The Touch of God
A Compassionate Heart
Just for a moment, I want you to hold up your hand and to take a closer look at it. Reacquaint yourself with your palm and fingers. Run a thumb over your knuckles.
What if someone were to film a documentary on your hands? What if a producer were to tell your story based on the life of your hands? What would we see? I would assume that, as with all of us, we would begin with an infant’s fist, then a close up of a tiny hand wrapped around mommy’s finger. Then what? Holding on to a chair as you learned to walk? Maybe handling a spoon as you learned to eat?
We’re not too long into this documentary before we see your hand being affectionate, stroking daddy’s face or maybe petting a puppy. Nor is it too long before we see your hand acting aggressively: pushing big brother or yanking back a toy. All of us learned early that the hand is suited for more than just survival—it’s a tool of emotional expression. The same hand can help or hurt, extend or clench, lift someone up or shove someone down, right?
If this documentary were to be shown to your friends, I’m guessing you’d be proud of certain moments: maybe your hand extending with a gift, placing a ring on another’s finger, doctoring a wound, preparing a meal, shaking another’s hand, or maybe even folding in prayer.
Of course there are other moments: shots of accusing fingers, abusive fists, hands taking, more often than giving, demanding instead of offering, wounding rather than loving. Yes, the power of our hands. Leave them unmanaged and they become weapons: clawing for power, strangling for survival, seducing for pleasure. But with proper management our hands become instruments of grace—not just tools in the hands of God, rather God’s very hands. Surrender them and these five-fingered appendages become the Hands of Heaven.
My fellow Christians, this is what Jesus did. Our Savior completely surrendered His hands to God. The documentary of His hands has no scenes of greedy grabbing or unfounded finger pointing. It has one scene after another of people longing for His compassionate touch: parents carrying their children, the poor bringing their fears, the sinful shouldering their sorrows, and each one who came was touched. Those who were touched, were also changed, but none was changed any more than the leper from Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-44; Luke 5:12-14.
When Jesus came down from the hill, great crowds followed him. Then a man with a skin disease came to Jesus. The man bowed down before him and said, “Lord, you can heal me if you will.” Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man and said, “I will. Be healed!” And immediately, the man was healed from his disease. Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t tell anyone about this. But go and show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded for people who are made well. This will show the people what I have done.” (Matthew 8:1-4)
Curiosity got the cat, didn’t it? Well, sometimes I can’t help but wonder out loud to myself about this curious encounter. This man makes a one-time only appearance, makes a one-time request, and receives one touch. However, that touch changed his life forever. I wonder if his story was something like this: One year during harvest my grip on the scythe seemed weak. The tips of my fingers numbed, I could hold the tool, but I could scarcely feel it. I said nothing to my wife or anyone else. One afternoon, I plunged my hands into a bowl of water to wash my face and the water reddened. My fingers were bleeding freely. Behind me, my wife spoke softly saying, “It’s on your clothes, too. I looked down and saw the crimson spots on my robe and somehow knew my life was changed forever.” “Shall I go with you to tell the priest?” she asked. “No,” I sighed, “I’ll go alone.” I turned and looked at her moist eyes. Standing next to her was my daughter, saying nothing. I stood and looked again at my wife. She touched my shoulder and with my good hand, I touched hers. It would be our final touch. “The priest didn’t touch me. He looked at my hand, now wrapped in a rag. He looked at my face, shadowed in sorrow. He was only doing as he was instructed. He covered his mouth and extended his hand, palm forward and said, “You are unclean.” With that one pronouncement I lost my family, my farm, my friends, my future. My wife met me at the city gates with a sack of clothing and bread and a few coins. She didn’t speak. Friends had gathered. What I saw in their eyes was a precursor of what I was to see in every eye since; fearful pity. I stepped out, and they stepped back. Their horror of my disease was greater than their concern for my heart—so they and everyone else I have seen since, stepped back.
The banishing of a leper seems harsh, unnecessary, but the Ancient world hasn’t been the only culture to isolate their wounded. We may not build colonies or cover our mouths in their presence beloved, but we certainly build walls and duck our eyes, don’t we?
The leper was separated from everyday life, but they are not the only ones. Sometimes people who get divorced, feel ostracized by society, though not as much as it once was. Handicapped or disabled people are often treated differently, even though they are not supposed to be. The unemployed certainly feel shunned, as do the less educated, as we keep our distance from the mentally challenged and avoid the terminally ill. Nursing homes are filled with people who have been separated from society and their family and friends, especially if they had Alzheimer’s, and how about the addiction rehab centers, they are always isolated, and certainly prisons fall into that category. Want to hear something startling? Nursing homes and prisons are similar, in that usually after six months, no one comes to visit!
In truth, only God knows for sure how many people are in voluntary exile—individuals living quiet, lonely lives infected by their fear of rejection and their memories of the last time they tried. They choose not to be touched at all rather than risk being hurt, yet once again.
The leper thought to himself, some think I sinned or my parents sinned, he didn’t know anything, but that he was tired of it all: sleeping in the colony, smelling the stench, tired of the bell he had to wear around his neck to warn others of his presence, tired of the announcements, “Unclean, Unclean, Unclean!”
A few weeks earlier, he had dared to walk towards his village, not to enter it, but to gaze upon the fields, at his home, and maybe the face of his wife. He saw a group of children playing and for just a moment, he was no longer a leper, he was a farmer, a father, he was a man. He stepped out from behind the tree and everyone ran and screamed. One lingered behind, maybe she was his daughter, I don’t know, but she seemed to be looking for her father.
That is why I’m here today, yes it’s reckless, it’s risky, but what do I have to lose? This man calls himself God’s Son. Either he will hear my complaint and kill me or accept my demands and heal me!
These were my thoughts as I came to him; moved not by faith, but by a desperate anger. God had wrought this calamity on my body and He would either fix it or end it. But then I saw Him, and when I saw Him, I was changed. Before I even spoke, I knew He cared. Somehow I knew He hated this disease as much as , no—more than I hated it. I watched Him descend a hill from behind a rock with throngs of people following Him. He was only a few paces from me and I stepped out and said, “Master!” I heard the familiar screams of “Unclean,” and the panic that accompanied them, but He stepped towards me.
For years no one touched me, until today. “I will.” His words were as tender as His touch. “Be healed!” I suddenly felt energy flooding my body like water through a furrowed field. In an instant, I felt warmth where there had been numbness. I felt strength where there had been atrophy. My back straightened, and my head lifted. Where I had been eye level with His belt, I now stood eye level with His face. His smiling face.
He cupped His hands on my cheeks and drew me so near I could feel the warmth of his breath and see the wetness of His eyes. “Don’t tell anyone about this. But go and show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded for people who are made well. This will show the people what I have done.”
And so that is where I am going. I will show myself to my priest and embrace him. I will show myself to my wife, and I will embrace her. I will pick up my daughter, and I will embrace her. And I will never forget the One who dared to touch me. He could have healed me with a word. But he wanted to do more than heal me. He wanted to honor me, to validate me, to christen me. Imagine that…unworthy of the touch of a man, yet worthy of the touch of God.
It’s important to note that the touch did not heal this man. Matthew is careful to mention that it was when Jesus said, “I will. Be healed!” This is when the man was healed, when Jesus banished the infection by a mere word.
The loneliness, however, was treated by a touch from Jesus. There is power in the touch beloved, haven’t you known it? The doctor who treated you, the teacher who dried your tears? Was there a hand holding yours at a funeral? Another on your shoulder during some trial in life? A handshake of welcome at a new job? A pastoral prayer for healing? Haven’t we known the power of the godly touch? Can’t we offer the same?
Many of you already do this. Some of you have the master touch of the Physician Himself. You use your hands to pray over the sick and minister to the weak. If you aren’t touching them personally, your hands are writing letters, dialing phones, taking care of chores for a neighbor, or in some manner you have learned the power of the touch.
Many times we forget, our hearts are in the right place, but we just have bad memories. We forget how significant one touch can be. We fear saying the wrong thing or using the wrong tone or acting the wrong way. So rather than do it incorrectly, we do nothing at all.
Aren’t each one of us in this room today glad Jesus didn’t make the same mistake? If your fear of doing the wrong thing prevents you from doing anything keep in mind the perspective of the lepers of the world. They aren’t picky. They aren’t finicky. They’re just lonely. They are yearning for a godly touch. Jesus touched the untouchables of the world. Won’t you do the same?
Since you have been chosen by God
Who has given you this new kind of life,
And because of his deep love and concern
For you, you should practice tenderhearted
Mercy and kindness to others.