June 24th, 2018

Touching the Untouchables
Luke 10:25-37

Have you ever met someone with haphephobia? It’s a rare disorder but more prevalent than you might think. Haphephobia is the abnormal fear of touching or of being touched. People who have haphephobia typically believe they will be hurt (either physically or emotionally) by someone who touches them. Therefore, they avoid most all human touch.

I think it would be sad to live with haphephobia because some of my most treasured moments in life involve touching. I’ll never forget the special blessing I received the first time I touched my newborn children and my newborn grandchildren. To hold them and cuddle them brought a special sense of joy, and it still does. Even after 47 years of marriage, I still get a thrill when I hold the hand of my wife. And each week, as you give me a hug, or shake my hand, I feel blessed by that human touch. Yes, touching is more than just making physical contact. Touching is a way of connecting, a way of saying I care.

Today’s text is about touching, about a man who needed a human touch more than anything else. Listen, as I read our text from Luke 10:25-37.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

I’m sure you’re familiar with this story. It’s one of the best-known in Scripture, and is often called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. But today, I want to give it another title. I want us to look at it as the Parable of Touching.

As the parable begins, we find a man who has been beaten up by robbers, stripped of all his clothing and left for dead. Jesus tells us that while the man was lying there, unable to get up by himself, a priest came by. That should have been good news for the man who had been beaten, because priests were called to minister to people in need. But this priest ignored the man, moving to the other side of the road to avoid touching him.

Why would the priest act so uncaringly? There could have been several reasons. First, the priest made his living by working in the temple, and if the man had been dead, or if the priest had touched the man’s blood, the priest would have been ceremonially unclean, and would have been required to stay away from the temple for at least a week. So it was easier for the priest to simply avoid contact with the man than to risk defilement by touching him.

The priest may also have avoided the man for fear that the man was lain out on the road as a trap. Often robbers, on the Jericho road, would lay a bloody corpse out on the road so others would stop to help. When the person stopped to help, the robbers would ambush the helper, rob him and possibly kill him. You took a big risk when you stopped to touch someone on the Jericho road.

After the priest leaves the scene, another Jewish religious leader walks by. He’s a Levite, and also has duties to perform in the temple. More than likely, he avoided contact with the injured man for the same reasons the priest did. By touching this man, he could have become ceremonially unclean or could have become the robber’s next victim.

In both cases, the priest and the Levite refused to touch the beaten man so they could remain faithful to their religious convictions.

Now, before we go any farther, I want us to look at this story from a different perspective, from the perspective of the man who was robbed. Listen as he tells his story.

“It was, by far, the worst day of my life. So forgive me if I get a little emotional as I tell you my story.

I’m a gem merchant, and most of my business is done from my hometown shop in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem. But six weeks ago, I decided to travel to Jericho to sell some of my gems at the Jericho Summer Festival.

About mid-day, when I was halfway to Jericho, a band of robbers ambushed me. I told them I had money and gems and offered to let them have everything if they’d just let me go. Instead, they began beating me and kicking me. They stole my donkey along with all my valuables and then they began ripping the clothes off my back. One cut me with his knife and one kept hitting me with a club, and by the time they left I was barely conscious.

For a moment, I just lay there naked in the hot noonday sun. I tried to move, but couldn’t. I tried to call for help, but I could barely breathe, much less speak. Finally, I just started praying, asking God to send someone to help me before I died in the desert sun.

A few minutes later I saw the faint form of a man in the distance. At first I was afraid he might be another robber. Then I could tell by his clothing that he was a Jewish priest. At last I had hope, or so I thought. God has answered my prayers.

As he got near, I tried to cry out to him, but I couldn’t because I was so weak. Still, I knew he’d reach down and touch me and help me.

But then I got the shock of my life. The priest didn’t stop. In fact, he didn’t even look down at me. Instead, he walked to the other side of the road to avoid me. Again, I tried to cry out, but I couldn’t. Instead, I simply watched this holy man continue down the road, not even stopping to give me a drink of water. Tears mingled with the blood on my face as I realized my last chance at survival had probably just disappeared over the horizon.

But then another figure appeared. Again, I realized that this man was a Levite, a temple worker who would surely have compassion on me. Again, I tried to cry out, but I couldn’t. And again, he walked on by without stopping to help.

At that point, I lost all hope. If a priest wouldn’t help me, and a Levite wouldn’t help me, nobody would help me. All I could do was prepare to die.

As I lay there, my mouth got so dry and my body was in such pain. Again, I tried to move, but it was useless. I was so weak. I knew that without help, I was going to die.

Finally, I closed my eyes, and as I did, I faintly saw the backs of those two holy men who had left me there to die; and as I slipped into unconsciousness, I wondered why godly people could be so cruel, so uncaring, so devoid of grace.

Maybe it was five minutes. Maybe it was an hour. In my unconscious state I really couldn’t tell. All I know is that I felt someone touching me, someone putting a cup of cool water to my lips and then wiping my wounds with a soothing ointment.

At first I thought, “The priest, the Levite. They’ve come back to help!” but as I opened my eyes, I saw the smiling face of a man who was not a priest, nor a Levite. I saw the face of a Samaritan.

At first, out of habit, I tried to pull back. Ever since I was a young boy my parents taught me to stay away from Samaritans. I remember my mother saying, “Samaritans are nasty and dirty. Don’t ever talk to them, and don’t let ‘em touch you, because they are the filthiest people on the face of the earth.”

But at that moment, I found myself thankful to be touched by a Samaritan. Those who were clean and righteous had left me for dead. Only this untouchable man had shown compassion. Only this Samaritan had shown God’s love.

As the Samaritan lifted me up and placed me on his donkey, I realized the irony of the situation. For all my life, I had considered Samaritans to be untouchables, but as I lay bleeding on the Jericho road, I was the untouchable. And in that moment, I came to realize the pain suffered by all those we refuse to touch. Yes, in the irony of it all, I realized that when we withhold a loving touch from anybody – yes, from anybody – we shame our relationship with a loving God.

Can I tell you a secret? The story you’ve just heard, is not simply a 1st century story about a battered man on the Jericho Road. It’s a 21st century story about the battered, untouchables you and I avoid every day. Like the Priest and the Levite, we try to walk around the untouchables of our society because we’re afraid they are dirty and unclean. We’re afraid that if we touch the untouchables we might become defiled. So when we see them, we move to the other side of the road, making sure we don’t get involved.

And who are these untouchables who long for our loving touch? Some are the poor, who not only need our money but who hunger to be physically touched, emotionally touched, and spiritually touched by people who care. Oh, how the poor need our loving touch.

Some are the Muslims or, these days, anybody from the Mid-East, people beaten down by our society because we believe all of them are filthy, dirty and hell-bent on destroying us. Oh, how the Muslims need our loving touch.

Some are the immigrants (or the immigrants’ children); desperate people who’ve snuck into our country in hope of picking up menial jobs that will help them feed their families. Yet, many in our society see them as nothing more than filthy and ignorant, unwelcomed strangers who are stealing American jobs. Oh, how the immigrants and their families need our loving touch.

Some are gay people, the ones we’ve been taught to cautiously avoid, because it’s risky to touch them. Who knows, if someone sees us with them, they might get the wrong idea; and even worse, the gay people might contaminate us with AIDS? Oh, how the gay people need our loving touch.

Some are racial minorities who’ve been beaten down by a system of injustice. For years, they’ve been lying on the Jericho road, crying out for someone to reach out and help them. But we’ve been afraid of them, or we’ve too busy with our religion to stop and pick them up. Oh, how the minorities need our loving touch.

Sometimes, after we walk away, leaving the untouchables lying by the roadside, I suspect they wonder why godly people could be so cruel, so uncaring, so devoid of grace.
But you know what? All of God’s people are not like that. You are not like that, and that’s why I’m proud to be numbered among you. Many of you are Good Samaritans, more than willing to extend Christ’s loving touch – to touch the untouchables even at great risk.

Of course, if you choose to touch the untouchables, don’t be surprised when the good, religious folks start speaking ill of you. They’ll warn others to avoid you. They’ll tell people you’re defiled because you’ve left your religious convictions to go out and touch the untouchables. They may even warn people about coming to your church.
But don’t let that bother you. In Jesus’ story, the good, religious folks were the bad guys. Only the Samaritan received Christ’s praise.

So don’t be afraid to touch the untouchables. Don’t be afraid to get your religious hands dirty for the sake of Christ. For in the end, when you touch the untouchables, your hands are suddenly transformed. No longer are they simply flesh and blood. When you lovingly touch the untouchables, suddenly - your hands become the hands of Jesus Christ. So . . .

Reach out and touch a soul that is hungry,
Reach out and touch a spirit in despair;
Reach out and touch a life torn and dirty, a man who is lonely…If you care!
Reach out and touch that neighbor who hates you;
Reach out and touch that stranger who meets you;
Reach out and touch the brother who needs you;
Reach out, and let the smile of God touch through you.