Toorak Uniting Church

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Tales of Passion - Soft Touch

Lenten Studies
Rev. Dr Ron Savage
21 March 2006

They say that one of the things we most need is to be touched. Children stop crying when lifted or cuddled. Adults are steadied or comforted with a hand on the arm. Strangers and enemies become friends with a handshake. And then there is the kiss that says you are loved. Jesus touched people even the untouchable. And he touched people at the depths of their being so that they could perceive themselves in new light and perceive God in a new way - God who is merciful, friendly and loving.

St Luke 18: 31 – 43     1 John 1: 1 – 10

A Blind Man's Tale

"What does he want?"
"Why does he keep on shouting?"
I could hear her asking people around - as if I couldn't answer for myself if she asked me.
"I want to see! What else would I want you silly...?" But I stopped myself. There was no use in abusing her as I was abused for being sightless.
Evil for evil only multiplies evil.
People are like that: if you can't see they think you can't hear as well and can't speak for yourself. One handicap and you become a non being, an object.

You soon discover that if you sit on a busy street begging. They see you without noticing like seeing a stone by the roadside, a weed in the gutter. They take more notice of camel dung on the path or a toad on the road.
You get trodden on, tripped over, cursed.
Dogs see you and if you don't hear them padding up to you and sniffing they would do it up your coat. Don't laugh. I had a new jacket once - new to me that is - and this dog came along. I didn't know he was near until it was too late. I had to throw the good jacket away. You couldn't imagine the smell in hot sunshine!
And that's another thing: by the roadside is miserably hot most days even if I get into the shade.

Festival times were the best, though not all holiday makers were generous. Maybe they overspent. Maybe they were overcharged at the temple bazaars. "Annas’ bazaars" they call them because as High Priest Annas’ licenses the stall holders and his licences cost! Did you know that if I were to beg among the stalls they would want a quarter of my takings? So I stay where I am. Jericho sees plenty of pilgrims anyway on the road up to Jerusalem and I make the best of the festival. Near the gate is best for everyone has to go that way. The festivals see me through leaner times.

Sometimes I think the state should have some system to help invalids. Couldn't everyone share a little to help the unfortunate who through no fault of their own lose an eye or an arm or a leg or get a stroke? I certainly would pay a tax like that with a willing heart. But then I've known what it is to have no support and to live on a knife edge.

You know - the poor are the most generous.
The intellectuals are contemptuous.
The self made men have no heart.
The middle classes are tight fisted.
The wealthy vary: some of them inquire about your condition, some offer a job, some throw you a silver piece, others bring food or clothes.
There's one man who never speaks but used to press a gold piece into my palm. He didn't come this way often but I know his feet especially since he would come when there is hardly anyone else around in the heat of the day. Interesting!

Of course at the gate some give to beggars as a kind of travel insurance - hoping their charity might be seen in Heaven and afford them protection from the robbers on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. I admit I would use the reputation of that road.

"Take care not to stop on the road, kind sir. I heard there are brigands this week."
"May Yahweh protect you from thieves and robbers on the road for your kindness to a poor blind beggar."

Yes, I meant it: and sometimes I meant the opposite if they gave me naught!

I'll miss those folk you know.
In fact I've got a little job lined up now: apprentice to a carpenter. Yes, at my age;
would you believe it?
Maybe it is going to be harder with sight than without it

After years of blindness - a life time - let me tell you the first thing I saw. I saw - or seemed to see - bloodied wounds on a man's hands. That's what my eyes first beheld. But then gradually they cleared and I saw I was mistaken. They were ordinary hands: well they were not ordinary. They were strong hands like a carpenter's yet tender as a woman's. I can still visualise those hands I first saw as my eyes came alive.

It wasn't only my eyes. I felt my whole body glow. Inside I felt all atingle - new vigour, new life coming into me. Yes, new life with sight and without begging - but something else too. The fact is that even if I had not begun to see that sense of life and well being and of being in touch with goodness would have satisfied me. It felt better than getting a bag of gold coins on my begging plate.

I would have been able to cope with my blindness better and with the contempt of the sighted and wealthy ones who passed me by. I would have been better able to cope with the frustrations and disappointments and the anger I had with life. The struggle would have been easier. I would have been stronger.

Yes, that man can do things for you, things you don't understand, things deep inside you that need healing or release or change or...

Even now I feel those hands on me. The people who watched could feel those hands too.
I'm sure of it. For even before I saw them I heard them gasp. It wasn't horror or surprise, it was a deep inner gasp. I hear it now. It was as if they felt too what I felt deep inside my head, my heart, my being - deeper than marrow and life. We were all touched by Jesus! We were in touch - must have been in touch - with God himself.
And he was the link between.
Even now I sense it. God reaches out to touch our poor broken, struggling, sinning humanity. He tells us we are all right. He opens our eyes to life and to Heaven.
Some think they will always be out of touch with God.
I think I had come to feel that.
Some think there are those God wouldn't touch.
They thought I was one of them.
Well, he touches even blind beggars that dogs have fouled and people spat on. He touches lepers too. Nobodies. And tax collectors, financiers, political activists...
I tell you
No one is beyond his reach and love!
And I know.

That was some day for me. Bewildering. The crowd surged out of the gate and up the Jerusalem road. I went too. All along the way others joined us. Near Jerusalem the crowd was unbelievable as more came out to meet his arrival. I was too stunned to shout and sing. They spread palm leaves on the road, even their clothes. I was just looking and looking at him, at the people, at the trees, at the sky, at the colours. I lost him at the temple. I stopped to stare. It was magnificent, its great gold doors glinting in the sunshine and crowds and crowds of people from everywhere.

A few days later I heard him teaching there.
"Look at this magnificent building," he said, "these marvelously crafted stones. But they will all be thrown down. Terrible things will happen: war, terrorism, hatreds will possess people's minds. Only those who hold faith to the end will be saved."

"Many pretending to be your Saviour will come. They will claim to be great prophets and lead people astray with signs and wonders. Be on your guard against such deceit."
"The greatest command," he said, "is love the Lord your God with heart and soul, mind and strength. The second is love your neighbour as yourself."
How could you forget words like that?

He was hard on those who make a show of their religion or charity. He said he didn't praise rich people who put large donations in the temple treasury but a poor widow who gave her last drachma - because she gave everything. I agree with him. I heard it all at Jericho gate - the big show men giving me a silver piece - it bought me food but it never felt as good as a secret gift or the poor man's drachma that bought me nothing on its own.

A lot of them didn't like what he said. I could see that and I could feel it. Bad vibes came from some of the doctors of the law and some of the scribes and Pharisees.

Then it was Friday.
There was a commotion in the crowd. Soldiers began to push people back to clear the road. I thought it was a security alert.
Instead it was Jesus. Badly beaten, tied to a wooden beam. Thorns on his head. Blood on his face. I was stunned. I couldn't believe it. This good man, this healer, this Son of God! I was aghast - angry - outraged.

He fell.
They pulled an African from the crowd and made him take the wooden beam. A woman wiped his bloody sweat. Then they goaded him forward in the black man's steps. Outside the wall the scaffolds already had their victims. He was the last. And it was deja vu. The vision of bloodied hands. They WERE his. He was nailed hands and feet to the cross. Those were the healing hands that touched me. Mutilated. Why? WHY? Think of the good they did. The good in him. The good he shared.

But such goodness can't die, can it?

I'm glad I shouted for him to have mercy on me that day in Jericho. I'm glad I went on shouting even when they tried to stop me.
It was my last chance of sight.
It was my last chance of salvation.
You never know when your last chance comes.

I shouted "Son of David have mercy on me"
and he touched me with his blood stained hands of healing and new life.
He touched me.

He still touches me.

And he can touch you
if you ask
"Son of David, have mercy on me!"

© Rev. Dr Ron Savage, 2006

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