Summary: This sermon deals with how Jesus touched the untouchables and what that means for the church in a world of untouchables.
The Right Touch
We have increasingly become a culture of less touching. We are likely to greet one another here with handshakes and mild side-hugs! Yet, in culture at large there is uneasiness about touching in general. Maybe that is because of an increased awareness of germs or because it might be misread in our sexually charged culture as something other than a greeting and warm gesture. Yet we are still a far more touchy society than Japan.
I heard the story of one of our LST teams and a male team member with his relatively young female Japanese reader. When you meet with someone over a period of six weeks, sharing the story of Jesus, and your own life with others you feel very close to them. It is certainly not uncommon for people of both cultures to cry when it comes to time to say goodbye. This LST male team member knew that it was not customary for a man to hug a woman in Japan, even during emotional goodbyes. But he felt awkward saying goodbye with a polite bow or even a brief handshake (not common in Japan, but understood). So, he reached out with his arms and hugged the woman simply to say “Sayonara!” He released her from his embrace and she said with a shocked expression on her face, “Oh, first time, not my husband.”
Those are words that you do not want to hear in your cross-cultural experiences! There is the question of touch. How much touch is appropriate? What will it communicate? Sometimes in our social settings we struggle with what is the right touch. In the same way we struggle to believe in a Savior whom we cannot physically touch or see. Thomas had a hard time with that and Jesus said those that believe who have not seen are more blessed. We are not so sure. If only Jesus, would “reach out and touch us.”
In today’s text, we will read a story where the wrong touch turned out to be the right touch. And we will gain insight into what it means for Jesus to touch us. Read Text.
Trouble in the Text: A man is alienated from society by his leprosy.
Jesus has just called his disciples and they are traveling all around Galilee, preaching in the Synagogues. Jesus has to stay on the move, so that he will not be consumed by the people in any one place. There is also this issue that Jesus has come primarily to preach and not just to work miracles, which naturally the people are seeking more than his words (38).
While Jesus is about this mission a man with leprosy gets very close and personal by falling at Jesus’ knees and begging to be made clean. It is helpful for us, if we have some background to understand why this is a shocking scene. Read Lev. 13:45, 46. Leprosy could refer to any infectious skin disease. The problem was not primarily the spread of the disease, but the ritual uncleanness associated with it. A priest could declare a person unclean or clean, but could not heal it. Only God could, and so most people believed the disease was God’s way of bringing out hidden sin.
So, this man is living a miserable existence. He is not allowed to touch or to be touched. It is clear he ignores the proper etiquette of the right touch here, as he walks right up to Jesus. Furthermore, he is asking Jesus to do what no priest could do. He is asking Jesus to do what only God could do…make him clean by healing him. The priest could not declare him clean until the disease was removed. This man wants his life back. Who knows how long it has been since anyone has touched him. Somehow he has heard of Jesus and his deeds. He pushes through all of the religious and social barriers to throw himself before Jesus as his only hope.
His faith is astounding. Yet, Jesus could simply rebuke him as the unclean man he is and tell him not to touch him! There would have been tension surrounding Jesus and his companions and all that witnessed this moment. How would Jesus respond? How do we respond in these cases?
Trouble in Our World: We live in a world of untouchables.
In the summer of 2000, my LST team decided to stop in Bangkok for a few days before continuing on to Japan for our project. Thailand is a poor place and the beggars and the cripples are everywhere. I might be similar of what it would have been like to walk the streets of ancient Galilee. There are no disability checks or health insurance for the poor, no social safety net. If you are a cripple and without resources, then you are on the streets, hoping for the mercy of a few passerbys.