When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” -Matthew 8:1-4
Jesus was descending from the mountainside where he had done his Sermon on the Mount. “Large crowds followed him.” We are reminded that, especially at the beginning, the crowds followed Jesus for his teaching. They were enthralled. He taught with authority, not like their Scribes and Pharisees.
From a distance, a leper appeared and bowed down before Jesus. This was a clear violation of Jewish law. Lepers were to remain six feet distance from other people. If there was a wind, you had to keep 150 feet distance downwind from the Leper. The only thing more defiling than touching a leper was touching a dead body.
“Leprosy might begin with the loss of all sensation in some part of the body; the nerve trunks are affected; the muscles waste away; the tendons contract until the hands are like claws. There follows ulceration of the hands and feet. Then comes the progressive loss of fingers and toes, until in the end a whole hand or a whole foot may drop off. The duration of that kind of leprosy is anything from twenty to thirty years. It is a kind of terrible progressive death in which a man dies by inches.” (Barclay)
“In the middle ages, if a man became a leper, the priest donned his stole and took his crucifix, and brought the man into the church, and read the burial service over him. For all human purposes the man was dead.” (Barclay)
For all these reasons, the condition of leprosy is a model of sin and its effects. It is a contagious, debilitating disease that corrupts its victim and makes him essentially dead while alive; and it followed that almost universally, society and religious people scorned lepers. Rabbis especially despised lepers and saw them as people under the special judgment of God, deserving no pity or mercy.
The leper’s faith is clear. No one else could help him, but he trusted Jesus could and would. In humble worship the leper prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet. He did not question whether Jesus had the power to make him clean, but only whether he was willing to make him clean. “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was willing. He reached out and touched the leper, and he was suddenly clean. Notice that Jesus did not need to touch the leper. He only had to voice the command, “Be clean!” But Jesus made a point by touching the leper and rejecting all convention. The leper needed that touch and he would never forget it. He probably hadn’t felt human touch for years.
“Show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded.”
Jesus commanded the man to give a testimony to the priests, and what a testimony it was! The Mosaic Law prescribed specific sacrifices to be conducted upon the healing of a leper, and when the man reported it to the priests, they no doubt had to perform ceremonies that were rarely (if ever) done (Leviticus 14). Going to the priest would also bring the former leper back into society. Jesus wanted the healing of the man’s disease to have as much benefit as possible.
“This gift was two living, clean birds, some cedar wood, with scarlet and hyssop, Leviticus 14:4, which were to be brought for his cleansing; and, when clean, two male lambs, one ewe lamb, three tenth deals of flour, and one log of oil, Leviticus 14:10. But if the person was poor, then he was to bring one lamb, one tenth deal of flour, one log of oil and two turtle doves, or young pigeons, Leviticus 14:21,22” (Clarke)
In this precious story of the healing of the leper, we see the boldness, the compassion, and the power of Jesus. No religious rules or rites will stop him from helping a poor suffering human. Not even dreaded leprosy can withstand the power of a simple word from Jesus’ lips. This is the Jesus we believe in and trust. With the leper, we fall down and worship our Lord when we see the occasion. We do not doubt His power to heal or help, we only humbly admit we do not know his will in the matter. “Lord, if you are willing….”
Sometimes, as it happened with Paul, the Lord allows us to suffer our “thorn in the flesh”: “
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” -2 Corinthians 12:7,8
Lord, let us have humble, unbending faith like the leper. Grant us grace to worship you and to confess your compassion and power. Help us commit our bodies and souls into your hands, day by day, trusting your will for us in earthly life and in the life to come. Amen.