip the medical professionals were able to help this young lady greatly, and her wounds were able to start healing.
Jesus however, didn’t keep His distance from this man. The Bible tells us this way;
And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. (Mark 1:40-42, NASB)
What a beautiful picture of Jesus. He was moved with compassion and touched a leper. This word translated as “compassion” is the same word used in Luke 15:20 for when the father of the prodigal son sees him coming from a long ways off, gets up, and runs to him. He immediately embraces his son and wraps his own robes around him.
The type of compassion that these stories share is the kind of compassion that leads to action. Jesus was so moved by the sight of this man, so overcome with empathy, that He reached out and touched him. Jesus could have simply said the words and the man could have been healed, but Jesus touched him prior to saying anything.
In that moment the man must have felt human again. He must have felt the love and care that Jesus had for him. The love and care that the world had deprived him of.
There was so much that was relayed in that touch. There is such a great power in a loving touch. And while sin has molested what many people think about when they think about touch, God longs to restore His healing touch in each of our lives. He longs for us to draw near to the broken and hurting and reach out our hands.
Recently my family had a tough decision to make regard our 13+ year old Great Pyrenees, Bella. We found ourselves at the vets office saying our final goodbyes. As the vet walked into the room, he gave a few reassuring remark, informed us how the process would go, asked if we had any questions and proceeded to make the lethal injections. After the three injections were administered and our beloved Bella was now no longer in pain, the vet reached over to me and placed his hand on my shoulder. At that moment, he didn’t say anything, but his touch brought an assurance that things would be alright. After removing his hand, as he started walking out thought the door, he turned and reassured me that it was the right decision and that he would be praying for our family.
A needed touch at the right time, in the right way is so very affirming. The touch on my shoulder by the vet was as reaffirming for me as anything he said the entire time he was with us. As a vet, one could justify that it was simply his job, but for me, that day, he went above and beyond and entered our emotions by showing care and empathy.
All of this was displayed in his gentle spirit, his affirming words and his caring touch.
I can’t imagine what the effect of Jesus touching the man with leprosy must have had on Him. I The Bible does describe what that man was thinking in that moment, but it does say that as soon as the encounter with Jesus was over, he went out and began sharing with everyone what Jesus had done for him.
He invites us to do the same; To experience His affirming touch and to extend a healing touch to those in need.