Ruth Jacob

When we read that Jesus touched someone who was deformed or ill or "unclean", what does it mean to us?  What picture comes into our mind?

If we were to do this, we would have to overcome a personal revulsion, or a fear of being hurt by the person or contracting their disease.  The best we can do, often, is to imagine reaching out to touch the person at arm's length with our fingertips, and almost invariably this is how Jesus is portrayed touching those he healed.  But Jesus was not an arm's-length person, he is the representation of the God who is with us, who suffers with us, and who identifies with us, even - in fact, especially - with those at the bottom of the pile.

We know that Jesus shocked and scandalised the successful, respectable people of his day by treating as real human beings those whom others had left on the scrapheap.

He went miles to bring good news and hope to the Samaritans, an utterly despised group of hybrid people whom his own countrymen would not eat with, or even trade with; they literally wouldn't have touched them with a barge pole.  On top of that, he shocked even his disciples by having a lengthy and serious conversation alone with one of the Samaritan women - and one who was considered "no better than she should be".  He made his disciples buy food there and then took them into the reviled town to accept their hospitality for a few days.

Yes, there were several other women of tarnished reputation whom Jesus made his friends, too.

Then there was the tax collector, Zacchaeus.  You think your taxman is despised?  Well, it was far worse than that.  These people collected money from their countrymen for the occupying Romans.  They were collaborators.  Whatís more, they took extra to line their own pockets.  Respectable people spat at them in the street: if they were careless enough to brush against a tax collector they would burn all their clothes when they got home.  It was someone like this that Jesus visited and ate with Ė no casual matter but a strong sign of friendship.  It was utterly unthinkable!

Jesus didnít only accept people who were in lifeís gutter, he lived through the same things himself that they suffered.  He described himself once as having nowhere to lay his head.  He knew what it was like to be homeless, not to be welcomed in.  Sometimes he spent the night on a mountainside.  Sometimes he didnít eat for days, such as the time he multiplied a lunch pack to feed thousands because they had been with him for three days and had long ago run out of food.  He didnít always have any money; when asked for tax once, he didnít have a coin in his bag to give them.

Jesus touched others, whoever they were, to heal and release them.  And he let others touch him, and that healed and released them too.  Many of us know of the woman who had a condition which had made her, because of the religious rules, untouchable for twelve years.  She elbowed her way through a crowd to reach Jesus, hoping somehow to draw into herself that health which his touch gave.  She wanted to do it inconspicuously, so that she could just go home and resume the life that she had been cut off from for so long.  But Jesus asked who had touched him.  Imagine how quickly the crowd must have pulled back from her as they discovered her disease, and realised that they had rubbed against someone who was not allowed to be touched!  A taboo had been broken, and they probably felt nauseated.  Jesus didnít feel nauseated, because Jesus didnít care about taboos and rules that isolated people; Jesus only cared about the person behind the disease, behind the isolation.  Was it sensing this that gave the woman the audacity to break those rules too?  She was not disappointed: not only was she cured, she was also welcomed and congratulated by Jesus on her faith.

She wasnít the only one whom Jesus allowed to touch him.  Judas, leading the arresting soldiers to Jesus, identified him by kissing him.  Jesus called him Ďfriendí.  He let soldiers beat him, push him around, and hold him while they crucified him.  This, too, was to gain their health and life.  Because his pain ("by His stripes we are healed") and death released the healing and transforming power of the life of God into the cosmos, which will ultimately overcome their inhumanity and tranform them into the image (become authentically human) of the One they were persecuting and crucifying.

Finally, when Thomas was sceptical that the person standing in front of him more full of life than anyone heíd ever seen before was the same person as the limp and messy corpse heíd seen a few days before, Jesus beckoned to him, inviting him to feel the wounds that he still carried, to know that he wasnít seeing a ghost but a real live person.

Jesusís touch restores health, gives a personís life back, reinstates them as a member of the community, and demonstrates the reality of his resurrection.  It brings healing to the whole person.