Touching the untouchable

Posted Jun 13, 2018

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Daily Scripture

Matthew 8:1-3

1 Now when Jesus had come down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with a skin disease came, kneeled before him, and said, “Lord, if you want, you can make me clean.” 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do want to. Become clean.” Instantly his skin disease was cleansed.

Reflection Questions

Jesus reached out his hand, and touched him” may not seem odd to us--but it was stunning, even forbidden, in his day. Today we know “leprosy” as Hansen’s disease, an infection caused by slow-growing bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. In Jesus' day, people called any skin disease “leprosy.” Leviticus 13-14 gave detailed rules, and called for isolating anyone with a skin disease to keep it from spreading. Most people feared these sufferers, and avoided all contact. But Jesus touched the man, and said, “Become clean.”

  • Today, as we know more about leprosy and other skin diseases, people don’t wear signs that say “unclean.” But social shunning still goes on in 2018, based on race, age, gender, socio-economic or educational level, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and even personal quirks, political beliefs, or looks. Have others ever shunned you? Have you ever shunned someone else? How is God asking you to live up to Jesus' example in touching the leper today?
  • Jesus sent the man to follow the ritual from Leviticus 14 (cf. Matthew 8:4). That would certify his cleansing and let him rejoin his community. Limited as it seems to us, that was the best equivalent then of a clean medical bill of health. In what ways does God’s power work in and through the medical, counseling and other professions today? How can human wisdom work with, rather than against, God’s healing power?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you knew it hurt when people shunned you. You knew the healing power of touching the untouchable. Help me know how to reach out in ways that include and heal the untouchable. Amen.

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Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden is Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at Saint Paul School of Theology at OCU. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. Her latest book (Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness, Abingdon Press, 2017) traces ancient mindfulness practice for Christians today.

It’s strikingly simple really. “Jesus reached out his hand and touched him.” It doesn’t say that Jesus recruited an expert in skin disease from the crowd to come help. It doesn’t say Jesus announced a new program to cure every leper in the region. Or set up a foundation to research and cure leprosy. Jesus doesn’t seem to consider all the grandiose things I think I must do in order to make a difference.  

Jesus responded to the hurting human being in front of him. I am convicted by the simplicity of Jesus’ act in this story. Too often it’s easy for me to think, “Why bother? What difference will it really make for me to help this one person?” Offering a meal to a person on the street who is hungry will not end world hunger, or even that person’s ongoing hunger one week from now. 

My need to “make a difference” is too often about me rather than about following Jesus’ mission in the world. To be clear, I do believe as Christians we are called to address systemic injustice and change. As I do that along the Jesus Way, I cannot let my need to change the world blind me to the hurting human being in front of me.

Lord, give me eyes to see, ears to hear and hands to touch. May it be so. Amen.

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