Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Touch

As I was reading in the Gospel of Mark today, I was reminded of a story; and as usual, when that happens I need to write it down.

The passage was the gospel of Mark, chapter 1:29-45.
“And immediately after they had come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever, and immediately they spoke to Him about her. And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.
And when evening had come, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door.
And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.
And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there. 
And Simon and his companions hunted for Him; and they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”
And He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.”
And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.
And a leper came to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean,”
And moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand, and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing, be cleansed.”
And immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, and He said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”
But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news about, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.”

*A story came to mind as I read certain verses from this passage and the remembrance that I saw firsthand what a touch can do toward the spiritual healing of someone.  

When I was growing up, we lived next door to a family of boys. Theirs was a rough home life with a mousy little mother and a loud obnoxious father, who was chronically unfaithful, and habitually abusive toward his wife and children; we saw this first hand. 

The youngest boy in the family was a year younger than me, and during the course of our growing up years, we joined the other kids in the neighborhood playing ball in the vacant lot across the street and riding bikes all over town. But as we grew into our Jr. High and High School years, the differences in our lives became apparent, and the childhood friendship waned and ended. I’m not proud to admit this, but he was a boy, after all, and my friends were mostly girls. He became coarse and rough, and yet, looking back, cowardly and needy…..of male companionship.

As his older brothers grew up they ran with the rougher crowds, smoking, drinking, and when the drug culture really took off, that as well.

In the midst of all that Billy seemed lost. Always his mother’s baby, he was struggling to find a place. The guys in school didn't like him, didn't feel comfortable around him, and mocked, teased and picked on him, while at home…..well, I can’t imagine at home. 

After he graduated, he joined the military, and the last I had heard, had settled on the west coast.  My mother moved to another part of town away from his parents but continued to run into Bill’s mother here and there. 

Eventually, my mom told me that his mother had started attending one of the churches in town, and we were all glad to hear this. 

But several years later not long after I married, my mom shared with me that Bill had come back to town, and was living with his folks. He was ill, apparently with AIDS, and had come home to receive his care and treatments close to his family.

This didn't really surprise me. Bill had turned to the gay lifestyle for all the obvious reasons they give, but for all the good it did to analyze the reasons and whys, he was now dying.

One weekend when we were home Mother and I were headed to my sisters for dinner on a Sat. morning, we stopped by the grocery store in that small town I grew up in and when we pulled up to the curb to park the car, Mother commented that Bill’s mother was sitting in the car next to us, and sure enough as I got out of the car to run into the store, Bill came out of the store with a carton of cigarettes.

We stopped and looked at each other, grinning and confirming that yes, we were who we thought the other one was. He was a shadow of his former self, frighteningly thin, and pale as a ghost. When I stepped forward to give him a hug, he seemed surprised but eagerly responded when he realized I meant it. There we were, two play mates from childhood, seeing each other after years and years of life.

As we pulled apart, I asked how he was doing, and he admitted that it wasn't too good, but he was hanging in there. He struggled to look me in the eye, so I went over to the car and bent down to tell his mother hello, and as I did I noticed tears in her eyes as she smiled at me and said hello. Bill got into the car, and as I told them each goodbye, she reached out and took my hand squeezing it and brimming over and whispered: “Thank you.” 

When I got out of the store and back into our car, my mother was beyond upset. “You wash your hands as soon as you can!”  she said. I assured her that you could not get AIDS from touching someone, but she was adamant, “I don’t care, you wash up anyway!”  I could tell it scared her to death.

The above passage of scripture reminded me of this story today as I read it.

Vs. 32 “And when evening had come, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door.”

Why wait till sunset, under the cover of darkness? Because in that time, those who were ill, or considered possessed were considered unclean, and therefore untouchables. The only times they were able to be out and about was under the cover of darkness when everyone else was home in bed.

Then in verse 40: “And a leper came to Him, beseeching Him and falling on His knees before Him, and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”

I have checked this translation with several others, and they all say the same, “You can make me clean.”

Healing did not seem to be the issue so much as the whole idea of cleanness; Cleanness meant restoration, acceptance, inclusion, and relationships.

“You can make me so I am acceptable to the rest of society, so I will be included, and can have friends and family again.”  I wonder if that is what he was really saying when he asked Jesus to make him clean?

The next verse is what says it all though:
“And moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand, AND TOUCHED HIM, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.”

Jesus touched the untouchable.

Imagine the feeling of that man who had not had a human touch in years when he felt someone touch him for the first time.

Bill did die of AIDS, but not before he accepted Christ as his Savior. For you see in the story of the family, that small church, that his mother had started attending a few years prior, hired a new pastor; a guy new to the area who knew nothing of the town, or the people, or the stories that went with them.

When he found out that Mary, a part of his church, had a son who was dying, he went to call on them……every week……and toward the end, every day. He called on this family who for years had sat in a shadow of reputation and gossipy assumptions, but who desperately needed to be told of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Every week he went and ministered Jesus to them, and before Bill died, he prayed and received Jesus as his Savior,  and not long after  Bill’s death, his dad started attending church and eventually walked the aisle to the altar and gave his heart to Jesus as well.

I’m glad the preacher at the church had greater faith in God than he did in the mistakes and sorrows and reputations of people. I’m glad he did not know the stories, or if he did he ignored them and went out and ‘touched’ them anyway.

This story is a constant reminder to me of God’s grace and power and that time is not our enemy if God is on our side.  It is also a reminder that prejudice and bigotry are born out of ignorance and assumptions, something the church should not tolerate. It also reminds me to check that log, before I go fishing for splinters.  But mostly it reminds me how desperately some people need the “touch of Jesus”.

*names have been changed