A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him … Be made clean!’
In 1986 the UK government released a public information film that warned of a new deadly disease that was sweeping the world: AIDS. In 2020 the UK government joined with nations across the world in locking its population down for fear of another new deadly disease: COVID 19. These two diseases are very different, except in one respect: in the 1980s, just in 2020, there quickly arose a fear that the infection could be spread by touch. During the height of the AIDS scare, those who were known to be infected were shunned by society, much as lepers were in biblical times. In 2020, and still in 2023, gloves are donned and hand-sanitiser is used for fear of contracting a viral infection that scientists have proved not to be communicable through touch. All of this is relevant because we read of Jesus touching a leper in today’s reading.
Touch can be described as the most intimate of our five senses because it involves a level of communication between ourselves and others that is physical. Any distance that might exist is breeched by our reaching out to form a bond that goes beyond any of our other sensual experiences. Taste, smell, hearing and seeing can all be experienced at a distance, but touch is different. Touch involves a drawing close, and a greater degree of trust.
When we read of leprosy in the bible, we cannot be sure exactly what is being described. It is believed that many different skin complaints were summed up with the same diagnosis: leprosy. We now know that leprosy itself cannot be passed on through casual touch, just like AIDS and COVID 19, but that was not known in the first century. As a way of protecting communities, ‘lepers’ were isolated. But, when Jesus was approached by a leper, he stretched out his hand and touched him. Through the faith of the leper, and the simple act of touch, Jesus demonstrated his power to heal, to give new hope and new life.
In the gospels we read of Jesus sending out his disciples to preach, to forgive sinners and to heal the sick. That commission has been passed down the generations until we find that it is now our calling to fulfil Jesus’ wishes. But, do we hear that call, and are we ready to take up the challenge it presents? When confronted with the challenging and the difficult many of us feel repulsed and we step back. We go to inordinate lengths to avoid the intimacy of touch, and yet that is what we are called to do. We are called to reach out in Christ’s name. We are called to put self to one side and to share Christ’s love in the most intimate of ways … just as Jesus did himself. We are called to let others feel the love of Christ through our hands, because Christ has no hands on earth now, but ours.
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