The Touch

When I posted my Christmas story a few months ago, it started a badly needed editing project. Over the years, I’ve written fifteen Bible stories–most for use in children’s programs at church. I collected them in 2008 and put them into a volume. But when  I looked up that story at Christmas, I realized my writing skills have improved since then. A lot. So when I finished my novel in February, I began editing. The story I’m posting today comes from that collection. It has long been one of my favorites. 

The Touch

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Amos dropped the sack he had been carrying and lowered himself to the ground like an old man. He stretched in the shade of a scrubby tree and rubbed his sore muscles. Sadly, he remembered a time when these muscles had been rock hard, when he could spend a full day toiling under the sun. He had enjoyed a talent for coaxing plants to grow in the most unyielding soil. Even now he pulled up a handful of grass and examined the intricate parts of the wild plant. But his movements were clumsy, and the grass fell from deadened fingers.

“Curse this disease!” he yelled and struck the earth an angry blow.

He leaned against the tree and wiped his hands over his face in a futile gesture. Closing his eyes, he thought back to a happier time. He could see his farm. It hadn’t been much, just a few small acres he could work by himself. His two sons had been young then, but growing like suckling calves. They took care of the chickens and eagerly helped with many small jobs for him and for their mother.

Their mother—Deborah! She had shared his love for the land. Together, they were going to build the farm into a fine place for their sons. The muscles of Amos’ face contracted as he thought of his wife toiling alone. The years of hard labor and the impossible task of raising two boys alone had aged her, but to Amos, she was still the most beautiful woman in the world.

The ruin of his life had begun with a blister, a simple enough matter for a farmer who worked long hours. Deborah had put a poultice on it, yet the sore had persisted. Several days later, she frowned down at the angry wound. “I think it’s grown larger.”

“You worry too much,” Amos assured her with a tap on her nose.

She forced away her anxiety. “You’re probably right.”

But time proved the accuracy of her fears. By the end of the week, there was no doubt the nagging sore had consumed the palm of his hand. Amos saw his own apprehensions reflected in the eyes of his wife as she suggested he visit the priests. He parted from her that night, assuring her that all would be well, but two weeks of quarantine confirmed his worst fears. Leprosy!

Not permitted to return even to his wife, Amos had immediately become an outcast. Avoided and alone, he lived at the outskirts of civilization, granted no human contact for fear of spreading the dreaded disease. From a distance, he watched his young boys grow into men. He could only observe as Deborah wore out her body doing his work. It ate at his spirit even as the disease ate at his flesh.

The only connection he had with his family was when they came each day to leave him food. Deborah had to set it down and retreat to the opposite side of the road while he ate. In a moment, a simple blister had designated him the living dead.

He had, in fact, entertained the idea of killing himself. He knew his existence was a burden to his wife. Separated by an infinite roadway, he was helpless to give anything back. But when he had, in dejection, communicated his intentions to her, she’d become almost frantic in her pleading.

Amos groaned to himself as he remembered her lonely agony. How he had wanted to go to her and cradle her head against his chest, to stroke her hair and murmur comforting words. But he could only watch helplessly and promise to live.

It had been Deborah who, just days before, had brought him a glimmer of hope. The shine in her eyes had taken years off her face. “I have heard of a man who performs miracles,” she had said as she watched him eat. “Some say he’s a prophet. Others claim he is the Messiah. He teaches in the synagogues and drives out demons.”

Amos didn’t even look up from his meal. “I often hear rumors of miracle workers. Such people are popular subjects in my circle. Be assured, there is no truth in what you have heard.”

“Do you think, as your wife, I don’t hear as many rumors as you?”

Amos had never thought of that.

She continued in a low tone, excitement shaping each word, “He has healed Blind John.”

Amos gave a start. “You have seen him?” he asked in disbelief.

Deborah laughed. “He has seen me! He’s thrown away his cane and tells everyone about Jesus. And there are others. Many others. Amos…” she paused and unlawfully stepped across the gravel chasm. She stopped so near that he could smell the fragrance of her hair. “Amos,” she said again and handed him a large sack of food. “Go to him. Find him and come back to me.”

Wordlessly, Amos had taken the package and turned toward Capernaum.

Now he rose unsteadily to his feet. Balance was difficult, and he walked awkwardly, unable to feel the ground beneath his bare feet. Slowly, the disease had spread, killing nerves and tissues, turning his skin a deadly white, robbing him of all sensation. Because pain no longer warned him when he was damaging his body, the flesh on his hands and feet was wearing away. Amos shuddered as he looked at his ruined body. Could Jesus really heal him? It would take a miracle.

He began to encounter people in the outskirts of town and was required to warn them of his condition. “Unclean! Unclean!” he yelled, and unfailingly they made a wide berth around him. He was separate, untouchable, and time never dulled the humiliation.

“Where is the one called Jesus?” he asked. He received blank looks, shrugs, and even angry stares, but again and again he called out, “How can I find Jesus?” At last, someone answered, “Down by the shore!”

Amos continued through town, loudly proclaiming his own disgrace until he could see the waters of Galilee. Gathered on the shore was the largest crowd he had ever seen. How would he ever find Jesus in there?

It proved an easy task. People parted before him like the Red Sea. As he passed between the walls of humanity, doubts assailed him. Perhaps Jesus, too, would want nothing to do with him. Perhaps he would turn him away.

Suddenly, there before him stood a man who did not shrink into the crowd. He was plain; dirty and dark from long hours spent outside, but he radiated purpose and strength. And he waited for Amos to approach.

Amos fell silent. Slowly, awkwardly he knelt, painfully aware of his own unworthiness. “Lord,” he said, “if it is your will, you can make me clean.”

Amos didn’t know what he expected, but he was totally unprepared to feel a hand on his shoulder. He had not felt the touch of another human being for many years. His body jerked but the hand lingered, offering companionship, acceptance, worth—things he had not know for so long. Tears blurred his vision.

“I am willing,” Jesus said. “Be clean.”

Immediately, Amos felt sensation returning to his fingers and toes. Looking down through his tears, he could see that his hands were fully restored. His skin glowed with healthy color. With that one touch, Amos’ world had completely changed. In a gesture of deep gratitude, Amos put his own on hand on top of the Lord’s.

With a smile, Jesus said, “Go show yourself to the priests and offer the sacrifices Moses commanded as a testimony to them. But don’t tell anyone what happened.”

Amos arose and began his journey home with strong, confident steps. He would go to the priests. And then he would take his wife in his arms as he had longed to do thousands of times and tell her that once again those dreams were theirs to share.

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