A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “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. Mark 1:40-42

Have you ever noticed that our culture is not a culture of ‘closeness’? Many Americans don’t like to be close to things or people. Cars have bucket seats so that passengers have enough room and their own space. People have personal bubbles. It is far easier to stand at a distance and speak with others. Often, when people stand too closely to us or lean their faces too near ours, we become uneasy and tend to back up. We like our space, we like our boundaries and we protect our personal bubbles that we so diligently establish.

Have you noticed it happening in other ways beyond personal space? Try calling your bank or credit card company. Does a real person ever answer the phone or are we guided by automation? Have you ever shopped online where you do not have to deal with real people, long lines and a cashier? Just the other day I was in the subway in Boston and instead of purchasing tickets from a person, I bought my tickets from an automated machine. The world we live in does not seem to create closeness.

Though the world we live in often avoids being close, we have a God who chooses to be closer than we expect. In Mark 1, Jesus heals a leper. Jesus does not stand at a distance and tell the leper to follow the automated guide pushing numbers for desired results on his phone. “And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.” [1:40-41]. Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the leper! Can you imagine what this scene must have looked like? Lepers were the outcasts of the society, forced to live in colonies outside of civilization. When lepers would come into town they would have to make it publicly known that they were lepers. In this account, we have Jesus not only associating with lepers, but also reaching out his hand and touching a leper!

The miracle of the leper being healed is astounding itself, but did you notice what else happened in this story. Did you notice how close Jesus got to this man? Jesus reaches out and touches this man and when He does, notice what happens! Immediately the leprosy left the man and he was cured. ‘Closeness’ to Jesus changes lives. It did for the leper and it does for us. Through Word and Sacrament, Jesus reaches into our lives and touches us. His blood covers us and as a result, we are given forgiveness and life eternal. When Jesus’ nail-pierced hands touch us, we are forever changed. We have new motivation to draw close to others as well, guided by the Word and infused by the Spirit. We carry a close witness to our world.
Thanks be to God that He chooses to be closer to us than we could ever imagine or deserve. We are privileged to share in the miracle with the leper. Both he and us come in close proximity of Jesus, and when we did things changed. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” [Col. 1:21-22].