“When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”Matthew 8:1-3
There is power is the simple act of human touch; how much more so is the power of a touch from God! As Jesus leaves the mountainside following the sermon that has “blown the mind” of his audience, the crowd just can’t get enough. They want more of this teaching and encouragement from this new teacher that shows them a way that even the current foremost experts of scripture of the day couldn’t enunciate. Jesus spoke of seeking out God’s kingdom and releasing our worries and that our Heavenly Father would pursue us and protect us and give us a foundation upon which to build a steady life.
Out of the midst of the crowd, with the rich and powerful still looking on from the sidelines, a man steps forward. Not just any man, but a man who was considered ritually unclean in accordance with the scripture as he had a debilitating skin disease. Leprosy was a highly contagious bacterial infection that easily passed from one person to another through touch from one infected person to another. It caused skin lesions and nerve damage, often leading to the loss of fingers, toes, eyes, nose, and other parts of the skin.
In the first century AD, people who contracted leprosy were confined to leper colonies and were forbidden to be in public. They were required to cover their faces and other parts of their bodies in order to not only hide their affliction, but also prevent spread of the contagion to others. This resulted in the stigmatization of an entire segment of society in the name of “public health”. Lepers were routinely spit upon by the “clean” of society and shunned and pushed away, separated and left to die alone and abandoned.
Today leprosy is easily curable through proper treatment and sanitation, although in some parts of the world the cure in unavailable. Mother Teresa spent the majority of her life among this caste of “Untouchables” in India, ministering to the afflicted and the orphaned children wrought by this terrible disease. While today, leprosy is considered a very rare disease with fewer than 20,000 cases per year in the US, treatment requires medication and extreme sanitation measures. The disease is also spread by airborne droplets found in sneezes or other bodily fluids. And anyone who contracts leprosy will experience chronic pain for years after, if not for the rest of their lives. Sound familiar?
While the circumstances of COVID-19 are significantly different and statistically lower fatality rate among the afflicted, the societal response to it is no different. We treat people who we deem a potential threat for not wearing a mask as “unclean”. If anyone sneezes because of allergies, panic ensues. In some cases, people seem to go out of their way to speak judgement against one another in the midst of this pandemic.
I’m not suggesting that the public health measures that we have instituted aren’t warranted. That’s a different debate colored by too many variables and interpretation of data that I don’t have the time or space for. My opinions on the matter are irrelevant and everyone is too emotionally attached to their own perspectives for anyone to change anyone’s mind. That is not what the scope of this article is about.
However, we have reached a point in our society that we have become isolated from one another as a people, afraid to even shake someone’s hand or give someone a hug of comfort out of fear of contraction of a non-manifested disease or judgement from government authorities for not abiding by the mandates of our “benevolent overlords in power.” We have effectively eliminated the power of human touch to lift up the lives of our neighbors.
But Jesus didn’t care about the conventions of the day. A man stepped out of the crowd and mustered up the courage to ask the one person who had demonstrated His power and love to the crowds before teaching them on the mountainside to perform one more act of kindness – to touch him and make him clean. Imagine the gasps of horror escape the crowd as this diseased man approached Jesus. Obviously, there was even some apprehension within his own heart, because he asked “if you will, you can make me clean”. There was some human doubt, but there was also trust in the divine power of Jesus to be able to heal him of his affliction.
And Jesus didn’t hesitate as He stretched out His hand and touched him. He touched Him. A man afflicted with disease that could infect Him and His followers. He touched Him. But He didn’t just touch His body; He touched His soul and heart. He healed not only His physical malady, but He healed his broken heart and loneliness and isolation. He restored his mind and gave him a reason to rejoice.
There is great power in graceful act of a kind touch from another human. A handshake. A fist bump. A warm hug from a friend. There is even more power when that touch is infused with the grace of God by the Spirit of God. It heals the heart. It releases the pain of loneliness. It increases the production of endorphins into the body – the happiness hormone.
Conversely, there is also great power in the violent act of an unkind touch from another human. When we strike one another in anger. When we withhold kindness and shrink away from one another in horror and fear. When we seek to destroy others instead of build them up. This creates pain and isolation. It destroys communities and divides nations.
If you want to see healing in your world, hug a friend. Shake the hand of a colleague. Kiss your spouse with passion. Give out of the goodness of your heart. Let the Spirit of God move you to be neighbor that seeks the heart of God. Be a force for healing in our world. There is enough violence in the world without us adding to it out of fear and anger and bitterness of our own. But when seek the heart of the Father, it renews our mind and transforms our heart and gives us the strength to touch the hand and heart of our neighbors and families and friends. It gives us the ability to bring healing to the hearts and mind of those around us. Most importantly, it gives us hope for a brighter, healthier tomorrow.
Author’s note: COVID-19 is indeed a real phenomenon, with far reaching public health risks. In no way is this article intended to minimize the risks of this pandemic, nor is it in any way intended to be a form of medical advice. Please, exercise wisdom in the application of common sense health and sanitation measures as a matter of good public health policy and personal practice. If you believe that you have been exposed to COVID-19, please see your doctor immediately for proper medical guidance.