While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
There always seems to be a story behind the story – a hidden gem buried under the obvious plot and characters. It is no different with the story of Jesus and the Leper.
Leprosy eats not only the body, but the soul. It’s one thing to have your toes and fingers begin to die and eventually fall off, but quite another to lose family, friends and humanity itself. Nerve endings long withered provide some relief from the decay of the body, but nothing ever sufficiently numbs the heart. We become very poor versions of ourselves when we experience the slightest hint of rejection. Anger, depression, resentment, addiction – all begin to take over when we feel cut off from people. What about this guy? How long had it been since someone touched his hand, stroked his brow… truly looked him in the eye.
God in the flesh. That’s exactly what a man whose body and soul were being eaten alive needed. That he found the courage in his heart to approach You must be grace. But, there’s more at work here. He also had understanding and faith: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” All other hopes had long since faded for this man, and yet here he is in full confidence that you can make him “clean”. He needed more than healing. To be clean – free from accusation, from the requirement of the law to cry out his iniquity, to have the possibility of love and friendship again, to be made whole inside and out. He knew Jesus could do it. Bold faith and courage – revealed in reverence and submission. You don’t see that too often.
Then it happened. “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.” That act alone broke a thousand disgusted stares and scoffs. Perhaps he had lost most of the feeling in his extremities. Would he feel this touch? Might there be just enough function in the nerve endings of his arm to experience a hand touching him again – even if the healing was a long shot? Believing in faith that something might happen mixed with a little doubt. He is human after all.
Then again, the One touching him is God after all. Partial feeling, half-functioning nerve endings, rotting flesh… it would not matter. For with His touch came the force of 10,000 sunrises and sunsets. Wind and waves, mountains, fields, flowers, beasts and birds instinctively respond at the slightest glance from their Creator (something we need to learn). As the knee kicks when a physician tests the reflex, so creation skips a beat when His hand reaches out.
Word becomes flesh. “I will; be clean.” An act of compassion and love coupled with His words – words of power and life – send leprosy running, and with it, years of empty, hollow existence. Gray, hardened flesh gives way to the all-powerful Creator. Child-like faith now has a smiling face, pink hands and arms, and a twinkle in the eyes.
“Tell no one… but, show yourself to the priests.” Interesting. When was the last time he dared to even walk within 50 feet of the temple? Now, he is going to waltz into the temple court and march right up to the priest. No time to change out of your leprosy rags. By all accounts, he probably still looked like the leper. He had to get close, look them in the eyes to truly show them what had happened.
Imagine the gasps, parents pulling their children close, others quickening their steps to steer clear. The unwrapping of his hands and arms. The unveiling of his face. Grave clothes beginning to pile up at his feet. All the while, ignoring those telling him to “Get out!” He knew who he was now. He had to show them.
“Look at me… look… at me.” Finally, they are looking at the man they have always averted their eyes from. They had long forgotten this dead man. “I am allowed to be here now. I am no longer unclean. I am here… to make an offering. I am here… to worship.”
Savior. Friend. Creator. Great High Priest.
You made a way.