When we look at the ministry of Jesus, we have to take notice of who he spent time with. we see He often encountered people who were considered ‘unclean.’ The reasons for their being considered unclean were various. One of the more common conditions mentioned is leprosy. Obviously medical knowledge at the time was limited, but somewhere along the way people noticed that leprosy got passed on through touch.
Although we now know that leprosy is not all that contagious and we have modern medicines to easily cure it, this was simply not the situation in biblical times. There was no effective treatment for leprosy then, so anyone coming in close contact with someone who had the disease was putting themselves at serious risk.
The only ‘treatment’ consisted of out casting the sick into total isolation. The isolation was so extreme that if those with leprosy did have to venture into the public, they must declare themselves as being infected and warn those in the area by shouting “unclean!, unclean!” as they walked around. It was segregation and public humiliation at its worse.
Most coward in fear at the presence of these “unclean” people and stayed as far from them as they could, nut not Jesus.
Matthew 8 gives us some insight into one of Jesus’ interactions with a person who had leprosy-
“When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy”
This is just a brief story mentioned in the book of Matthew and its easy to just pass this as another miracle Jesus performed, but what if the point of this story isn’t that Jesus healed the man or performed a miracle? No, this story focuses around one word, “touched”.
When the man asked Jesus “If you are willing”, he didn’t necessarily mean if your willing to heal me so much as he meant willing to touch me. Think about this, it wasn’t required that Jesus physically touched the man. Remember how he healed the centurions servant without being physically near him? (Luke 7) He didn’t have to touch this ‘unclean man’ but he did, and he did it purposely. This was not just a physical healing but an emotional and social healing as well. By kneeling down, the leper showed the status that he has been given by society; dirt. By a simple but power-filled touch, Jesus let this man know that he had value.
I’ve been thinking about this story because of an experience I had this afternoon. Before I share that experience, take a moment to think about who our society isolates and segregates. For awhile and to a certain extent today, African Americans were considered unequal and therefore separated. Those with severe mental disabilities were at one time locked away from the rest of the world. You might even argue that senior citizens in nursing homes are separated from the rest of society and seen as a hassle.
My experience this afternoon- I went to a museum with a friend and in the museum gift shop was an employee, a young woman in her early twenties. I approached the young cashier to ask a question about something in the museum. It was then that I noticed her arms. Up and down from elbow to wrist on both sides were countless scars, thick and white. Some small, others taking up the entire width of her forearm. The remnants of pain, regret, confusion and lies. She caught my glance and looked down at her arms, quickly lowering them from my view.
While my friend continued looking at gifts I continued a small-talk conversation with this young woman. No, I didn’t ask about her arms. It wasn’t appropriate and in that moment it didn’t matter. What mattered in that moment is treating her like a human being who had value. When my friend finished shopping, I introduced myself and thanked her not with just words but with an extension of my hand to shake hers. A simple polite gesture to pass on the same grace and value that Jesus has given me despite all of my mess; to come close to her scars without fear, to let her know that she was worthy of respect and value and to let her know she wasn’t excluded.
Who can you let know they are valued through passing on the graceful touch of Jesus this week?