One of my favorite stories in Scripture is when Jesus heals the man with leprosy in Matthew 8:1-4.
In Jesus’ time, if you had leprosy, you were untouchable. Those with the disease were condemned to a life on the margins of society, isolated and forced to live away from their family, on the edge of town. When a trip to town was unavoidable, those with leprosy wore bells. As people heard the bells, they’d move aside, giving the leper a wide berth, ensuring they wouldn’t have to touch him.
Aside from knowing the cultural connotation of leprosy in Jesus’ time, we know little about the man suffering from leprosy in Matthew 8. We don’t know how long this man had been afflicted with this horrific disease or how long he’d been forced to live in isolation.
What we do know is that this particular man had had enough. Fed up – with the isolation, the constant rebuke from his peers, and the lack of touch – this man heard that Jesus would be in town and boldly went to find him. When he did, he humbly said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
And Jesus, filled with compassion, gave this man not only what he asked for, but also what he needed.
Jesus healed him, with a touch.
After weeks, months, or maybe even years without touch, I can only imagine how life-giving – how redeeming – this touch must have been to this leper. It was probably as healing to the leper as Jesus’ words, “Be clean”.
In so many ways, touch is the great equalizer, restoring dignity to those marginalized and authenticating our words of love and healing.
I was reminded of this this summer during our youth ministry’s mission trip.
While on the trip, the person we saw most from the local community was a young man by the name of Thor.
Thor was a 15 year old with autism, a leper in our time, ignored and devalued by much of society.
Thor always wore the same clothes, making him appear slightly disheveled and dirty. Though he was, at times, difficult to understand, Thor enjoyed talking and interacting with the staff and everyone at our housing site. His favorite passions included Legos, walking around with his “machine gun”, pounding the hobbits, and putting people into dungeons.
While interacting with Thor quickly exhausted me, what amazed me was the compassionate way I saw each and every one of our staff respond to Thor, regardless of the time of day it was, how lengthy his visit, or how busy they were.
While I’m sure Thor would have been content as long as the staff noticed him, they went a step further than that, connecting with him both verbally and physically. They allowed Thor to “handcuff” them and put them in the dungeon of the day; They fought battles with him; They slapped him on the back in a display of camaraderie; They shook his hand; They gave Thor high-fives.
Through touch, our staff entered into Thor’s world, speaking his language and communicating his value and worth to him.
In doing so, they redeemed Thor, in much the same way that Jesus redeemed the leper in Matthew 8.