When Jesus extended his hand and touched the leper, he illustrated a need every human being has and, if were honest, would admit craved – the need to be touched. The Gospel writer Matthew records one illustration of this.
Mat 8:1-3 “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.
Multiple studies have been done in numerous contexts proving the health of newborn children, both in the beginning and as they grow, is greatly impacted by the physical contact they receive. They need to be touched, held, and feel the nurture of another human being. Touch is essential for healthy development of mind, body, and emotions.
What is so critical for the tiny infant is just as critical for the aging adult. And in the same way, the need is for that contact to be supportive, compassionate, and conveying safe love. Perhaps as active and healthy individuals beyond childhood and before our declining years, we can try to ignore the need for physical contact as a source of reassurance. In our later years, however, that need for touch translates into the need for respect and the knowledge someone believes we still have value.
The infant must be held in a way that will not hurt it, will provide reassurance it will not fall, and convey a sense of security. For the aging adult the touch must also convey that which is positive and never that which brings pain or a sense of rejection. Touch must convey what the caring heart seeks to reveal.
Jesus touched others, and he also let others touch him. The Gospel of Mark records one such incident that became very public.
Mar 5:25-34 “And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.’ And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, “Who touched me?”’ And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’”
When we are willing to touch and to be touched by those whom society may see as inconvenient or has chosen to ignore, we express the spirit of Jesus Christ as he dealt with people each day. No one was an outcast to Jesus. No one was beneath his attention. Each person needed what he had to offer, the unconditional love of God.
If we are to have the influence upon this world we are called to have as followers of Christ, then we must make ourselves available to others even as Christ did. Social media will never be sufficient. Love allows itself to be touched and even used while it reaches out to people like aging adults and says, “You are valuable to me. I will touch you with my life, and we will both be better off.”