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Jesus and the Human Touch
Jesus touched a leper although he didn't have to do so in order to bring healing. For a blind man, Jesus healed him after making a paste and putting it on his eyes. Again, not necessary. The woman who touched the hem of Jesus' garment was healed. Parents would bring their children to Jesus in order for him to touch them and bless them.
It begs the question: why did Jesus do these things, these "human" things, when he could simply "will" healing and blessing?
In the Bible, touch is rich in symbolism. Perhaps the most poignant is how it represents compassion and identifying with others. We were made by touch, and for touch. We were formed from the rich soil by God...we weren't simply spoken into existence. When a baby is born, a primary concern is to get the baby into the mother's arms so it can feel her touch. From that first moment of birth, touch is ingrained into us as a source of love and comfort.
To the leper, someone who had been isolated from others, Jesus' touch would have to be almost as welcome as the healing. For the blind man, touch must have been a sense of security to him. Regardless of how he came to cope without his sight, the reassuring touch enabled him to let his guard down, to focus entirely on the experience.
Jesus didn't have to touch to heal. He didn't have to touch to bestow a blessing.
When Thomas doubted he was seeing the resurrected Christ, Jesus told him to touch the wounds and know that he was, indeed, real. Imagine him touching a living man who beared the scars of the torture that was part of his death sentence.
The woman who touched the hem of Jesus' garment was actually touching the corner of his robe. We may pass over this particular aspect but, in Jesus time and in the Jewish culture, "the corner of a person’s garment represented his identity; it was a symbol of who he was and what he stood for." (David Roach) Priests were to wear tassles on the corner of their robes to signify their separation to God. She wasn't attributing power to his clothing, but rather to the One represented by the garment.
Jesus didn't have to touch to heal. He didn't have to touch to bestow a blessing. Yet he did these things, not to reveal his power, but so that we could understand his compassion. So we could relate to him. He spoke the language that was placed in our hearts from the moment of our birth. We have been told to "mourn with those who mourn." We are to identify with them...nothing else is necessary.
Dr. Paul Brand was an physician who made great contributions to the understanding of leprosy. He compassionately came to the aid of those suffering and understood the power of touch to those that society deemed untouchable. For an entry such as this, it seemed only natural to include his thoughts from one of his books.
“I have sometimes wondered why Jesus so frequently touched the people he healed, many of whom must have been unattractive, obviously diseased, unsanitary, smelly. With his power, he easily could have waved a magic wand. In fact, a wand would have reached more people than a touch. He could have divided the crowd into affinity groups and organized his miracles--paralyzed people over there, feverish people here, people with leprosy there--raising his hands to heal each group efficiently, en masse. But he chose not to. Jesus' mission was not chiefly a crusade against disease (if so, why did he leave so many unhealed in the world and tell followers to hush up details of healings?), but rather a ministry to individual people, some of whom happened to have a disease. He wanted those people, one by one, to feel his love and warmth and his full identification with them. Jesus knew he could not readily demonstrate love to a crowd, for love usually involves touching.” ― Paul Brand, (Fearfully and Wonderfully Made)
Touch is a primary way we identify with each other. A mother to her baby, a couple as they say their wedding vows, even as we say goodbye to a loved one who is passing into eternity. The touch of the hand can say so much more than words could ever convey. We need it.