The Touch

Some of the most stirring but also the most tragic images the Bible gives us are of great crowds surging toward Jesus so they could be healed. At a time when humanity had only the most basic knowledge of the human body and knew of only the most rudimentary medical treatments, there were always many who suffered constantly and grievously. Thus we can picture in our minds people covered in sores limping toward him, people who could not walk crawling toward him, people unable to move being carried toward him. Surrounding him always were the most pitiable people in the most desperate of conditions.

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And as they came, Jesus would reach out and touch them. As his hand came into contact with theirs, they would receive strength. As his fingers brushed against their bodies, they would be made whole—bones would be knit back together, ligaments would be strengthened, eyes would be opened, ears would be unstopped. Though the ministry of Jesus was primarily about teaching, it also involved much touching, for the crowds that surged toward him longed to feel his healing touch.

We do not have such power today, for it pleased God to allow that healing gift to fade away at the end of the age of the Apostles, at the time when the writing of the Scriptures had come to completion. But we still do have the ability to touch people’s lives, for their good or ill, for their strengthening or weakening, for their blessing or cursing.

Our lives, and those of others, are constantly coming into contact with one another. Friends and enemies, neighbors and colleagues, family members and perfect strangers—as we live out our lives, Providence directs that they come into our orbit and we into theirs. And if we acknowledge that God’s unseen hand directs all our ways, then we must acknowledge that our paths and those of other people do not cross without some design, some purpose. It was no chance encounter when, along the border between Samaria and Galilee, Jesus was met by 10 lepers. It was no coincidence that when he entered Bethsaida a blind man approached him there. It was no lucky break that, as he approached the Sea of Galilee, a deaf man awaited him. The mind of God had planned all of this, the hand of God had directed it, and it fell to Jesus to make the most of each opportunity.

There is no reason to believe the mind and hand of God are any less involved with the encounters we now experience on a daily basis. There is no random in this universe. There is no chance, no coincidence, no luck. If each atom and each molecule is known and directed by God, then surely no less the feet of men and women made in his image. None of us follows any path but the one he has laid out for us. And thus we can be confident that the people we meet along the way are the very people God meant for us to meet along the way. We can be equally confident that he has a purpose in mind for those meetings, whether they last for moments or for days. In some way he means for us to imitate our Savior and to represent our Savior by reaching out to touch their lives.

Of course our touch no longer cures diseases or fixes infirmities. But we still do have the ability to make a difference, to say the kinds of words Jesus might say if he stood before them and to do the kinds of deeds Jesus might do if his life had come into contact with theirs. We can encourage them toward the gospel if they do not know Jesus and encourage them in the gospel if they do. We can comfort them in sorrow, equip them for ministry, challenge them in faithfulness, strengthen them for service. We can bring joy, bring hope, bring comfort, bring a blessing. We can touch their lives and make their burden easier, their step lighter, their heart freer.

Jesus left no one worse than he had found them. None left his presence without some blessing, some challenge, some enablement or encouragement to live for the good of others and the glory of God. And what a difference it would make in this world if we determined to do the same—to live with steadfast purpose, to live with an awareness of the hidden but omnipresent hand of Providence, to determine that none will leave our presence without having received some encouragement, some blessing, some gift of God’s grace as mediated through our mouths, through our hands. What a difference it would make in the world if we determined to be as constant as Jesus in reaching out with a helping, healing touch.