“A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”
—Mark 1: 40-42
Our family physician was Dr. Hansen, a pleasant but serious-minded and gentle giant of a man with big but delicate hands. He seemed to lumber forward when he walked into our house to see my aged grandmother, with his ever-present stethoscope around his neck and his well-worn doctor’s bag in hand.
Then again, maybe the hometown doc wasn’t as big a man as I remember from boyhood, when dutifully he came to our house any time that my elderly grandmother “Nannie” fell ill. Maybe he looms large in my mind now because everyone saw him as such a towering figure in our town. Even now I look back on him as a giant presence of peace and calm, compassion and grace. I still think of him sometimes in my ministry when I’m at someone’s sickbed or deathbed.
This was a role model who modeled God’s sheer grace.
* * * *
I remember how Dr. Hansen would pull up a chair beside my “Nannie’s” bed, then take a hand of hers and swallow it up with one of his own big hands while gently placing the other palm on her head. In the manner of Jesus, he literally laid hands on her.
“Are you feeling poorly today, Ms. Chasteen?” he would ask softly.
“I am, Dr. Hansen. I’m so glad you’re here,” she would tell him.
“Well tell me why you feel so bad; are you hurting somewhere?”
I remember being impressed even at such a young age by that proverbial “bedside manner,” where the physician used no tools other than the calming influence of his presence—and his taking my grandmother’s hand—while making his initial diagnosis. Only after some of this fully engaged contact with my grandmother would he take his stethoscope to her chest, or gingerly place a thermometer under her tongue.
Dr. Hansen’s presence and touch did not in itself “cure” my grandmother of what ailed her, but it did bring her the curative relief of spiritual healing that could only enhance the physical healing.
One only has to scan the relatively short gospel of Mark, with an eye to all the touching going on, to grasp the power of healing touch. The presence and the hands of Jesus were spiritual weapons that his enemies were powerless to deal with—there was just no way to “disarm” this prince.
So the fear-filled persecutors punched nails through those tender palms of the carpenter-turned-healer, on the assumption that they were putting such dangerous hands out of commission forever. Turns out it wasn’t the end of Christ that they thought this crucifixion would be. Crucifixions, after all, had always been a reliable means for ending a life.
Yet the power of the hand of God, which could not be eliminated even in death, was passed on to the apostles in a matter of days after the resurrection, when Jesus breathed the powers of the Spirit of grace and healing upon them (John 20: 22).
Jesus still touches lives with his healing presence, and through the hands of doctors and all kinds of caregivers through their hands and hugs and mere, compassionate presence.
The power touch, appropriately applied+ holds the endless power of God’s healing grace.
*If touching and hugging is “too long and too strong,” it’s not appropriate with someone you don’t know or don’t know very well. Be mindful that not all people like to be touched or hugged. It’s a good idea in giving care to someone laid low by illness, injury or grief of any kind to ask, “Would you be comfortable if I gave you a hug right now?” Or, “I feel like holding your hand if you’re comfortable with that. Is that OK?” If the person is not comfortable do not touch–not physically. The important thing is to touch the other’s heart, mind and spirit with your compassionate presence.