February 11, 2024; Mark 1:40-45; 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.” Jesus touches a man with leprosy. It was something that most people would never do. People at the time of Jesus did not know what caused leprosy. They were unaware that a bacteria infected the body and deformed it. Because they did not understand leprosy, they kept lepers away. Lepers had to stand apart. People would not approach them. Jesus did, and the leper was healed.
Jesus touches the leper to give us an example. He knows that in our lives there are people whom we do not understand, those whose actions and motivations are different from ours and unclear to us. Because we do not understand, we keep such people away. We do not come near to them. Such people can be those who have hurt us or those who have spread false rumors about us. They can be those who think differently from us, politically or religiously. They can be those who are different from us because of their race, background, or sexual orientation. When people are different from us, we often do not understand them, and we keep them away.
Jesus asks us to approach such people and touch them. His example does not demand that we approach to offer them complete forgiveness or become their friends. He does not ask us to like them or take them to lunch. Jesus is not looking for us to embrace them. He simply asks us to touch them—to touch them as an admission that they are present, as a recognition that they have enough merit to warrant a “Good Morning” or a few words about the weather.
Jesus asks us to offer a simple gesture for his sake. He does not promise us that if we make such a gesture every hurt will be healed or all our suspicions will be erased. But he does know that if we cannot find the strength to offer even a gesture of welcome or peace, we will never grow, reconcile, or understand.
So the next time you run into someone who has hurt you or of whom you are suspicious, the next time you encounter someone who is living in a different world than yours, do not walk coldly past trying to avoid eye contact. Have the courage to touch that person with a hello or maybe even a smile. That is what Jesus would do, and we are after all his disciples.