The Touch Of God

The world Jesus entered was rife with immorality. Historical records reveal a level of sexual wretchedness in Roman society that boggles the mind. Pagan idolatry had long conditioned the Gentile mind to embrace prostitution, sometimes with temple goddesses. The Herodian family was notoriously hedonistic, including inter-family marriages. Jesus conversed with a Samaritan woman who had been married five times and was maintaining another illicit relationship.

We might excuse Jesus for “social distancing” from such folks, if for no other reason to avoid any perceived impropriety. But this is not what we see in Jesus’ interactions with others. Note these healing touches: a leper (Matt. 8:3); Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt. 8:15); two blind men (Matt. 9:29; cf. 20:34; Mark 8:23); raising a little girl from the dead (Mark 5:41); straightening a woman’s spine (Luke 13:13); restoring Malchus’ severed ear (Luke 22:51). Jesus’ compassion led him to touch the suffering.

Further, Jesus touched the frightened disciples at the transfiguration (Matt. 17:7). He took a child in His arms as an object lesson for His disciples on humility (Mark 9:36). He embraced other children and laid His hands on them to bless them (Mark 10:13-16).

Neither was He offended when others touched Him: the emotionally distraught woman in Simon’s home who wept on His feet, kissed and anointed them (Luke 7:37-38); the woman with chronic bleeding (Luke 8:43-44); multitudes in desperate need of healing (Mark 6:56). Jesus was not physically or emotionally aloof from the needy, and He understood the connection between touch and compassion and relationship. When John summarized the fellowship between the apostles and Jesus, he said “our hands have handled” the Word of life (I John 1:1).

Human touch is powerful, and it is fundamental to meaningful interaction – from a mother’s embrace to a romantic kiss; from a warm handshake to a swat on the rump after a touchdown; from the bear hug of long-separated friends to the consoling hug of a teacher for a distraught student. Some things are communicated best by a touch; where the spoken word may fail, touch may cure, comfort and inspire those in greatest need.

Unfortunately, good and powerful things can be co-opted to gratify evil impulses. The "Me Too" movement has exposed abusive touching in the highest halls of power and popularity. The mistreatment of children in some day-care facilities, sports activities and other venues have resulted in the prosecution of offenders. Sadly, this highly charged atmosphere also has led to paranoiac fear in some parents, false accusations and reluctance to engage in positive forms of touch.

And now, thanks to the coronavirus, our leading epidemiologist has declared we should never shake hands again. A blind brother recently expressed concern that others would be reluctant to help him navigate, for he lightly holds to the elbow of the sighted person for guidance. I fear that in yet another aspect of dealing with the pandemic, the cure is perhaps worse than the disease.