… our hands did handle … (Young’s Literal Translation)
… our hands handled … (Darby Translation)
The story is told of a nun – most often it is told of Mother Teresa, but I heard that it had been told for many years before it was first told of her – of a man (sometimes a billionaire donor, sometimes an American journalist, sometimes a passerby, always, apparently, a jerk) who saw her cleanse the wounds of a leper and blurted out (either to her or to a friend standing nearby, and she overheard):
“I wouldn’t do that for a million (sometimes 10 million) dollars!”
The nun replied, “I wouldn’t either.”
No amount of money could entice her to touch the nasty wounds of the ravaged flesh of her fellow human being … but seeing the image of Jesus in that needy person made it her joy to serve him – In touching the needy, she touched Jesus Himself.
I know that’s not what John is talking about in this passage, but I think it’s worth noting – just as we noted with the words “saw” and “beheld” – that when we encounter Jesus in the form of our fellow human beings, we have the opportunity to love, serve, and yes, touch Jesus Himself. Jesus said so in Matthew 25:40.
So while John definitely has one up on us in that he touched Jesus when Christ walked this earth as a living Man, we also have the opportunity to touch Him, and with our gentleness and compassion, show Him how much we love Him.
And that doesn’t have to be by cleansing the sores of lepers or giving sponge baths to AIDS patients (although both of those things would be beautiful acts for Jesus). It can also be in extending forgiveness to your ignorant spouse who doesn’t even know he stepped on your toes again, or giving grace to your child who spilled Kool Aid on the carpet after the dozenth time you asked him not to sit his drink on the edge of the coffee table …
Any time we touch another human being, in fact, I think we’re handling Jesus just as the apostle John did. I pray we do it with tenderness and mercy.