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It can be life-changing to show love to others through our touch and physical presence.
The Tendency to Avoid Physical Contact
We have a tendency in our society today to avoid physical contact with anyone or anything we consider “unclean.” I see this avoidance of physical touch in my own life. It probably has to do with evolution and avoiding diseases or contamination. But it’s not how Jesus engaged with people.
Jesus and Physical Touch
There is an interesting passage in the book of Mark (8:22-26) where Jesus heals a blind man. Jesus was teaching in Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. Why do they want Jesus to touch him? The text doesn’t say, but throughout the Gospels it seems like touch and healing were connected for Jesus.
This particular process of healing was all about touch. From the beginning, Jesus took the blind man by the hand. Then Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him. Jesus then asks if the man can see anything, and the man responds by saying he sees blurry shapes. Then Jesus puts his hands on the man’s eyes. Finally the man’s sight was restored and he could see everything clearly.
I’m not sure why Jesus connected touch with healing. I’m sure he could have figured out a less “messy” way to heal people. But personally, I like that Jesus used his touch. Physical touch is significant because it indicates involvement. Jesus was right there, fully engaged with the people he healed. He was close, he touched, he even swapped bodily fluids. Jesus didn’t heal from a distance.
Love People Up Close
I think we can take a lesson from Jesus. We live in a society in which we are often disengaged from those we consider “the other.” I felt this disengagement as I walked through downtown Dallas the other night. I tried to avoid eye contact with the homeless man asking me for money—I certainly didn’t want to sit with him or touch him.
I remember one evening I was volunteering with a church that serves people in Dallas who struggle with mental illness. Many of these people struggle to get adequate medical care. Many are homeless. One night when I was volunteering, I felt convicted to love people up close. I felt like God was telling me to give hugs, shake hands, engage physically.
It wasn’t easy. I remember one man wouldn’t let my hand go after I shook his hand with mine. He spit as he talked, and some of the spit got on my face. I felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave.
But I didn’t.
Loving people up close isn’t always comfortable, but it’s good.
Discussion: How do you feel about loving people through your physical touch and presence? Who could you challenge yourself to love up close, even if it is uncomfortable for you?