And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Mark 1:40-41 (NASB)
It was the third day of a week-long conference and I was, once again, sitting alone for lunch. Everywhere I looked, I saw smiling faces and warm embraces greeting friends. I heard laughter of folks swapping stories of the mornings happenings. And while I was in a room of 300 people, I felt utterly alone. It occurred to me that I needed human contact. Real contact.
It sounded pitiful and needy in my head to admit that. I mean, I had met some folks and they were very nice but they were not fulfilling the role that I desperately needed. It got me thinking…. is there something about this human touch thing in the Bible? Um…yes!
In the New American Standard Bible, the word “touch” appears 132 times. “Forgiveness” only appears 20 times. And yet, we emphasize the need for forgiveness all of the time. Why don’t we ever emphasize the need for touch? The need for human contact in a loving and Christ-like way is talked about in some of Jesus’ most compassionate moments. In Mark 1:40-41, Jesus encounters a leper. Lepers were truly the outcasts of the day. People knew that you simply did not touch them or you would become “unclean” yourself. But when asked by the leper to heal him, Jesus said, “I am willing.” He could have easily healed this man without touching him. But the human touch was just as important in his healing as the grace of God. Jesus was filled with compassion and touched him. This type of simple gesture is repeated in Jesus’ ministry over and over again. Jesus was not afraid to touch.
So why are we?
In today’s technology-savvy world, more and more “relationships” are built around an electronic screen of some sort, whether a smart phone, tablet or computer. I am just as guilty as the next person of allowing a phone call go to voicemail and then texting later to respond. Why? Are we so afraid of physical touch or human contact? Are we really that busy or is it that we have built walls around our hearts and fear letting anyone get close enough to tear it down? What are we so afraid of letting another human see? God designed us to need touch. In fact, it is critical to our health-both emotional and physical. Babies need touch for their brains to develop and children need touch for their emotions to develop. Experts say appropriate touch has a profound effect on the brain’s programming and re-programming. But we are programming ourselves to deny ourselves this basic need, thus teaching our children the same things. Instead of board games, they play video games. Instead of letters, we write emails. The touch is disappearing.
Perhaps it’s time to become more intentional about making human contact to others. I know that I need it and I would be willing to bet that many of you do, too. Jesus knew the importance of it. It’s time we take our cues from Him and apply His ways to our ways. As I have studied the New Testament in seminary, I have picked up on things that I have missed or overlooked for years. This includes the human touch that they engaged in with each other. They hugged and kissed each other often; a tradition that is continued in many cultures today.
Getting back to my aloneness at the conference, I realize now that it has been by my choice to be alone there. I could have easily joined in any number of groups but it chose not to. Instead, I buried my head in my Kindle. I would rather be wrapped in my false security then step out in uncharted territory. Sad, isn’t it? I would go out on a ledge and say that I’m not the only one. So now my heart has been convicted to be more intentional. Whether it’s a hug, touch on the arm, pat on the back, touch is desperately needed. Jesus knew it. And we know it too.
As I challenge myself, I issue a challenge to you, too. The next time you are with friends, family or colleagues, be intentional in your human contact. Become the person who offers a hug, rather than waiting for one.
Heavenly Father, I need human touch just as I need your touch. Please help me to step out of my shell and offer the touch we all so desperately need. Amen.