The Crossing Blog

Thoughts from the Crossing Team

With a simple touch of the hand...

Physical contact distinguishes humans from other animals. From a warm handshake or sympathetic hug to a congratulatory pat on the back, we have developed complex languages, cultures, and emotional expression through physical contact. But in a tech-saturated world, non-sexual human touch is in danger of becoming rare, if not obsolete.

 

Despite the benefits of digital advancement, it is vital to preserve human touch in order for us truly to thrive. Humans become nearly unrecognizable in the absence of touch. Two hundred years ago, French scientists spotted a creature resembling a human running through the forests. Once captured, they determined he was 11 years old and had run wild in the forests for much of his childhood.

 

Originally the child, "Victor," was determined to have severe developmental disabilities; French physicians and psychiatrists eventually concluded he had been deprived of human physical touch, which had retarded his social and developmental capacities beyond anything they had previously seen.

 

Daniel Keltner, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, cites the work of neuroscientist Edmund Ross, who found that physical touch activates the brain's orbitofrontal cortex, linked to feelings of reward and compassion. Simply stated human touch helps to bond people together.

 

According to Keltner, "studies show that a simple touch can trigger release of oxytocin, aka 'the love hormone.'" Our skin contains receptors that directly elicit emotional responses, through stimulation of erogenous zones or nerve endings that respond to pain, according to researchers Auvray, Myin, and Spence.

 

People require human touch to thrive. Keltner says, "In recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health."

 

Early on in the fanfare of his public appearances, Jesus gives what has become known as the famous Sermon on the Mount. This is a “big moment” for Jesus. He has laid out in detail his understanding of a life that pleases God; he has, so to speak, driven a stake in the ground and made his declaration that God is still in control.

 

It is obvious to all that Jesus’ star is ascending, crowds are growing, and the religious leaders are watching his every move. Watch what Jesus does next: Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. (Matthew 8:1–3 NLT)

 

Clothed in rags, bandanna over the face, hair dirty and matted. Talk about ostracism. In Israel at that time, to get within a stone’s throw of someone so diseased was to jeopardize your own righteousness and reputation. So, that is the danger Jesus is faced with.

 

The man comes near Jesus—but not too near. What does Jesus do? He reaches out and touches him. Now understand, Jesus doesn’t need to come in to contact with the man in order to heal him. There are many accounts where all Jesus does is say a word and people are healed, even people a county away. And yet he touches him. Why?! Because this is the one thing the man needs.

 

No one has touched him for a very long time.

 

The kindness of Jesus in this one act is enough to make me admire and respect him. But so is his amazing courage and compassion. Jesus doesn’t seem to care what others will think or say. Or better, he cares very deeply about the right things. The risks Jesus is willing to take with his reputation are simply stunning.

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