by Katy Lines
If you’ve got your trail map handy (Matt 8:1-17), take a look at where Jesus leads us this week… the edges, the margins, where ancient mapmakers added in sea monsters and dragons. Jesus walks down the mountain with his own authority and towards those who
disgust others, like the unclean leper
have colonized the land, like the Roman centurion
have little standing in society, like Peter’s unnamed mother-in-law
are dis-eased, the leper, the paralyzed servant, the ill woman, and all those with broken spirits and hurting bodies.
Jesus proclaims and practices God’s kingdom presence. He walks to the edge to meet those who hurt, and to heal them. Then he moves in close. He isn’t afraid to touch them, even while they were still “unclean” and possibly contagious. He stretches his hand out to the leper. He takes the woman’s hand and lifts her from her bed. And he heals their bodies.
But he does so much more than that, too. Jesus restores those who are traumatized and detached— restores us to wholeness in relationships.
To the healed leper: Show the priest you are clean and return to your community. Don’t make a big deal of it, but give thanks.
To the centurion: This person you care deeply about is restored healthy to you.
And the sick woman: A touch to restore the opportunity for hospitality to those she welcomes into her home.
Jesus has authority, ability, and desire to heal and restore those whom he encounters. But what’s so fascinating is his willingness to often do so on other people’s terms! The leper asks Jesus to make a choice to heal him… and Jesus does. But Jesus resists creating a pattern or template for his healings. Because next the centurion approaches Jesus and, respecting the culture he’s colonized, asks that Jesus not enter his home, but heal the servant from a distance. And Jesus agrees to his conditions!
This is new territory! Touching the untouchable. Having authority, yet respecting the request of the army general. Making space for those who interrupted his plans. Restoring not just bodies, but bodies in relationships, households, communities.
That’s the path Jesus forges for us. To move towards relationships with those we aren’t comfortable with. The temptation, especially these days, is to find others like us. Play it safe. But as those walking on Jesus’ path together, we’ve got to resist the temptation to only be in relationships with those like us. That means liberals and conservatives. Brewers and teetotalers. Long-timers and newcomers. Straight and gay. Englewood and Mano de Amistad. And not just binaries, but all the places between. Move towards. Lean in.
Jesus didn’t just move towards, but he touched those whom he restored. I don’t know about you, but I think we need to be more willing to touch each other— hugs, handshakes, reminders that we are physical beings. And as important as physical touch is though, Jesus also leaned in and listened to those he encountered. He listened to understand, to discern how to respond. How can we do that better amongst ourselves? We have to take the risk to practice that with one another if we hope to do that with others, too.
The way of Jesus is healing and restoring. Can we move out of our comfort zone into a new territory of discomfort? Can we lean in to touch others, listen to understand, and respond? Can we participate in the care of restoration and healing that Jesus demonstrates as the nature of God’s kingdom?