Bearing the Infection of Grace
One of the hallmarks of Jesus’s ministry was the way he touched things which Old Testament regulations regarded as “unclean.” Take the leper in Matthew 8:1-4. Leprosy was a terrifying disease in the ancient world, and Jewish ceremonial law forbid touching someone with leprosy, and with good reason. It could spread. Yet when this leper comes seeking, even though it was unnecessary (on other occasions Jesus healed lepers simply with a word, Luke 17:11-19), he touches the man. A similar theme can be seen in the woman with a bleeding disease; physical contact with her would have, under Mosaic regulations, resulted in uncleanness (Luke 8:43-48).
The message of these stories is clear, if we have our eyes open for it. Jesus steps into a world polluted by evil. Ignoring some of their seemingly-practical benefits, that was the truth behind the ceremonial cleanliness laws. They existed to remind Israel that you couldn’t live in the world without being stained by sin. Yet when Jesus comes into contact with uncleanness, He is not stained. Instead, unimaginably, the process runs in reverse. He touches the leper and it is healing that spreads from Him to the diseased man. The woman grasps His robe and Jesus’s power flows into her, making her well. Jesus, rather than being infected by the world, represents an infection of grace that cleanses it.
Too often, modern evangelicals live in fear of the world. They aren’t entirely wrong: there is a sobriety which Scripture does command Christians to have about this age. Its values are not Christ’s values; we should have the foundation of our relationships and identity planted in the church and God’s Word. We should be on guard against the temptations and distortions of this present age.
We should be sober, but we shouldn’t be afraid. The power at work in Christ is now at work through us. We do not become unclean by living in this fallen world. We should not huddle in our churches, erecting bastions of separation. We shouldn't seek friendship and table fellowship only with those who think and worship like we do.
Rather, our rhythms of life should look like our Savior’s. He ate and drank and laughed with and loved sinners. He got close enough to touch them. He did it, though, not out of a desire compromise God's truth but rather as a part of His divine conquest. God’s mercy and righteousness were breaking into the world. Christ was Patient Zero of the kingdom of heaven, and we now live in the world as carriers of that same beautiful infection, ready to contaminate a broken world with grace. We should be wise in this age, but we should never be afraid. It is the systems of darkness that tremble with the life we bring.