Bible Reading: Mark 1:23-45
Thoughts about God for My Grandkids:
His name was, Tom. Actually, people called him, “Old Tom”. Not to his face…just when they were talking about him. And they did talk…because he was something of a strange bird.
I met Tom when we lived in Orlando, Florida. Tom lived in the streets. I once asked him why and he said that he didn’t have anywhere else to live. Truth is…Tom did have somewhere else to live…he just chose not to. You see, Tom was only in Orlando during the winter months when it was too cold to live in the streets up north, where he was from. He had a sister up there…wherever that was. For some reason, he didn’t live with her and her family…even during the summer months when he would hitchhike back to that area of the country. He still lived in the streets. Each year he came to Orlando in the winter…and each year he headed back up north in the summer.
Tom was a nice enough guy. Polite. His clothes weren’t the latest style…but he was generally clean. 50ish…maybe less. It was hard to tell how old Tom really was because his lifestyle was harsh. When I looked at Tom, it reminded me of what my Granddaddy used to say about a cowboy’s horse that had been worked unusually hard…”He’s been ridden hard, and put up wet.” That’s how Tom looked…”Ridden hard, and put up wet.”
When he was in Orlando…Tom came to our church. He liked us and we liked him. But Tom was a lonely man. I’m not sure, but I always thought that there was something in his past that he struggled with. I never asked him what it was. But he just seemed to have difficulty trusting people. He didn’t feel comfortable with people being too close to him. He enjoyed being at church for a worship service and sometimes at our Wednesday night supper…but he would get his meal and sit alone to eat. Then, when he’d had enough socializing…he would slip out. I found out that the local Little League Baseball Association let him sleep at night in a one-room cinder block building at the field if he would be kind of a night watchman for them. That was good because there was a faucet on the side of the building and he could get water to bathe with and it provided him with some shelter. It can get pretty cool on winter nights…even in Florida.
One year, it was Christmas time. Jeremy was about 10-years-old and he came to me with a question. “Dad, Tom doesn’t have any family here, does he?”’
“No, what family he has lives us north. Why?”
“Well, I was just wondering. Would it be alright if I give Tom something for Christmas? If he doesn’t have any family here…he’s not going to get a thing.”
Now, I have to tell you…it took everything I could do to maintain my composure. Two things caused that to happen. First of all, I’m the Pastor, so I’m the one that is supposed to be aware of stuff like that…and I hadn’t been…and that bothered me. Second, I was so proud of my son that I was about to bust. He wasn’t asking for something for himself. He was asking for something for Old Tom…the street guy…the guy who could never give anything or do anything back for him. To this day I still get a lump in my throat when I think about it.
I kind of cleared my throat in a manly way and said, “Well, sure son. I think that is a wonderful idea. Why don’t we go to the store and you pick something out for him.” And we did just that.
This was Jeremy’s gift…so, the next Sunday after church…we let him take it to Tom. But, I stood nearby and watched. Jeremy walked up to Tom and gave a cheerful, “Hello,” then stretched out his hands with a couple of boxes wrapped in Christmas paper and said, “Merry Christmas, Tom.”
At first, it looked like Tom didn’t know exactly what to do. To this day I’m not sure if it was because nobody had ever given him a Christmas gift, before; or, if he was just so surprised that it caught him off-guard. At any rate, he just stood there for several long seconds looking at those presents. Then slowly, he reached out his hands and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Well, Jeremy knew that Christmas was that week and that we wouldn’t see Tom until afterward, so he told him to go ahead and open the boxes. Old Tom got a big grin on his face and sat down on a chair. He looked like a kid on Christmas morning as he opened those boxes…paper was flying everywhere. The first box had a pair of pants, a shirt, some underwear, and a belt in it. The second box had a pair of shoes. Tom looked down at his gifts…then he looked at Jeremy. Tears had started to run down his cheeks and he said, “Thank you, Jeremy. You’ll never know what this means to me.”
Jeremy smiled back and said, “Merry Christmas, Tom.”
“Merry Christmas, Jeremy.”
I was standing around the corner blubbering like a little baby. Probably lost points on my Man Card. But I had just seen Jesus touch a man’s heart…through my son.
The next Sunday there was Tom…all decked out in his new clothes. He had the biggest smile I had ever seen on him. And somehow, he seemed different. Not just different clothes. Different Tom. He seemed to be more comfortable around other people, than before.
Winter turned into Spring and the weather started warming up. Tom let us know that he was getting ready to make his annual pilgrimage up north. In the previous months he had become something of a fixture at the church. He was there every time the doors opened. Tom had changed. He came to church services, attended a Bible study class, and actually sat at a table with other people and carried on a conversation with them at Wednesday night suppers. Who was this guy? What had become of Old Tom?
Before he left, that year, our family visited Tom at the Baseball Field to tell him, “Goodbye.” I’m glad we did…because it was the last time we would ever see Tom. He left…and never returned. We often wondered about Tom. We had no way to find out about him. No phone number. No address. No family name…just Tom.
But we had seen a change in Tom and it was our hope that the change went north with him and that he had finally made it home. Home where his family lived. Home where he was loved.
One Christmas…Jesus touched a man…named Tom.
Just imagine if the closest that you were allowed to ever get to another person was 6 feet. 6 feet! It was the law. Get any closer and the law said that the other person was supposed to pick up rocks and throw them at you to chase you off. That was the law in Jesus’ day that the religious leaders had made about a person who was a “leper”…a person who had a disease called “leprosy”. Leprosy is a terrible disease. It usually started on the skin…causing it to change colors and become wrinkled. Then, it would get worse and get below the skin…causing big growths all over a person’s body called tumors. As the disease progressed it looked like a person was actually rotting. First, his eyebrows would fall out. Then, his ears, nose, lips and even fingers and toes would begin to rot and fall off. Eventually, he could lose entire hands and feet. Large sores appeared that oozed infection. Leprosy also affected the ability to feel things. A leper could put his hand onto a piece of red-hot metal and not even feel it. As a result, his hand could be on fire and he would not know it. If a leper didn’t lose his fingers and feet…it was not uncommon for them to become twisted and deformed like claws.
No one knew how a person got leprosy. Most people thought that you got it by touching a leper…or, by touching something that a leper had touched. So, the religious leaders decided that the best thing to do was to keep lepers as far away from other people, as possible. They developed some very strict laws about lepers. For instance…
- If the wind was blowing past you towards a leper…the leper could get within 6 feet of you. But, if the wind was blowing past the leper and towards you…he had to stay 150 feet away (that’s half a football field). If he got any closer…people were supposed to throw rocks at them to chase them away.
- A leper had to let other people know that they were around. So, they had to wear old, torn clothes with a cloth across their face to identify them as lepers. And, everywhere they went they had to constantly be calling out, “Unclean, unclean,” to let people know that a leper was in the area.
- Lepers were not allowed to live with people who were not lepers. They had to live outside of the village, or town, with other lepers…and to beg for food.
- I said that nobody knew how you got leprosy…but there was a popular belief that you got leprosy because you had done something very, very bad. And this was God’s judgment on you. So, that made it okay to mistreat you. Don’t you believe it, though.
So, here’s the picture. Jesus is walking along, and a leper comes out of nowhere…walked right up to Him and fell at His feet. I can imagine that people were already reaching for rocks! Quickly, the leper said, “Jesus, if You are willing, You can heal me.” Now, listen to this, the Bible says that Jesus reached out his hand, and “touched” the leper. That is the last thing you want to do to a leper. Do not touch! Why? You can get leprosy by touching a leper. And on top of that, the word “touch” doesn’t mean to carefully put the tip of one finger on something. No. It means to grab hold of something with your hand. I can see Jesus…He reaches out with both hands and takes this leper by the shoulders. The leper is kneeling down…and Jesus lifts him up and looks him in straight in the eye and says, “I am willing. Be healed.” And at that exact moment…the leprosy was gone.
I want you to realize something important. The disease itself was awful…what it did to a person’s body is almost beyond imagination. But it did something else, as well. It totally, completely separated a person from people in the community. There was no contact allowed, at all. And even worse, the leper was cut off from the family and friends that he loved. He could never again kiss his wife. He could never again pick up his little boy, or girl. He could never again hug his Mom, or Dad. He could never again shake his neighbor’s hand. He could never, ever again…touch a person who was not a leper.
That was the condition of the leper…who came to Jesus. But Jesus changed everything! Imagine how the man must have felt…when Jesus reached out and grabbed him by the shoulders. It was probably the first time in many years…that someone had touched him. Suddenly, the leper had a strange sensation…he could feel the hands of Jesus on his shoulders…the fingers that had rotted off were back…the tumors on his legs were gone. He was healed! Then the thought crossed his mind, “I can go home…to my wife and children!”
I’ve never met a leper. But I have met people…who for one reason, or another…had become separated from other people. Maybe something had happened in their past. Maybe they didn’t feel like they knew how to act around other people. Maybe someone had hurt them. But for some reason…they felt alone…they felt lonely…even when there were people all around them.
I’ve never met a leper…but I once had a friend named Tom. And one day, Jesus reached out and touched Tom…through Jeremy. He let Tom know that he was loved…not just by God, but by people. He let Tom know that he was accepted as part of a community, a church. He let Tom know that he was valuable. And everything changed. Tom changed.
Do you know Tom? His name, or her name, may not be Tom…but I’ll bet you know someone who is like Tom, someone who is like the leper…someone who is lonely. Someone who needs to meet Jesus. And guess what…you could be the one to introduce them. Who do you know that needs to meet Jesus?
Love you more than bunches and bunches,