By Brent Smith
[Brent is the preaching minister of the Trenton Church of Christ in Trenton, TN.]
Contagious diseases were around in Bible times, too. Leprosy was a terrible illness that sometimes left victims with disfigured faces and missing digits on hands and feet. Following the Law of Moses, infected persons were quarantined and practiced social distancing. If a leper came into the presence of an uninfected person, the leper had to announce from a distance “Unclean! Unclean!” (Leviticus 13.45-46). One of the most devastating consequences of quarantine is loneliness and the lack of human touch, not a kiss or an embrace or even having one’s hand held by another.
Now we are hearing voices from commercials to news outlets, blogs and articles, that after COVID-19, we are living in a new world. Social distancing isn’t a temporary measure but a new way of life. On April 8, Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested that handshakes could become a thing of the past, that it was a greeting “too dangerous” to continue and that as a society we just needed to forget about it. I, for one, hope the calls to end all social touching (hugs, high fives, handshakes) in this not so brave new world, go unanswered.
For hundreds of years, Christians have warmly greeted, comforted and encouraged each other with some form of physical contact. Washing feet, the Holy kiss and laying on hands have been replaced in large part with the right hand of fellowship, a side embrace or a fist bump. And after shaking hands with hundreds following a Sunday morning service, we “wash the brethren off” before we eat lunch. Why? Because Jesus touched people. He touched the sick and the dying and the grieving. Perhaps he even drank from the same ladle as the Samaritan woman in John 4. Didn’t he know about germs, bacteria and viruses? Of course he did. In addition to miraculous healing, the touch of Jesus provided assurance, comfort and emotional healing.
When the apostle Paul left Ephesus he “called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia” (Acts 20.1). When Paul met with the Ephesian elders at Miletus “they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him” (Acts 20.37). Jesus took a basin of water and a towel, and washed the dirty feet of the disciples. He then said, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13.15). A cold dystopian society where germophobes rule the day has very little appeal to me.