Pure celestial fire...
I have read that Michelangelo said, "To touch can be to give life."
We have been struck in the last week by the story of Jesus healing the leper.
'Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.'
Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!'
Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
Jesus, of course, did directly touch many people to heal them, although he did not even need to be near others to bring wholeness and freedom. The shocking aspect of this miracle is that he actually made physical contact with a leper. Shunned and ostracised from human society, a leper would have experienced his deepest pain at least as much emotionally and socially as he would physically. The scandal of Jesus touching this man is powerfully illustrated by the reaction of his disciples in the video clip below.
Our simple word 'touch' is perhaps inadequate to convey what is happening in this account. The greek word hepsato has a fascinating root and connotation. The reflexive use of the word implies 'to fasten or attach oneself to'. Moreover, the root word means 'to fasten light or fire to', in other words to kindle or set on fire. To 'touch' as used here implies more than simply to make contact; it has the force of modifying or changing by touching, touching someone in a way that influences or alters them, or, as it has been described, 'impact-touching'. Add to this the element of 'kindling' and you have the powerful thought of Jesus imparting a life-changing flame into this man's body and, I believe, spirit.
Earlier today the passionate words of Charles Wesley came to mind from his famous hymn:
O Thou who camest from above
The pure celestial fire to impart
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of my heart!
What an amazing thing that God has reached out and 'impact-touched' our own hearts, 'fastening himself to us' and kindling 'a flame of sacred love.'
Yet as we reflected on this story over the last few days, we felt the challenge and exciting potential for our own situation. We are called to reach out and touch the lives of others, especially those 'outside the camp' - 'lepers, tax collectors, sinners'. As we do this, the Spirit of Jesus can fill us, too, with compassion and bring his life-transforming fire into their lives.