Luke 5: 12,13 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. (English Standard Version)
Leprosy. Even today the word is pregnant with dread. It conjures up images of disfigured victims, rotting flesh and a life of permanent isolation. In Jesus’ day, leprosy was even worse. The physical symptoms were but a small part of the stigma attached to the disease. It was the spiritual significance of being spiritually unclean and cut off from God’s people that was the real rub.
A man, or woman, diagnosed with leprosy was not allowed to participate in the temple ceremonies or even mingle with the worshipers. The leper could not stay home and receive support or comfort from family members, but had to live outside the city and warn all who came near that he/she was unclean.
Can you imagine the emotions that the leper lived with? The loneliness? The sense of helplessness and hopelessness must have been overwhelming at times.
People avoided lepers at all costs, because even to come in physical contact with an individual with leprosy would render one as unclean, also.
Leprosy, described in detail in Leviticus 13 and 14 was symbolic of sin, which causes us all to be separated from God. It was a horrible burden to bear.
Then Jesus came and everything changed. Luke tells the story in such a brief, matter of fact way that the significance for the 21st century dweller could be easily missed. Let’s look at it a minute and see what we discover.
First, the leper recognizes Jesus as the one person who can truly help him. His need, his humility and his faith are all right out there in the open when he bows before Jesus and says, “If you want to, you can make me clean.”
He is not arrogant or demanding. He knows he is in no position to make demands. He is in need of mercy and healing.
He also has no doubt about Jesus ability to cleanse him. He doesn’t say, “If you can,” but rather, “If you are willing, you can.” What a difference.
At this point in the story, Mark, in his gospel, gives us an added detail. He notes, “Jesus looked on him with compassion”. How absolutely amazing. Jesus looks past the ugliness and uncleanness and sees the broken soul inside.
Here is the earth shaking, history changing part; verse 13 says, “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him.” Jesus didn’t run from the leper, He was not repulsed, He touched the man. Jesus never hides from the dark places or stained ones. Those are the places he came to fix, to clean, to make new and shiny. When Jesus touches the leper a marvellous thing happens; rather than Jesus becoming unclean, the man was healed. Instantly. Completely. Perfectly. Jesus changes everything.
He is still touching lepers and making them clean. There is no life so far gone that He cannot reach it. No one is beyond redemption. There is no life so clean that it does not need Him. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, (Romans 3:23)
I know His compassion first hand. Some years ago, my pain, my sin, my rebellion drove me into isolation and dismay, but when I followed the example of that other leper from long ago and humbled myself before Jesus, He touched me, too, and made me brand spanking new. He took all the ugliness, the sin, the guilt and threw it away. I stand amazed.
Jesus is still saying, “I am willing” to anyone and everyone who needs a clean heart and a fresh start.
Chew on that thought for a while.