“Don’t touch!” I heard that a lot when I was growing up. I seemed to have left a trail of smudges behind me: finger prints on the coffee table, finger prints on the mirror, finger prints on the glass. Later in life I was a visiting scholar at the Huntington Museum in Pasadena. It was an amazing thrill when the attendants would bring me an historic document to study but before I could examine it, they searched me for pens and anything that could mark the manuscript. I had to don special white gloves and the document was secured with velvet ribbons. “Don’t touch!” I guess they had talked to my mother.
In the late first century, the rabbis had a conference at Jabneh in Gaza to discuss the canon of the Old Testament. They discussed whether a book like Ruth, Song of Songs or Ecclesiastes “soiled the hands.” That was their expression meaning “it’s an inspired book and it belongs in the Bible.” They believed if you touch a holy book, the holiness comes off on your hands. In other words, they weren’t concerned about your touching something and making it dirty. They believed if you touch something holy, it makes you holy. I like that.
Sometimes we try to protect the church from the world. I once visited a very large denominational church in Houston that was so afraid of being contaminated by the world that they had their own “Christian” bowling alley, their own “Christian” gym, even their own “Christian” cafeteria (which they called “The Garden of Eat’n”)! That’s just backwards from the teachings of Christ. We shouldn’t be afraid of the world. Rather the world should be afraid of us! Read the words of Jesus again: “… on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16:18 ESV). Note: Jesus doesn’t say “hell will not prevail against the gates of the church” but “the gates of hell” can’t stop the church in her mission!
Are we like the drunk who walked into a telephone pole? It knocked him down. Slowly he regained his feet, put his hands on the pole and walked around it. Surprised, he put his hands on his hips and concluded, “Well I’ll be. They’ve got me boxed in.”
We’ve touched holy things and become holy. It’s time for us to touch the world and make it holy!