12 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.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 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.” 15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.Luke 5:12-16, ESV
Humble Request of Faith.
Leprosy was a dangerous and incurable disease that struck terror in the hearts of men and women of the first century. Leprosy was a bacteria that could severely disfigure people, cause nerve damage, and hinder lung function. That infectious disease was fearful because there was no known cure or effective treatment to manage the disease. Quarantine was the only answer and meant the victims of leprosy were outcasts from society. Lepers were ceremonially unclean in the eyes of the Jews and, therefore, unable to properly worship God in the congregation. That religious effect would have been devastating to faithful Jews as they would effectively be outcasts from God because they were without mediation. These religious outcasts would have been estranged from their own families for the health and safety of those they loved. Close contact was hazardous because leprosy might quickly spread among an entire family. Therefore, lepers were forced to leave their homes and, being unwelcome within the city walls, often lived among themselves in leper colonies. The leper’s tragedy was being cut off from regular human interaction, viewed by others like a monster to be avoided, and always unwelcome among any company other than lepers. This disease was a slow and lonely march toward death being forsaken by one’s city, church, and children.
Can you imagine the heartache of a hardworking husband and father who lost all and is no longer called by name because leprosy has become his identity in the eyes of his neighbors? Then, like a ray of sunshine beaming through a dark overcast sky, he hears Jesus of Nazareth is coming to the city. In our story, the unnamed leper approached the Great Physician in a desperate attempt to be free from his curse. He has no assurance that Jesus will accept and heal him, but he must try. So he gathers his courage and waits in the distance along the side of the road. His head is full of mixed emotions as his faith is mingled with doubt. Today could be his redemption day. He craves his old life. He longs for what most men call ordinary because he now recognizes the value of his old simple life. To be a hardworking husband and father is the treasure that he seeks from Christ.
As Jesus and the following crowd begin to crest the hill in the road, his heart sinks into his stomach. This next moment would be uncomparable joy or inescapable misery. As he slowly approached Christ, he felt two very different gazes upon him. The first gaze was well known to him, the cruel look of the crowd that wanted the leper to be gone. The second was unknown but welcome because Jesus did not look upon the leper with disgust but compassion. With all the courage that leper could muster, he said, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
Christian, hear his faith. He looks to Jesus and calls Him Lord because that cursed leper believes all things are under the authority of Christ. Leprosy is an awful and incurable disease, but he has entered the presence of the Healer. Jesus has been curing all manner of diseases in every place, and why not leprosy too? Here is an example of faith that sees what the Lord has done and believes the Lord can do it again.
The leper’s petition is humble. This sick man does not presume upon Jesus’ grace. To be healed is not the man’s right, but it is the Healer’s right to do His own will. “If you will” was to say I believe that you can, and I now ask you to perform this act of kindness upon me too. Christian, may we pray with such a humble tone as this leper. Jesus’ answer will be most wise, and we should also humbly trust our Lord for His reply.
I assume some in the crowd with Jesus scorned the leperous man to move on and not bother the Master. Sadly, that is often the misguided privilege of the healthy. The mistreatment of the diseased is a subtle evil that treats the most unfortunate as if they merited their plight by some secret sin for which they now suffer. That is not how Jesus treats bruised reeds or smoking flax’s (Matt 12:20). Jesus goes beyond healing the body, and He aims to mend the soul. Watch Jesus stretch out his hand toward the leper. How long had it been since he felt the warm and compassionate touch of another person? Jesus’ hand touched that man’s very soul, and His words made his flesh whole again. When He spoke “I will” and “be clean,” Jesus immediately healed that disease.
Today was his redemption day! He will reclaim his old life and relearn how to complain about ordinary things again. He will once again be a hardworking husband and father. This life is restored as if he had been resurrected from the dead or born again. At least one thing will be completely different and new. He will go back to being a husband and father, but they will be a family who loves and follows Christ from now on.
When Jesus healed, He gave that leper instruction to go and present himself to the priests as the book of Leviticus instructs God’s people. As a leper, he was ceremonially unclean, but through the Word of God in Christ, he was made whole, and with the Word of God in Scripture, he will be received as ritually pure. We should not overlook the irony of Temple priests confirming Jesus’ healing ministry. The priests may have been ceremonially clean, but that leper was made pure by Jesus’ touch and word. The priests would eventually oppose Jesus as if He was a false healer, but they confirmed the powerful testimony of His divine acts. Those priests had God’s Word in the Scriptures and knew how to perform its ceremonies, but they were missing Christ, the centerpiece of their religion.
Imagine a conversation between a priest and that old leper. The priest says, “how were you cleansed?”. “Jesus touched me” was the reply of the cleansed leper. Appalled, the priest blurted out, “He did what?” “I know.” The leper spoke with tears of joy, “He reached out to me with his hand and grasped my shoulder like this. Then Jesus said, be thou clean, and I was immediately healed.”
That priest would likely have been mortified at the thought of touching a leper because, according to Levitical law, anyone touching an unclean thing is made unclean for touching it. Being unclean is to be unworthy of entering into the presence of God in the Temple. Therefore, priests worked hard to avoid such interactions. But Jesus did not avoid the unclean. Furthermore, He purposefully touched the unclean. That idea may have been offensive to the priests, but the experience for that leper was life-changing. Those priests could not make something unholy to be holy. The priest’s role was to try and remain holy by avoiding unclean things. Jesus was another kind of priest, and His role was not merely to receive things as clean or unclean. Jesus is not powerless as those Levitical priests. As the Holy One of Israel, Jesus’ role was to touch what is unholy or unclean to make it holy and clean. Jesus had come to make all things new. That is what Jesus did for that leper. Never again would that man be identified by his disease because he was no longer a leper. Jesus restored his identity, and his neighbors would again call him by name. That day he met Jesus was indeed his redemption day.
I know it’s a stretch, but the Leper reminds me of our present Covid pandemic and those that are aged and in lockdown in assisted living facilities. If they test positive, they’re not allowed to have any visitors, and they’re dying from loneliness/broken hearts. The following quote seems so appropriate with today’s devotional:
“Let’s not forget the preciousness and vulnerability of life during the times we are powerful, successful, and popular.” Henri J. M. Nouwen