The Touch of a Holy Hand

I’m a sucker for a good cat video. There are many ways to find furry cuteness online, and Instagram is one of my favorite sources of adorable animal videos and photos. Besides the usual sorts of cute animal posts, I also follow an account for a special-needs cat named Potato (@realstumpycat).

Potato was born with severe deformities. Besides being blind, her legs are abnormally short— picture a Dachshund, but a cat. Cats are usually low-maintenance pets, but poor little Potato needs to have her face washed for her, besides other unusual measures her owner takes for her daily care. It’s clear from her posts that Potato’s owner loves her dearly. She speaks sweetly to her as she plays with or pets her. Potato’s day begins with morning cuddles, and she closes her eyes and mews with contentment in the comfort of her owner’s caresses. Trusting and at peace, Potato is safe in her owner’s loving care.

It wasn’t so long ago that going to extra lengths to care for a special-needs animal was unheard of. A cat that can’t catch mice, or even properly care for itself, would have been considered useless. And useless animals were either left to perish on their own or disposed of. To the world Potato is useless, and she is indeed helpless, her needs are overwhelming, and many would discard her, but to her owner she is precious.

Do you ever feel helpless? Are your needs overwhelming? Do you believe you’re only worth being discarded? I have news: whether you feel it or not, you actually may be useless, you are helpless, your needs are overwhelming, and the world may very well discard you.

I have better news: if you are in Christ, to your Savior, you are precious.

This came home to me when I read a particularly tender passage in the gospel of Matthew. Throughout his ministry Jesus healed many people, from the helpless paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends (Mark 2:1-12), to the man who waited by the pool of Bethesda for an overwhelming 38 years (John 5:5-9). In Matthew 8 Jesus was coming down from preaching the Sermon on the Mount when he was approached by a leper.

In the Bible the term “leprosy” may mean any number of skin diseases, but anyone who was labeled “a leper” lived apart from the community of God’s people. Leprosy was not only a curse used by God for particular instances of grievous sin (see Numbers 12:1-15 & 2 Chronicles 26:16-23), in Scripture it is often a metaphor for sin. Moses wrote into God’s Law that lepers were to live outside the camp and they were not to be touched by others. Whenever a leper encountered others he or she was to cry, “Unclean, unclean!” to warn people to keep their distance. Surely this was to prevent the spread of disease. Isolated from their families and the company of others, lepers lived painful, useless, lonely lives on the fringes of society. They were the untouchable discards of humanity.

But in Matthew 8, as Jesus is coming down from the mountain where he had just delivered his Sermon, a leper approaches him. Surely the great crowds following Jesus parted like the Red Sea as they avoided this untouchable man who knelt before the Lord. Helpless to cleanse himself and overwhelmed by his need, the way he phrases his request is heartbreaking.

“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” —Matthew 8:2

Note his faith: he believes that Jesus can heal him—he just knows that he can. But what he doesn’t know is if Jesus even wants to cleanse him. It’s as if he’s saying, “I know you can do this, but, Lord, I totally understand if you don’t want to.” He has become so used to being discarded and untouchable that he wouldn’t blame the Lord for denying his request. It wouldn’t surprise him in the least if Jesus said to him, “No, I’d rather not cleanse you, actually.”

But look how our compassionate Lord responds to this humble, heartbroken man:

Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy was cleansed. —Matthew 8:3

I wonder if the man even heard the words. The touch of that holy, gentle, and loving hand upon his unclean, diseased skin must have been at the same time electrifying and also so very soothing. Jesus did want to heal him; he only needed to speak the words. But for the sake of compassion, he did more. He not only spoke words of healing, he stretched out his hand and caressed the skin that hadn’t felt the touch of another from the moment of the onset of his illness. The balm of Gilead touched the man’s wounds and made him whole.

This is the compassion with which God loves each one of his beloved. We are all ‘deformed’ by original sin. Helpless in our iniquities and overwhelmed by our transgressions, we are worthy only to be discarded in Hell. We are lepers. Yet, because of his everlasting love, the Father sent the Son to bear our sins, cleansing us, making us whole and wholly his. In order to heal us, Jesus Christ became cursed with our disease (sin), and gave us his perfect health (righteousness) in exchange.

[Christ Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. —Philippians 2:6-8

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24

To the world you may not amount to much, but if you are in Christ, you are precious in God’s eyes. Because of the cross, your sins are cleansed—forgiven, never to be counted against you ever again. In Christ, God loves you dearly, speaks tenderly to you, gives you peace which surpasses all understanding, and you are safe in his care. Beloved child of God, entrust yourself to him.

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