Jesus Crossed Boundaries: The Acceptable and the Rejected

Jesus Crossed Boundaries: The Acceptable and the Rejected

Jesus Crossed Boundaries: The Acceptable and the Rejected.

God created many fixed boundaries in His creation of the universe. Some of these boundaries, separating male and female, light and dark, holy and unholy, the Sabbath Day, good and evil, love and hate, and many other examples, were not intended to ever be crossed. But there were some other separations that evolved and were waiting for the only Person who could cross the boundaries to reconcile the world as God intended. Jesus united what seemed like impossible differences, He broke many barriers, He joined together what seemed like opposites inherently, only to create something new and fresh out of the new combination. There were curtains and veils all over creation, and some of those barriers seemed unbreakable. Examples might include heaven and earth, God and sin, life and death, the spiritual and the physical, and even those people during the ministry of Jesus who were accepted by Him and those who were not. This entire category about Jesus’ crossing boundaries in His ministry of reconciliation is largely a mystery. My meager thoughts don’t even remotely approach the final word on something this profound and large-scale. My thoughts are more of an exploration than a final discovery. I would like to explore in a preliminary what Jesus accomplished on earth by considering various boundaries He crossed.

“When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Jesus; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them all. And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of God!’”  (Luke 4:40-41).

When it came to his ministry, Jesus loved variety. Any kind of diseases, come one-come all. Mentally disturbed, demon-possessed, outcast or the in-crowd, clean or unclean, alive or dead. Jesus decided to engage in a walkabout ministry, so He enjoyed variety in geography and people and landscape and human need. He loved to meet every kind of person imaginable and demonstrate an unlimited variety of methods in His healing miracles. Sometimes the healed person expressed faith, sometimes there was no faith expressed at all, and sometimes Jesus would accept the faith of friends to represent the person before Him. There were times when He healed long-distance, but most of the time Jesus chose to be up close and personal. An example of His variety of methods of healing would have to include His healing of blindness. One blind man was healed with just a word; another time He spit  on the man’s eyes, touched the eyes and then touched them again to complete the healing; another blind man felt the hands of Jesus spread a mud ointment on his eyes after Jesus spit on the ground, the blind man completing the healing by washing off the mud; still another blind man was healed by the simple touch of Jesus’ hands.

Reading the gospel accounts, it seems that Jesus used touch in His healing more often than not. There were some passages that suggested He preferred touch, such as Luke 4:40, “The touch of His hand healed everyone who came to Him.” Jesus’ divine method of healing primarily included the human touch. He engaged in a ministry of touch, because He knew how the human body was made. He was the co-Creator and realized the importance of touch as He met with people in every situation imaginable. Jesus knew that nothing establishes the human connection like touch.

Out of our five senses, our ability to touch and feel the touch is the first one to develop while we are growing in our mother’s womb. Before any of our other senses, the fetus first develops the sense of touch. We were created to touch and be touched, it’s what makes and keeps us human. Our skin is by far our largest sensory organ, with millions of sensitive nerve endings. When we are touched, it has a significant impact on us, body, mind and spirit. Whenever someone is touched, there is a neurochemical charge that releases what is called “the bonding hormone.” This hormone, oxytocin, releases pleasurable hormones like dopamine and serotonin, and activates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a major component of the central nervous system, and impacts body functions like digestion, heart rate, and the immune system. The end result of touch is that it stimulates the parts of our body that lowers blood pressure, relieves stress, and sends information that helps that body cope with anxiety and fear. Scientists call touch “the primary language of compassion,” because that is what is communicated with simple human touch. Touch is life-affirming, intimate, and confirms that the person being touched has value and is worthwhile. Touch is so profound that infants who are not touched or held, who are left alone without the benefit of human touch, are irreversibly harmed in their development. It is practically impossible for these young children to connect with people as they grow into adulthood. So when a person is touched in a compassionate, safe way, in a way that makes the person being touched feel secure and accepted, the effects are felt literally and powerfully throughout the body and psyche.

Jesus went out of His way to demonstrate that He, the clean one, will happily minister onto the unclean ones. He broke many barriers as He was so indiscriminate in His ministry of touch. He was not shy about who He touched, He was not particular or choosy. He fully knew how important personal acceptance and respect was to those unclean and untouchable ones who were before Him, and so He was remarkably assertive with His touch. A divine distinctive in His ministry was that He loved to touch the untouchable. He literally embraced those who were overlooked, like women, children, or those who were considered unclean by the religious establishment. The perfectly Clean One was more than happy to connect with the unclean ones, those rejected by the religious leaders, those who were considered too impure to even worship in the Temple. The religious leaders were upset and befuddled by Jesus’ low standards in His social contact. Their list of those considered unclean, the people who were not to be touched for any reason, included: the sexually immoral such as the prostitute and adulterer; a dead body; anyone with leprosy or an infectious disease; a woman who was menstruating; tax collectors, because of their treasonous work and their daily contact with Gentiles; Samaritans, since they were considered half-breeds and not fully Jewish; the demoniac, because the person had an unclean spirit; Gentiles, because they weren’t a part of the Chosen People and didn’t obey Law; shepherds, because of their daily contact with dirty sheep and the blood from the sheep’s scrapes and cuts. These people were all untouchables and considered outcasts from the Temple operations. But Jesus recognized the importance of giving to the unclean the dignity they deserve since they were made in His Father’s image.

Jesus went about His ministry business as usual, thumbing His nose to the religious establishment as He established a human connection through touch to every one of these untouchables. Furthermore, it was thought that the person touching an unclean person would himself become unclean, that the impure would defile the pure. Jesus once again turned the tables on the leaders by proving that religious myth to be untrue. The unclean are not religiously contagious, Jesus said through His actions. Jesus released a far different contagion. Instead of becoming unclean, Jesus’ purity overpowered the uncleanness and released wholeness and health. Jesus told the unclean, “Be clean!” And His purity had more power than the defilement. Jesus was contagious all right, and He spread His wholeness everywhere He went. Those religious leaders did not understand any of this, they were mystified and didn’t know how to curtail His unexpected ministry to the very people who they rejected.

By accepting the unclean and reaching out to them, and rejecting the religious establishment as unacceptable, Jesus indeed crossed quite a few social and religious boundaries. The following is a handful of examples of those considered unclean by the religious establishment, the rejected untouchables who established personal contact with Jesus, whether by touching Jesus or being touched by Him.

(1.) The Prostitute (at a Pharisee’s house – Luke 7:37);

(2.) The Tax Collector (Zacchaeus and Matthew – Luke 19:1-10Luke 5:27-32);

(3.) The Dead Body (a man and a young girl – Luke 7:11-17; Luke 8:49-56);

(4.) The Leper (a man with an advanced case – Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 5:12);

(5.)  The Demoniac (a woman in a synagogue – Mark 1:26; Luke 13:10; Mark 9:14-29);

(6.) The Woman with a Distressing Condition (Mark 5);

(7.)  The Samaritan (the woman at the well – John 4);

(8.)  The Gentile (the Canaanite woman – Matthew 15:26-28);

(9.)  The Sinners (Matthew’s outcasts – Luke 15:2; Matthew 11:19; Matthew 9:10-13; Mark 2:15);

(10.) Women (throughout the Gospels).

So who is not getting enough human touch these days? Who would be considered untouchable? Which people might be dying, literally, just to receive some human connection, a skin-to-skin touch? We can easily come up with a list of unfortunates who don’t get enough human contact… residents of a nursing home; new-born babies in the birthing centers; children in understaffed orphanages; isolated workers at home; children with distant, workaholic parents; unvisited patients in a hospital; the mentally ill; the imprisoned, especially those in solitary confinement; those sick with unpopular diseases; the shut-ins at home without family; the wife of an apathetic or self-centered husband. There are so many now who need the touch of Jesus. A follower of Christ, who truly follows in the way of Jesus, can’t help but touch others, extending the hand of Christ.