January 30, 1998

Mark 1:41 – Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.

In this passage, we see Jesus reaching out to meet human need with understanding and compassion. He was reaching out to someone whom the rest of the world viewed as unclean, an untouchable. But Jesus only saw someone hurting, someone in need.

In our world and in our churches, we still have people who feel unclean and unworthy and need to feel the touch of someone who cares. This was brought home to me in this touching story of Estelle called What Was That Terrible Noise, by Sharon Robertson (Guideposts, October 1995). During a church service, when the minister was reading the scripture, suddenly a strange voice erupted in the church. It was a strange honking and sputtering sound that erupted. It went away for a few minutes, then started again. The members of the choir scooted to the edge of the choir loft to see what all the commotion was. There was a visitor in the congregation, a middle-aged woman dressed in a white uniform, and she was making those strange noises. She sat as still as a stone and clenched her fists beside her. She seemed to be exerting great inner energy to stop the noises but they still came. The minister went right on reading as if nothing had happened. The choir director was a bit ruffled after the service. She was not pleased that someone had made strange noises in church. But no one thought it would happen again. But the next Sunday this new visitor was back again and so were the strange noises. After the service, the choir director spotted the visitor as she was leaving and called her over. She explained to her that even though she knew the woman didn't mean to make those sounds, they were still disturbing the worship service. The woman seemed physically to be trying to hold back more of the sounds. In a trembling voice, the visitor apologized and said it wouldn't happen again. The visitor did not return to church and some people began to feel that they had been insensitive in objecting to the woman and her strange noises. Then one Sunday, the minister told the congregation a story. That week he had visited a dying woman at the nursing home. As he tried to talk to her, the dying woman asked him to get Estelle. Estelle was one of the nurses. She also happened to be the visitor who had made those strange noises in church. Estelle soothed and comforted that dying woman much more than the minister ever could have done. The dying woman didn't even notice Estelle's strange noises. She only knew Estelle loved her. Then the minister explained that Estelle had Tourette's Syndrome, a condition in which the sufferer may suddenly blurt out strange noises or even obscenities. She could not control these outbursts at all. The outbursts often come in response to strong emotion. When Estelle was in church worshipping, she often felt very emotional, especially when listening to beautiful music. The congregation felt awful because they had denied a woman the ability to worship with them because she had disturbed them. They bowed their heads to pray and ask for God's forgiveness when suddenly a noise was heard from the back of the church and everyone recognized it as Estelle. A woman quickly went over and put her arm around Estelle to lead her to a pew. Another person handed Estelle a hymnbook. Then the congregation rose to sing a hymn and Estelle sang along, occasionally making her strange noises. But this time no one minded. They became part of the joyful noises of their worship services.

Prayer: We thank you that you have reached out and touched us in our lives. Help us to reach out to others like you did to the leper and the congregation did to Estelle who needed to feel your love and your touch in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Ruth McCowan <>
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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