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Secrets of Jesus' Touch

Secrets of Jesus' Touch
1. The Noise of Innocence
    Business collapsed like an over-burdened camel one afternoon in the courts of Jerusalem’s gorgeous temple.  The voices of those buying and selling hushed.  They’d all been driven out by the big parade.  Jesus had come to town, carried along in triumph by the fickle crowd who, today, were singing hosannas to the best man they’d ever known.      The momentum of that parade, which had been building through Jerusalem’s streets, overturned the tables of moneychangers and swept up the blind and the lame in its wake.  Jesus’ outstretched hand directed traffic and healed, both with equal force.  Long-established merchants fled.  An assortment of diseases fled.
    As if that wasn’t enough of a disturbance, little kids began chanting a Jesus-the- Messiah cheer, loud as pagans egging a gladiator on at the Coliseum in Rome.  Their shouts replaced the quieter, more orderly scams going on among temple money-changers franchised by the priests.  A different franchise had arrived, one whose first customers were the maimed and leprous, individuals who normally would never see the inside of the temple. 
    Chief priests and scribes, looking at this invasion of their turf, played their roles predictably.  Gathering up their indignation like an ancient scroll, they focused it, interestingly enough, on the children.  The formerly blind were babbling on about color and shape.  The formerly lame were jumping around like acrobats.  But the temple heavies wanted the kids shut up.  “Do you hear what they’re saying?” they asked in a huff, sounding like a neighbor who yells at some neglectful parent: “Are you totally unaware of the noise your kids are making?”
    There was a good reason people like the Pharisees would instinctively pick on the street urchins.  Children represented everything their religion did not.  No two more opposite cultures can be imagined.
    Pharisee culture was about avoidance.  Pharisees built elaborate precautions to avoid anything that might render them ritually unclean. 
Kids touch everything.  Kids want to put everything in their mouths; they smear everything on their faces. 
Pharisee culture was about dissecting sacred texts and traditions. 
Kids swallow it whole.
    Pharisee culture was about drawing lines that excluded. 
Kids explore.
    Pharisee culture was about rules that organize behavior down to the details. 
Kids are forever bumping into the rules and creating disorder.
    So yes, of course the praises of those children sounded like noise to the Pharisees.  They could hardly stand those unstructured voices bouncing off the massive stones of a temple where the smoke of offering had ascended for thousands of years.  The fact that the children were singing praises to their rival Jesus, made it even more unbearable.
    Stop the scene for a second and ask yourself an interesting question: How did those kids get there in the first place?  After all, they’d grown up in a culture dominated by priests and scribes of a certain persuasion, a culture which stressed the absolute submission of wives, children and slaves. They knew they were supposed to be seen—at a distance—and not heard.  How did they presume to lead out so boldly in the hosannas? How did they get so comfortable among the expert gatekeepers of the kingdom? 
    The answer is that these children had been touched.  Something inside them had turned to gold.
    One day a group of moms with toddlers joined the stream of curious and needy people approaching Jesus.  They managed to nudge their way through the crowd and asked a couple of disciples if Jesus might lay his hands on their children.  It was the custom to take your child at the age of one to be blessed by a rabbi. 
    Well, at the moment Jesus was busy explaining what the kingdom was all about. The adults were having a hard enough time grasping its principles.  These kids couldn’t even talk yet.  So it was a bit annoying for the disciples to have to deal with yet another request for face time with the Master.  They had to set priorities.
    As The Twelve were ushering the mothers away, however, they heard Jesus stop his discourse and call out, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.”  The look on his face made the disciples get them to his side very quickly.
    And then Jesus did something wonderful.  He reached inside them, one by one, and found hidden treasure.  He didn’t just offer a pat on the head.  He didn’t just make condescending remarks about how strong a little boy was, how pretty a little girl was.  No, he showed everyone that a great treasure waited to be discovered in these runny-nosed, restless kids on his knee.  Looking around at his audience he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
    At that moment, the religious culture that enveloped Jesus’ did a giant “Come again?”  There were white-bearded experts from synagogue who had devoted their entire lives to the study of how to get into the kingdom of God.  And now Jesus was saying that the secret belonged to children—little squirts, no less!?  The ones who put everything in their mouths?  The ones who were always touching the wrong thing?  The ones who wouldn’t know a guilt offering from a hole in the ground?
As these thoughts shot through the adults gathered around Jesus, he took the kids in his arms and laid his hands on them and blessed them.  He was the Man with the Golden Touch that day.  He’d given the children something no amount of ritual and regulation could take away.  It was something mothers and fathers would repeat as their toddlers started talking and understanding.  It was something passed from kid to kid, a rumor on the playground about little children being first in line in God’s kingdom--ahead even of Father Abraham. 
That was Jesus’ touch.  He identified these children’s irreplaceable role, their unmistakable value.  Every day, every hour, they were showing their elders how to enter the kingdom of God.
You just take it and stick it in your mouth.  You just swallow it whole.  You just show up.  That’s how you enter the kingdom; not as an expert, not after practicing for decades.  You don’t even enter it with a certain quota of faith.  Kids are unaware they have faith.  They just show up with whatever they have on hand.
Jesus had made the most unlikely candidates for admission, first citizens of the kingdom.  That’s why they showed up for the big parade.  That’s why they had the guts to walk right into the temple and shout the loudest praises on the day of Christ’s triumphal entry.  They belonged.

Jesus spotlighting children as the ones with keys to the kingdom is a great example of his golden touch.  And it pictures something we can all touch with great effect.  There’s a hidden treasure in our world waiting to be discovered.  There’s something in people which, with the right touch, can turn to gold.
And that’s innocence.  It’s something we all too often overlook.  It’s something we’re always rushing to get over, like a head cold.  It’s confused with ignorance or stupidity.  People tend to mock it or apologize for it or spoil it. 
But innocence actually has great potential.  It’s the fresh soil in which seeds sprout best.  And it has it’s greatest potential when other people give it value.  Innocence that’s affirmed can grow into something more.  We need to touch innocence.  We need to touch it in a way that receives instead of just corrects.
How do we touch innocence?  By embracing, instead of just reacting to, its noise.  Innocence is often raucous and ragged.  It doesn’t slip seamlessly into the environment.  Well, let it surround you.  Let it sink in.  Find the hidden treasure.
I’ve enjoyed swimming all my life, but I never knew what a delight water is until my three-year-old daughter jumped into a pool.  I was holding her close as she splashed and squeeled and the look on her face just went right through to me.  I saw in the unedited excitement sparkling in eyes all the pure joy God made us to experience. 
It was only moments like those that enabled me to really grasp how preoccupied and numb and over-analytical I’d become. The wonder of a child’s innocent pleasure is the perfect antidote for adult worry and stress.  It’s the doorway back into the kingdom of grace where everything is a new creation.
In a secular age, we adults have our own counterpart to Pharisee legalism.  Status and success and financial planning are how we get into the kingdom of the financially secure.  We’re experts in squandering life for money.  We translate every meaningful encounter into a business opportunity.  We’re stuck on the internet like a bug on a windshield, our quality time squashed on the screen.
Henri Nouwen had touched the best and the brightest as a professor of psychology and theology at Yale and Harvard.  But he felt called to live in a community of the mentally and physically handicapped called Daybreak and there found his heart and soul deepened by touching “the least of these.”
Innocence can come through someone who is a newborn in the life of faith.  He’s stumbling around, bumping into “church standards,” not yet getting a handle on what he’s supposed to do.  His baby steps may be annoying.  He may sing off key, pray too loud or jump to the wrong conclusions from stray verses of Scripture. 
Well, we can cut him off; we can push him to the side; we can tell him to come back when he’s got the routine down more smoothly.  Or we can look for hidden treasure.
My faith never felt more alive than when I was trying to slip it between the bars of a county jail to a sandy-haired, wild-eyed young man who was hanging on for dear life.  I was visiting with a group from my college.  Josh was afraid his string of misdemeanors might land him in the state prison.  He knew on some level that Jesus was his last, best chance of escaping the hellish life of abuse and violence and petty theft that was about to swallow him whole.  He was trying to stay in the Word.  Josh didn’t know much.  He might put Moses in the lion’s den and Peter in the ark.  But his raw struggle to affirm the basic truths of the gospel in a place where only the strongest survived, left an unforgettable impression on me.  I knew, in a way I did not before, the reality of the battle between good and evil.   
How do we react to the innocence of the uninitiated?  Do we have Jesus’ touch?  Do we make them feel stupid because of all their questions?  Or do we see hidden treasure?  You’ve never read this story in John about the woman caught in adultery before?!   Wow, tell me, what’s it like, seeing it brand new?  How does Jesus’ intervention strike you?
It’s interesting to note just how Jesus responded to those huffing and puffing over the children’s praises in the temple.  He paused in his touching of the afflicted and asked them: “Have you never read, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.”
Innocence has a voice which glorifies God in ways the non-innocent cannot.  The innocent see the world in ways others cannot. 
Participants in the 100 yard dash at the Special Olympics are racing wildly toward the finish line when one of them stumbles and falls to the track.  The others glance back, then stop and come back for him.  They pick him up and together jubilantly cross the finish line.  You are forced to look at life in a completely new way.
Innocence isn’t an absence of sight.  It’s eyes wide open.
Sometimes we try to create or preserve innocence by artificial means.  We think that if we just shut our kids away from the world, their quantity of innocence won’t diminish.  It’s certainly helpful to shield children from a barrage of sex and violence.  But innocence isn’t ignorance.  It’s not just sensory deprivation.  It’s a quality that takes in the world in a fresh, receptive way. 
Innocence is a blank slate.  Ignorance is an erased blackboard.
Innocence is the capacity to learn.  Ignorance is lessons ignored.
Innocence is a sense of wonder.  Ignorance is a dull stare.
Find hidden treasure in the noise of innocence.  The mature, efficient, productive world tends to stifle those sounds.  We’re all in a library and the original noises of life have been sealed up in books, recorded in symbols.  We don’t experience anything for the first time anymore.
The innocent can show us how to enter the kingdom again.
I had a choice to make one afternoon as I sat admiring the nice cherry finish on my new executive desk.  It was a big choice.  Noises were coming through the closed double doors of my study in the house I’d just purchased.  Three small boys were taking turns sliding down the stairs in a hamper, gleefully screaming over every bump in the ride.
I was expecting a more peaceful setting as I began work on a television script.  In fact, I had figured on a more peaceful setting that would last the rest of my life.  Five years of being single, with my own kids off to college, had left me pretty attached to my comfortable routine.  I did what I wanted when I wanted to.  I had my quiet breakfast in a house heated to just the right temperature.  I caught just the slice of news I wanted on the Today show while I shaved.  I had just the right music playing when I started to write.  No interruptions. 
Now there was this racket.  I had seen it coming of course when I married Marilyn.  There had been noise before--the shouts of her kids in the park on a Sunday, for example, when I’d come to visit her.  But this was different--day by day, hour by hour noise that can besiege you in your own home while you attempt to earn a living. 
So I had to decide what to do.  Was I going to try to hang on to that uninterrupted life, that peaceful routine?  Was I going to struggle to eliminate the noise and turn rambunctious boys into studious lads who played quietly and separately in their rooms every day?
Of course I would sometimes have to tell them to be quiet.  But how would I relate to the long noise of childhood in general?  My instincts told me it was the enemy. I needed to build a wall around it.
But I tried something else.  Grudgingly at first, I decided to embrace the noise of innocence.  So, instead of just calling for quiet, I sometimes chased them around the house as Monster Steve.  Instead of always insisting on tranquil, lazy evenings, I sometimes played hide and seek in the dark.
And what do you know, I discovered that my monster exercises actually helped me stay awake after lunch.  More importantly, I found that having fun with the noise, instead of always fighting it, has kept me from many of the ruts of middle age.  These boys rejuvenated me—in the knick of time, as fifty bore down on me and the recliner beckoned. 
I have been blessed by the noise of innocence.  It energized me in ways nothing else could have.
So yes I want to bless back.
The middle boy Parker is the more introspective one and developed a reputation for being whiny.  He did seem to complain more than his brothers and felt it keenly when anything wasn’t quite fair.
But after a few months of getting to know Parker (and several sessions of hide and seek) I noticed that he hadn’t whined much in a couple of weeks.  So when one of his brothers made a crack about Parker the Grouch at breakfast, I said, “You know I think Parker is really growing into Mr. Cheery.  I don’t hear him being grumpy at all.  It’s like he’s this thankful, happy kid all of a sudden.”
The comment passed, Parker kept eating his Frosted Mini-Wheats, but it sunk in deeper than I could have imagined.  After that, Parker became my best buddy.  He wanted to get my advice on everything.  He wanted to tell me about his day at school.  But most remarkably, this boy hardly ever played the part of the Grouch again.  He really did grow into something else.  I saw it with Marilyn at Circle View Elementery School as Parker was presented a Student of the Month award and his teacher talked about what a courteous, helpful, all-around great kid he was.
The noise of innocence.  It’s a great place to look for hidden treasure.  The right touch can turn it to gold.