12 While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 13 And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And He ordered him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing, just as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 15 But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
We’re revisiting this story of the leper.
Leprosy was a disease without a cure in the ancient world. Nowadays we have antibiotics that can treat it, but then it was usually a slow, isolating death sentence as neuropathy progressed and deadened the leper’s ability to feel in his extremities. Secondary infections were common and could result in further damage to tissues.
Visible lepers were often covered with skin lesions and were effectively cut off from Jewish society. They were ceremonially unclean and forced to live outside of villages.
45 “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. – Leviticus 13:45, 46
They were forced to ostracize themselves from their family, their friends, and their community. Someone who had acquired leprosy had their lives turned upside down and were now social pariahs, forced to declare to others their diseased state as they approached to protect others from touching them and becoming ceremonially unclean themselves.
It was a permanent, lifetime quarantine.
So it was that a desperate man, sick with leprosy, saw Jesus and having heard of Him, he approached Jesus and made a confession of faith. Jesus had healed other with a word. Jesus could heal him.
He falls down and prostrates himself before the Lord. The man begs Jesus. There is a desperation in his voice as he cries out, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.”
Jesus reaches out to the man and touches him.
It was a remarkable act of compassion. Who knows how long it had been for this man since he had experienced any human contact. Any recognition that he was a human being first and a leper as an afterthought. People would usually try to avoid him and shun him. Jesus reaches out and touches him.
Our God is a compassionate God.
Immediately, the disease left the man. Jesus had demonstrated power over the spiritual afflictions. He had demonstrated power over physical afflictions. He further demonstrates his power by curing a man afflicted with one of the most feared diseases of the day.
Jesus instructs the man not to tell others, but word of what He did spread, and soon others are coming to the Lord. To listen to His message and be healed of their physical diseases.
Large crowds form anywhere He goes. Like this former leper had been, they are filled with desperation of body and soul. They need healing and they need to hear the words of God.
Jesus would teach and heal them. But then there were times when He simply had to withdraw. Like John, Jesus enjoyed the solitude where He could be free of distractions and have an opportunity to pray to the Father and rest. While He gave His life to the people, He was still human and needed that rest and those times of solitude to maintain Himself throughout His ministry.
I suppose the first obvious lesson is that God is compassionate towards us. Even if we find ourselves alone and isolated, God will still be there ready and willing to declare His love for us and demonstrate His compassion.
Humanity may forsake us, but God will not.
The second obvious lesson is that this should be our own response to the people around us. People in need. People that society has shunned. People who face prejudice. People who are sick. People living in isolation, cut off from others.
The disciple of Jesus should be looking on these people and seeing human beings instead. And our response should not simply be an emotional one, but an action as well. Sometimes even a bold, risky action, like touching a leper was in that day.
The third obvious lesson is that while we should be people focused and devoted to others in our life and conduct, there is a time when we must admit our own human limitations and go off and rest. There needs to be a space in our lives where we can get away from everything and focus on God and rest and enjoy our lives, or it’s really easy to become tired, fatigued, numb to the pains of others, and even angry at the constant demands for our time and resources that the world bombards us with.