A leper came to Jesus, and kneeling, he begged him and said, “If you want to, you can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand, touched him and said, “I want to. Be clean.”
In the 1940s, Dr. Rene Spitz examined institutionalized children. In a foundling home, abandoned children were cared for by nurses. They were raised in a sanitary environment, and properly fed, diapered, and given medical attention.
At the same time, Dr. Spitz studied children raised by mothers in prison. The conditions were similar to the foundling home, with one major difference: the mothers in prison were allowed to see their children daily, and they lavished affection on them – regularly hugging and touching them.
The babies raised in prison did great. But the babies in the foundling home, deprived only of touch and affection, suffered devastating symptoms. By two years, a third of them died. Those who survived to three years could not walk or talk.
Touch is the first sense that develops in the womb, and the last to leave in old age.
We can hardly imagine the horror of living as a leper. In Bible times, if you were diagnosed with leprosy, a contagious skin disease, you were cut off from society. You were no longer able to return home. You couldn’t kiss your wife or husband, or hug your children. You could no longer dance at weddings, nor cling to loved ones at funerals.
Instead, you were forced to live in a deserted area. You had to have bedraggled hair and wear ragged clothes. If anyone came near you, you had to shoo them away by yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!”
Anyone who touched you was immediately declared unclean.
Once, a leper disobeyed the rules. Rather than shooshing Jesus away, this one leper ran up to Jesus and knelt before him, issuing a desperate plea that sounded more like a challenge: “If you want to, you can make me clean.” Others who hoped for a miracle from Jesus questioned his power: “If you’re able to . . .” This leper doesn’t doubt Jesus’ power; he questions his compassion.
Jesus’ response to the leper still floors me. He did the unthinkable. Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him! He assured him he wanted to cleanse him, and he did.
Jesus spoke a life-giving message to the world. But he also wrapped his message in hugs for the children and a hand on the leper’s shoulder.
I used to visit people in nursing homes, and would read the Bible and pray with them. I still do those things. But God is showing me that I not only have a mouth, but hands that touch, and arms that hug.
(copyright by Marty Kaarre)