Chaplain’s Corner: CLXXX

“Touch Matters”

Some of you may have wondered where your “Chaplain’s Corner” has been the past six weeks. Well, the reason you have missed them is because I have been recovering from a total knee operation. It has been quite an experience from beginning until now. But what has been so meaningful to me are your prayers and the many cards and notes reminding me of my many friendships here at Westminster Village. Knowing someone cares is a healing factor in and of itself. That kind of “touch” is what I want to focus on today.

Laura Guerrero, co-author of Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships, cites recent studies that even a seemingly insignificant touch from a restaurant server often yields a bigger tip. People shop longer and make more purchases if they are touched by a store greeter. She notes that human beings are incurably social. “Lots of times in these studies people don’t even remember being touched. They just feel that they like that person more.”

Whenever we’ve plunged into grief or distress, physical contact is more than just comforting. It helps provide deep healing for our souls. But the most compelling confirmation of the power of touch is what happens when physical contact is taken away. During Bible Times, one category of individuals in particular was forced to live without the blessing of touch. That was the leper. Leprosy (or Hansen’s Disease), as it is commonly known today) cast its victims into a living hell. Progressive neurological damage slowly rendered one’s extremities, then limbs, and finally major organs non-functional. A leper might linger for as long as 30 years after diagnosis. But in the Biblical Community lepers were cast outs. Lepers were considered cursed by God. They were spiritually unclean.

Scottish Bible Scholar William Barclay notes they were required to stay at least six feet away from other people but if the wind was blowing from behind them, that distance had to be 150 feet. If a leper put his head inside a house, the entire house became unclean. It was illegal even to offer a word of greeting to a leprous man or woman. For all intents and purposes, lepers were already dead.

Imagine what it was like to be the leper Jesus encounters in Matthew 8:1-4. In verse two, the leper kneels before Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.” Note, he calls Jesus “Lord.” Second, there is respect: “If you are willing.” There are no demands of entitlement. Faith does not honestly know if the Lord in every case intends to heal. And third, there is confidence in Jesus’ competence: “You can make me clean.” What will Jesus do?

Jesus steps forward and breeches the societal walls that have been erected to keep lepers in their place–a place beyond human touch. When he touches the leper his ulcerations vanish. He is restored. Cleansing, healing, and hope are flowing from Jesus to the leper. The curse has been removed. His life can begin again.

Maybe you’ve concluded that you’re infected with an incurable spiritual disease. Because of the affair. Or the divorce. Or the discovery of some shame that is keeping you from being the person you know you ought to be.

But perhaps you can imagine going to Jesus. You are not beyond his touch. The one who broke all the rules in order to bring wholeness to lepers is still in the business of touching the untouchable. EVEN YOU AND ME.


Ron Naylor, Chaplain