†ouch10 min read

What would we see if someone were to film a documentary on your hand? What would the film tell us?

Maybe we would first see an infant’s fist. Then a close-up of a tiny hand wrapped around Mommy’s finger. Then what? Holding onto a chair as we learn to stand, or maybe handling a spoon as we learn to eat. We wouldn’t be too far into the film before we would see your hand showing affection, reaching up to touch your mother’s cheek, or reaching out to pet a puppy or a kitten. It wouldn’t be too long before we see the hand exhibiting aggression, grabbing a toy, or pushing baby brother away.

All of us learn early that the hand is suited for more than just basic provision. It’s suited for expression. The same hand can help or hurt, encourage, or discourage.

Undoubtedly, as we viewed this commentary there would be times when you’d be proud of some of your hand’s moments. Maybe the moment you held her hand and put a ring on her finger. Or what about the moment you doctored a wound; the moment that you folded your hands in prayer, or the moment that you wiped the perspiration from the brow of someone in a hospital bed. You’d be proud of some moments.

But wouldn’t each of us be embarrassed about other moments? There have been times when our hands have been more accusing than encouraging, more abusive than helpful. Leave them unbridled and unmanaged and they, like the tongue, can be weapons of destruction and lust.

Let them be submitted to God Himself, and hands—your hands—can become the very hands that God fills and uses. They can be so surrendered to Him that when we touch, He is touching; and when we encourage, He is encouraging.

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What if we were to see a documentary about the hands of Christ? We wouldn’t see abuse, we wouldn’t see slaps, we wouldn’t see greedy clutching, we wouldn’t see self-centered yanking. We would see one warm occasion after another of the kind hand of Christ on people: infants and children being brought to Christ “to have Him touch them, parents coming for encouragement. Each one touched. Each one blessed. Each one changed.

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Even today we use the word “touched” as a way to express being moved in spirit and in soul.

Even as a child I thought that no one was touched or changed more than the leper in Matthew 8.When He 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 cured [ Greek made clean] of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, ‘See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them’” (Matthew 8:1-4 NIV).

Mark and Luke tell the same story. In each of these Gospels this man appears and disappears, and we don’t even know his name. We know his disease. We know he approached Jesus. But what brought him to this point when he cried out from the side of the road for the healing he hoped Christ could bring?

Leprosy was the most dreaded of diseases in New Testament times. The condition rendered the body a mass of ulcers and decay. Fingers would curl and gnarl. Blotches of skin would discolor and stink. There were even certain types of leprosy that would numb nerve endings, leading to losses of extremities and fingers—even a whole hand or a foot. It’s been said that leprosy was death by inches.

The social consequences were equally severe. Since they were considered contagious, lepers were quarantined or banished, usually to a leper colony. Therefore, throughout Scripture, the leper, the ultimate outcast, also became representative and symbolic of all outcasts. He stands for any person in any nation in any era who has been set out, kicked out or turned away. He is avoided by people he does not know and condemned to a future he cannot bear.

In the memory of each leper must be that day he discovered the truth about his condition; the trauma for his wife, the fear for his children, the wondering of his neighbors, and then having to see the priest for the official “diagnosis.” The priest with his mouth covered and his hand extended palm forward would make the pronouncement: “You are unclean.” With that one verdict the leper lost his family, his farm, his friends, and his future.

What was it like for him to say “good bye” to his wife and children as he headed into his new life of banishment and loneliness?

Seems harsh, this isolation, doesn’t it? Of course, the ancient East isn’t the only culture to isolate their wounded. We may not build colonies or cover our mouths in their presence, but we certainly build walls and avoid eye contact. The divorced know this feeling, don’t they? So do the handicapped. The unemployed have felt it, and the less educated. Some unmarried moms feel shunned. We keep our distance from depressed people. We avoid the terminally ill. Only God knows how many there are living quiet, lonely lives, infected by their fear of rejection.

But there came that time when this leper would risk going, seeing, confronting Jesus. I wonder if the leper hid behind a rock? I think he was watching Jesus as He descended from the mountainside as throngs of people followed Him. I think he was hiding and waiting until Jesus was just paces from him, and then he stepped out and addresses Jesus: “Master, Master.” Jesus stopped and looked in his direction, as did dozens of others.

Fear would have swept across the crowd. People’s arms flew in front of their faces. Children ducked behind their parents. “Unclean!” someone shouted. He normally would have had to run. But what kept this man from running was Jesus’ compassion. Everyone stepped back except Jesus. He stepped toward the leper! The leper doesn’t move … he speaks: “Lord, You can heal me if You will.”

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This man would have been thrilled if Jesus had healed him with a word. Had Jesus cured him with a prayer he would have rejoiced. But apparently Jesus wasn’t satisfied with just speaking to him. Jesus drew near. He touched him. Five years or so earlier the last person to have touched him was his wife. No one had touched him until this day. But Jesus answered the request: “I will.” “Be healed!”

The energy and healing must have streamed back into his limbs! He gets up from kneeling in front of Jesus … and I see Jesus cupping His cheeks in His hands and drawing so near that this leper could see the moisture, the tears, in Jesus’ eyes. Jesus smiles. “Don’t tell anyone about this. Go and show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded for people who are made well.”

What a different trip to the priest this must have been. Imagine the trip home to the farm to see his wife and his daughter and son who are so much bigger now.

Jesus could have healed him with a word, but Jesus wanted to do more than heal this leper. He wanted to honor him, to love him, to validate him, to christen him.

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Please observe with me that Jesus’ touch did NOT heal the disease. Matthew is very careful to mention in the text that it was the pronouncement of Jesus, not the touch that healed the disease. “Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man and said, ‘I will.  Be healed.’ Immediately the man was healed from his disease.” The healing of the disease came with His words, but the healing of his heart came with the touch of Christ’s hand. Jesus brings perfect healing.

[Tweet “Healing of the disease came w/His words, healing of his heart came w/the touch of Christ’s hand.”]

Today would be a good day to remember the perfect healing of Jesus’ touch in your life in the waters of Holy Baptism where He joined you to Himself. Think about the touch of Jesus the next time you receive the Sacrament—His very body and blood—in Holy Communion, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin.

Also, think about how Jesus uses us to touch others as His body since “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV), or conversely, if we want to reach out and serve Jesus, we remember our Lord’s words, “ … whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40 NIV).

Friends, we, by God’s continuing and gracious encouragement, should seek out the forgotten and ignored who are “untouched” like this leper in Matthew 8 and “touch” them.

When St. Francis of Assisi turned his back on worldly wealth and walked out of his village, he was stripped naked. As he left the city, he saw a leper standing on the edge of the path, and he embraced the man, then turned and continued his journey. Looking back one final time, he saw that the leper was gone. For the rest of his life St. Francis of Assisi was convinced that the leper was Jesus Christ, and who is to say he was wrong?  “… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40 NIV).

Oh, the power of a godly touch. Haven’t you felt someone reach out and take your hand—a physician, an elder, a minister, a listener, a neighbor, a teacher, a friend? What a powerful blessing it was.

I wonder how long it has been since you’ve been touched? I know we’ve each had a few fingers shaken at us. But how long has it been since somebody reached out and put a hand on your shoulder and said, “I’m going to pray for you; I’m going to encourage you.”(?)

Let’s not forget the power of a touch. Let’s not forget the powerful work of the Holy Spirit that can result when, as God’s ambassadors, living and sharing the message of Christ crucified and risen for the world, you reach out, touch someone and say, “Be healed.”

One final thought: it hit me a number of years ago as I was preparing to give a brief devotion at the commencement for a graduating class of nurses that “touch” could be “spelled” like this: =ouch – the cross of Christ removing the great “ouch” of sin and guilt from our lives.

Having been cleansed and touched by Jesus, having been given a servant’s heart, may you—may we—be “Christ,” intentionally reaching out to love and serve others.

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About the Author

Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier is president emeritus of the Michigan District, LCMS.

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