We've gone contactless

By Gerry Straker, 23 Oct 2020

We've gone contactless

Credit cards, Oyster cards, smart phones, and now people too have gone contactless. Outside our households or bubbles we are not allowed to touch one another, and this is seriously bad news!

I recently watched a short BBC video on touch.[1] Experts told me:

  • Touch is underestimated and understudied;
  • Touch is not an additional benefit;
  • Touch is very simple but can have a powerful effect on people;
  • Touch improves wellbeing can even act as a painkiller;
  • Touch is the first sense we develop as babies;
  • Touch is how we first communicate;
  • Touch is vital for early development;
  • Touch has proven medical benefits for babies:
    • Stabilising heart rates;
    • Improving weight gain;
    • And for underweight babies reducing time in hospital.
  • Pre-lockdown, in a study of 40,000 people, around 50% were not getting enough touch in their lives.

Without touch, we won’t catastrophically collapse, but we will degrade. Touch grounds us in space and time as created beings. In fact, you probably don't need experts to tell you that touching one another appropriately is important. We are learning not to touch each other, and it will be hard to unlearn this.

Right now, we’ve gone contactless, and this is not good for us! And we shouldn’t be surprised, given what the Bible says about touch. Think about…

1. Jesus’ touch 

  • Jesus lays hands on people to heal them (Luke 4:40).
  • Shockingly, Jesus reaches out and actually touches the unclean man with leprosy saying: ‘I am willing, be clean’ (Luke 5:13). How long was it since he had been touched by any human hand?
  • Jesus takes the dead girl by the hand and says, ‘My child, get up!’ (Luke 8:54).
  • Jesus puts his hand on the crippled woman and immediately she straightens up (Luke 13:10-13) and Jesus touches the man’s ear to heal him (Luke 22:51).

Touch was such an important part of Jesus’ ministry. People bring babies to Jesus to be touched by him. The disciples aren’t happy but ‘Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”’ (Luke 18:16). Jesus welcomes the children with words and touch.

And I love what Jesus does in Revelation when John sees the terrifying vision of the risen and glorified Lord Jesus: ‘When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.’ (Revelation 1:17). To reassure his terrified friend, the risen and glorified Lord Jesus reaches out and touches John. The comforting hand along with the comforting words. 

Jesus touched people and that was very important indeed, and so was touching Jesus… 

2. Touching Jesus

 Think about the people who touch Jesus in the gospel of Luke: 

  • Towards the beginning of his ministry the people all try to touch Jesus because power is ‘coming from him and healing them all’ (Luke 6:19) .
  • The sinful woman weeps over Jesus’ feet, uses her hair as the towel, before kissing Jesus’ feet. Only then does she pour her perfume (Luke 7:37-38).
  • The woman who has been bleeding for 12 years comes up behind Jesus and touches the edge of his cloak and immediately her bleeding stopped (Luke 8:44-48).

And then the risen Lord Jesus says to his disciples: ‘Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ (Luke 24:39). The risen Lord Jesus invites the disciples to touch him, including Thomas (John 20:27).

Touching the real risen Lord Jesus was an important part of John’s eyewitness testimony. In his first letter his first sentence is this: ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched…’

God’s Son became flesh with skin, bones and blood. John heard Jesus’ amazing teaching, saw Jesus’ miracles and hugged and kissed Jesus, and leant back against him (John 13:25).

Touching the real, physical Jesus was very important.

3. Touch in the Church

 Touch continues to be important in the early Church:

  • With healing
    • the lame man (Acts 3:7)
    • Tabitha (Acts 9:40-41)
    • Even Paul touching handkerchiefs and aprons brings healing (Acts 19:12)
    • Publius’ father (Acts 28:7-8)
  • For laying on of hands: [2]
    • With choosing men and prayer (Acts 6:6; 13:2-3);
    • With the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17; 19:6);
  • To help Saul (Acts 9:8-20);
  • And in Galatians 2:9 we have the ‘right hand of fellowship’ – that sounds important to me!

And as the Church continues down the generations, five times we are commanded to greet one another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). Five times. Commanded. Yes, you read that correctly! Currently we are not obeying these commands – even if you think it should be interpreted as ‘culturally appropriate affection,’  we are not obeying these commands in the Church. This cannot be good for us!

Jesus’ touch, people touching Jesus, touching one another in the Church – all so important!

Finally, consider how Jesus chooses to describe God’s welcome for sinners. Jesus describes it as a father looking out for his son. And when his son returns, while he is still a long way off, the father sees him, is filled with compassion for him, runs to his son, and throws his arms around him and kisses him.

And here we are, going contactless! For sure, this is not the only bad thing happening at the moment, but it is one of them.

We are being degraded. There will be scars from this. In many ways the blitz in World War II was far worse, but at least people could come together, be together and put their arm round a suffferer and hug one another. In this crisis, we are being driven apart from one another; we have little opportunity for togetherness against the foe.

So what should we do?

Repent. Ask for God’s mercy. Pray that we might be able to touch one another appropriately again soon. Pray for each other as the unseen scars continue to deepen. Prayer may not feel like 'doing anything' but in fact, you'll be doing the most important thing of all. 

[2] See also 1 Timothy 4:14; 5:22; 2 Timothy 1:6