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Do Not Touch!

We all know, are feeling that it’s hard not to touch, not to hug family and friends and not the be touched and hugged by them. Our New Testament takes us into a situation where the motto is the same: ‘Do not touch!’ A leper has come to Jesus. He seems to be in the early stages of his illness and therefore not isolated…yet. But he knows what his future is; he sees his fate looming: abandonment, complete rejection. For in addition to his physical illness and the suffering that comes with it, he is deemed as being unclean. And in his despair, he kneels before Jesus; trapped in the darkness of what lies ahead of him, he begs Jesus ‘If you will, you can make me clean’. He asks Jesus to make him clean. He desperately hopes that Jesus wants to make him clean, while knowing that he, the leper, is not to be touched. So, will Jesus do what the man desires? Will He make Him clean from a distance? The first thing that happens after the man’s plea is not something that Jesus does. The first response to the man’s plea is something that happens to Jesus, within Him: He is struck by compassion, by pity and that overwhelming feeling makes that Jesus does something. He touches the man. Think back for a second of that moment in history when Lady Diane shook the hand of the person that suffered from aids. Just as that patient would not have expected to be touched by the princess, so did this man not expect to be touched by Jesus. But that is what happens, from within that overwhelming emotion of compassion; from within His heart, Jesus touches him. Only after that, as a consequence of what happens in Jesus’ heart, the ‘Do not touch’, motto goes out of the window. Jesus is not afraid to be challenged. He stretches out His hand and makes physical contact with the man. Then, the man receives what he asked for, when Jesus says, ‘I will, be clean’. And the man was clean. In the story everything happens so quickly. The story is read within a few minutes and that can make you overlook the order in which things happen, and then you fail to notice certain things. One of those things is that Jesus has His own plan. He gives the man what he asked for, but not straight away. There is the sense of suspension that easily gets lost. The sick man asks Jesus to make him clean- Jesus feels compassion- Jesus touches-the man receives what he asked for.  There are stages. How is that in our lives, when Jesus addresses us, in our needs? While we think and are focused on our thoughts and wishes, Jesus feels and thinks, He has a plan and it’s always a plan that is rooted in His love and remains immersed in His love. Jesus can touch in mysterious ways. And it can take us a long time before we realize that He does. Much longer than the seconds in the story of the leper. It is possible to not realize that God makes contact with us. And if that’s the case, He has time and takes time to let you learn to discern and recognize it. For He wants to be known by you, recognized by you for who He is.  And it takes time to get to know Him. This getting to know Him, it’s part and parcel of training in and growing in faith. Faith in God who feels passionate love for us in His heart. The compassion that makes Jesus touch the man, comes from the heart of God. As we have it in our Old Testament passage: Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the Lord. The compassion, this intense love of God that we find in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, that is the same compassion that Jesus feels for the leper. It runs throughout the bible, it runs throughout our lives, at all times, on both good and bad days. God cannot, will never let go His love. Even though that love is not recognized, acknowledged, knocked down. It remains unshakable, unwavering. He is patient. The Lord is a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, (Exodus 34:6) He is patient in the face of the statement that was once made by the French Philosopher Nietzsche, the statement that God is dead. Nietzsche made that statement on the basis of his conviction that only reasoning is the source of life. When we reason, we form our own thoughts, we control them. But this year, we all had to un-learn that we are in control of our lives. This year we all faced our vulnerability. Maybe, hopefully awareness of our vulnerability makes us acknowledge more than ever that the God of the Bible is a living, loving God. The God who during this difficult year, was present and whose presence, whose touch was felt in ways we could not have imagined and cannot imagine; in ways we could not have imagined and cannot explain by reasoning. When the sick man is healed, he is told by Jesus to remain quiet about what’s happened to him. Instead of telling people, Jesus wants him to go to the priests and do what is required of him by Moses. So, having followed His heart, Jesus remains the Jew who obeys the law. That is another thing that is easily overlooked. If we do, we don’t let Jesus be who He is. But why does Jesus want silence? Isn’t this an opportunity for mission? Sharing the good news? Yes, but timing is a crucial thing in Jesus plans. His timing is His Father’s timing and it’s different from ours. Jesus is very sensitive. Talking about what Jesus had done for the sick man at that point in time, would make people see Him as a miracle worker. People shouldn’t think too quickly that they know who He is from what they hear. Who He is to people will have to emerge by discovering who He is, bit by bit. No shortcuts, no running ahead. So here’s something else that is not to be overlooked: the times of silence that are incorporated in God’s plans, for His reasons, reasons that are mysteries for us and with which we have to live. The story starts with the anticipation that the leper would end up in desolate places. But it ends with Jesus ending up in desolate places as the result of the spreading of the news by the man, which Jesus told Him to not to do. Getting to know God means becoming aware that He addresses our needs in His way; through His, and not our plans. So let‘s not run ahead, but stay behind Him and let Him set the pace. Learn from Him, who in His own mysterious ways moves and says, Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Amen