In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared.
- Luke 5:12-13
The words of Jesus carry power.
They are not simply good words with the power to change lives if heard and applied; the words themselves are power. They are not just life-giving; they are life.
With nothing more than a word, Jesus had the power to heal. A centurion’s sick servant, a friend who was dead and buried, a demon-possessed man; all were brought to health and life at the sound of his voice. Even the winds and the waves obey his commands.
Yet as we often see with Jesus, he doesn’t stop there. Even when a good word, a powerful word, would do the trick, Jesus knows there is yet more. Some demons only come out by prayer; perhaps others only come out by presence. Touch. Skin on skin. Intimate proximity.
A leprous man in an ancient Jewish community would have been ostracized. Excluded. Uninvited. Alone. For the sake of public health as much as (or more than) reasons of religious purity, he would be kept on the outskirts of society, quarantined. Likely, it would have taken immense courage and desperation for such a man to enter back into the parts of the city where Jesus was speaking; the places where crowds were gathered; the spaces where religion was being taught. Rules and codes would have been broken for the leper to be nearby, but that didn’t matter. For the hopeless, the hope of healing will drive anyone to do reckless things.
And Jesus responds with even greater recklessness. Not just a word: a touch. Deliberate contact with contamination. The word was enough to heal the man of his highly infectious disease, “I am willing. Be healed.” The touch was enough to restore the man’s soul. Deprived of human contact for as long as he had been sick (months? years?), Jesus welcomed him back to the land of the living. Community. Belonging. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; while we were yet untouchable, Jesus touched us. (Terry Wardle, a pastor and former seminary president, knows what it means to experience the healing touch of Christ in the middle of profound brokenness.)
The Power of Proximity
Most of us are quick to rebuke the wind and waves with our words. I know I am (often to no avail). When those around us are sick, trapped, lost, wrong, hopeless, stubborn, rebelling, broken, how often do we settle for mere words (often to nothing more than the sound of our own voices)? Perhaps, like Jesus, we could learn to heal by drawing close. By learning the power of proximity. Sometimes faith needs something to touch.
There are people all around us dying in their own ways, some more aware of their plight than others. “Everyone is fighting a battle,” we say. Yet are we willing to step into the battle and wage war against the darkness with another? Am I willing? Do we dare draw close with a touch of grace to the brokenhearted, the afflicted, the infected?
“I will,” Jesus said, and reaching out he touched the man.