The God Who Touches Us
Elder Jon provides us with words of encouragement and challenge.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, we are being called upon to help our neighbors. There’s nothing new about that. Helping those in need has always been a part of a healthy society, and that is especially true within the Church. What’s different about the time we’re in now is that most of us are being called to help our neighbors by leaving them alone. Stay home. Don’t be around people. If you have to be around people, cover yourself up, and keep your distance. And whatever you do, DON’T TOUCH anyone! This is tough on everyone, but it presents a unique challenge to Christians, who have been taught by Jesus and by each other to reach out to people in need, to go to the lost and hurting, and to take risks to love people, no matter what condition they’re in. We often fall short of this calling, but now it feels like we’re being told to not even try.
Time will tell whether our country’s response to this situation was correct. It’s clear that keeping most people in their homes most of the time helps in some ways, and brings harm in other ways. Whether we’ve struck the right balance is hard to say. Sitting from the sidelines and criticizing our leaders for doing too little, or doing too much, doesn’t edify anyone.
It all makes me wonder how Jesus would have responded if His earthly ministry had taken place during the Coronavirus. It’s hard for me to imagine Him just ignoring what was going on in the world and going about “business as usual”. He certainly wouldn’t have done anything that would bring harm to another person. But it’s also hard for me to picture Him staying in his house setting up Zoom meetings with His disciples, and feeding the 5,000 on Facebook Live.
One thing I do know – there was no way to stop Jesus from completing His mission. Even 2,000 years ago, He showed He could perform miracles of the “socially distant” variety. Remember the centurion (Matthew 8:5-13)? He didn’t even think he was worthy to have Jesus come into his home, but Jesus granted his request and healed his servant. And there was the official (John 4:46-53), who came to Jesus to ask for healing for his dying son. By the time he got to Jesus, someone told him his son had died. But Jesus told him to believe, and by the time he returned home, he found his son had recovered.
But if you read through the gospels, these stories stand out as exceptions. Usually Jesus is getting right into the mix with people. Not only did He reach the common folk, and even the outsiders of society, He usually seemed to go out of His way to physically touch them, no matter their condition. He took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand when she lay sick with a fever (Matthew 8:14-15). He did the same with Jairus’s daughter and raised her to life (Matthew 9:18-26). He touched and healed a leper (Mark 1:40-42), and touched the eyes of two blind men to restore their sight (Matthew 9:27-30). When the people brought their children to be blessed by Him, He touched them (Luke 18:15-16), and He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-20).
Sometimes Jesus seemed to go out of His way to make us uncomfortable with the ways He made physical contact with people (if you’re a germaphobe, you’re not going to like the rest of this paragraph, but this is taken right out of the Scriptures). In Mark 7:31-35 He healed a deaf mute by putting His fingers into the man’s ears, and then “after spitting touched his tongue”. A chapter later (8:22-26) we read of Him touching a blind man and spitting on his eyes to restore his sight. If that wasn’t graphic enough, in John 9:1-7 He healed a blind man by spitting on the ground, making mud with the saliva, and putting it on his eyes.
Whatever we want to say about the spiritual significance of these actions by our Lord, we can’t ignore the fact that He deliberately brought physical touch into the equation. This shouldn’t surprise us if we think of the big picture of Jesus’s mission. He was with God from eternity past, but chose to “take on flesh” and became human like us, in what the theologians call the Incarnation. This means that Jesus Christ (who as Christians, we are called to follow and imitate) chose to leave His safe environment to take on a frail human body, vulnerable to all the dangers of the world, including germs and disease. He didn’t do this recklessly, but with a purpose. There were risks to coming to Earth, which He knew full well. But there was (to Him) a greater risk to dwelling in safety, namely that He would lose the opportunity to redeem those He could save.
As Jesus’s disciples, we are called to reach out to the same world He came to save. We shouldn’t go recklessly. We shouldn’t disobey our leaders unless we’re convinced that what they’re telling us to do would amount to disobedience to God. And we shouldn’t ignore the fact that there are real risks involved in making contact with a broken world.
But we also shouldn’t make our decisions from a place of fear. We shouldn’t forget the risks involved in holding back. We’ve been called to minister to people, and human beings, by design, NEED to be touched.
Whatever we think about social distancing, it isn’t some kind of new permanent improvement for how human beings should interact with each other. Babies who aren’t touched won’t develop properly, and in extreme cases they won’t survive. There is research that shows that physical touch promotes better health, stronger relationships, and a greater sense of intimacy, and that people who lack healthy physical contact tend to experience more violence, and to suffer more often from depression and other mental health disorders.
We don’t know when the masks will come off at the grocery store. We don’t know when we’ll be able to shake hands or hug somebody without people looking at us funny. We don’t even know when we’ll be opening up the church doors again. I’m not saying that the time has arrived to do any of these things. For now, God might be calling us to do things differently than we have in the past…….but He isn’t calling us to do LESS than before, and He isn’t calling us to withdraw, or to live risk-free lives. As disciples of Jesus, we need to be ready to go where He’s sending us.