Seldom do we consider the power of touch. There are touches that damage and leave wounds. There are also touches that bring comfort and healing. That kiss from mom when we scraped our knee really did make everything better. These childhood memories are placed in the curio of our minds with other sentimental treasures; perhaps the tickle of Grandpa’s whiskers when he leaned in for a raspberry. As for me, I’ll never forget the firmness of Uncle Joe’s grip. “We’re shaking hands,” he’d remind me, “Not holding hands!”

The incredible touch. Do we truly comprehend the depths of our innermost longing for this simple pleasure? Life seems so incomplete without it. I remember the desperate look on my wife’s face when severe illness left her paralyzed for a season. She could no longer embrace our oldest daughter. Not to mention, she was pregnant at the time. The prospect of never being able to hold our newborn haunted her. How grateful we were that she recovered before giving birth.

Honestly, I don’t know which is more painful: the unsolicited touch or the thought of never being touched again. I’ll bet the leper knew. “If you are willing,” he cried out to Jesus, “You can make me clean.”

“Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man…” Mark 1:41

How could Jesus not have compassion? With the cross in full view, He knew that even his closest friends would turn their backs on Him. He understood that he would stand before His accusers alone. Not a single voice would be heard on His behalf. He fully realized He would be left abandoned on an ugly cross.

Yes, Jesus is familiar with grief. He is well acquainted with sorrow. He knows what it means to be forsaken. For these reasons, it just wasn’t possible for Him to turn His back on the lonely leper.

With a body covered with repulsive and contagious sores, no one dared get near him. Companionship, affection and touching were all distant memories for this poor fellow. He had become an outcast. He had grown used to people looking away. But Jesus was different. He showed compassion. He truly felt for the leper – the man beneath the skin.

The leper was healed the moment Jesus spoke. What’s most significant is that Jesus touched him. Certainly, He didn’t need to. He had healed countless others without physical contact. Why did Jesus place His hand on this particular individual?

It was pure compassion that moved the arm of Jesus. With a loving hand, Jesus reached straight into the lonely leper’s heart, meeting his deepest longing. Oh, how he craved for a simple touch, a reassuring touch that there was at least one person out there that truly cared. Is such longing so unfamiliar? Do we not see it in faces all around us?

In a small dusty village on the outskirts of San Vicente, Mexico, the cry of small children can be heard. They long to be touched. They romp in the soil while father toils in the field and mother tends to chores. Their homes are fashioned from wood and cardboard scraps. Rugs on dirt floors serve as their beds. We came with balloons, candy, and puppets. Before entering the camp, we were told not to touch the kids as they were riddled with parasites.

After being warned of these microscopic villains we soon found ourselves surrounded by their hosts. “Unclean” children reached out to us with pleading arms. It was impossible to deny them. And with merely a touch, their faces lit up with joy.

This longing is not unique to impoverished children. It can be seen on the faces of the forgotten: in homeless shelters, hospitals, convalescent homes and prisons. It can be seen among the youth that wander aimlessly in every city. It is the same cry of the leper that’s heard, “If you are willing…”

Is it not also the same plea of the sinner? Only, before we can utter it, Jesus is already at the door of our hearts crying, “I am willing! I am willing!” All one need do is receive Him. And as He did with the unclean leper, he reaches into the depths of our hearts and cleans us white as snow.

“I am willing! I am willing!” It is the message of the cross. When Jesus reached His arms across that horrible plank of wood, He was reaching for you. He longs to touch you even now.

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