“When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.” Matthew 8:1-3
For the past two years, barely a day goes by when I don’t think about contagious illness. No matter your views on the pandemic, it’s a fact that germs spread between people. In Bible times, one of the most feared diseases was leprosy, which likely included a variety of infectious skin diseases. But bacterial leprosy is more accurately a disease of the nervous system, causing progressive disfigurement of the skin and bones, and the loss of pain sensation leading to gruesome injuries.
Equally agonizing would be the emotional pain of being shunned by society. No one would even come near someone with leprosy for fear of being infected. While this translation uses person-first language (“a man with leprosy”), in reality he would have been named a “leper” - unclean in body and spirit. His identity was synonymous with illness. Considered judged by God for some unknown sin committed by him or his ancestors. Pushed to the fringe of society with “those people” already infected with the dreaded disease.
It never fails to amaze me how Jesus’ responses are the exact opposite of our human nature. With great multitudes following him down the mountain, he stops and tends to one suffering person. He sees him as a person, not as a condition or a sinner to be shunned. Undoubtedly Jesus could have healed with a word, but he actually puts out his hand and touches the man with leprosy. In the natural world, disease travels from the infected to the uninfected, from the unclean to the clean. It only goes one way! What could Jesus be thinking?!
Somehow this man knows that Jesus is Lord and has power to heal. If he is willing...and he is. Miraculously, his touch suspends the laws of nature. Suddenly the flow of infection reverses to go from the clean to the unclean. Health is contagious instead of disease! Walking with Jesus is like living in opposite world where everything works backwards. Spiritually, leprosy can be a symbol of sin and its destructive consequences. But Jesus’ touch is like no other! We are easily repulsed by ugly appearances and easily enamored with following crowds. Let’s not be afraid to see people’s sin and suffering and touch them with the love of Jesus. You never know what’s going to happen in the opposite world of the kingdom.
~ Jen Hanson