A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
There are so many thing this one sentence really says. Until I started digging though, I tended to gloss over this. Yeah, he had leprosy. He wanted healing. He thought Christ could heal him. ‘Nuf said. Especially since I already knew the result…that he would be healed. I read it in Matthew 8 and in Luke 5. I’ve heard countless messages about healing (in a physical sense) that mentioned this encounter.
But there is more to this than that. In my Bible there is a note that directs me to Leviticus 13 to learn what exactly this leprosy encompassed. That is where God instructs the priests on how to determine if a person had leprosy. And by that I mean there were all types of different skin ailments that eventually became known together as “leprosy.” What the priests were looking for, by God’s instruction, was whether or not the afflicted area appeared infectious. In that chapter there is a phrase that is repeated over and over again: “more than skin deep.” If the area had certain characteristics and appeared more than skin deep, then the person was declared unclean.
And that declaration effectively ended life as they knew it. They were separated from God and family and moved to camps outside of town. They were not allowed to interact with any clean person for fear of infecting them. They had to cover themselves completely with torn clothing, as a sign of the despair of being separated from God. If they ever were in the presence of the unafflicted, they were to cover their faces and shout “unclean!” over and over again as a warning to the healthy.
The Greek for leprosy there is a word that also means “scaly and rough.”
I put all of that out there to say this: We have so much in common with this leper. So much in common and so much to learn from him.
It’s more than skin deep.
We all manage, by virtue of the original sin or living in this fallen world, to accumulate scaley and rough patches to our souls. Infectious areas that are more than skin deep. Sometimes we have had them for so long, and have grown so comfortable with them that we become very effective at hiding it from others not with torn clothing but in our fancy Sunday best and our Christian masks. My leprosy might be ongoing battles with depression and anxiety. Yours might be bitterness, or unforgiveness. What do we do with addictions and the shame that they breed? We cover them, deny them, let them root deeper into our innermost beings. ANYTHING that interferes with a healthy relationship with God can be considered a form of leprosy.
Showing ourselves to our High Priest.
I love this leper. Not because he was sick, but because of his desperation for wholeness. There is no mention of his approach through the crowd, was he elbowing his way through the crowd? How did he get so close to Jesus shouting “unclean?” The only thing we know about his approach is what he did when he got to Jesus: begged him on his knees. The man was desperate and he was not going to let anything get in the way of meeting the one who could make him clean. We need this. We need a desperate yearning to put ourselves at his feet for healing. We need to cast aside what our parents think, what our friends say…we need to not care what the crowd is doing, saying, thinking, feeling about us at that moment.
“If you are willing, you can.”
This leper teaches us something about our approach, too. His faith in Christ shines through the statement he makes…I know you can do this Jesus, if you are willing to do it. We’ll talk about Christ’s willingness more in the next post, but I would be remiss in saying this man’s faith in Christ’s abilities is something we need more of today. Now, I will be the first to admit that my faith is not always on the “If you are willing, you can” level. More often than not, I am more like the father in Mark 9 who says to Jesus “If you can doing anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus says to that man: IF??? Anything is possible for them that believe. I am the father when I cry out in response “I believe, help my unbelief.” The point I am trying to make is that no matter WHERE you are on the faith scale…whether you are 100 percent convinced, or you are battling for faith amid your noisy doubts. Christ can and will meet you. Whether you cry “Help my unbelief, Lord, so that I can receive.” Or “If you are willing, you can.” Jesus met both of these men where they were. But I personally would like to be able to approach Him in faith, rather than in doubt. Wouldn’t you?
This man wanted to be healed. I suspect though, that when he approached Jesus, he asked to be made clean in the physical sense: cured from leprosy. But that word clean is Katharizo which also means to free from defilement of sin, to purify, to consecrate.
Sometimes we approach Christ with one thing in mind, and He does more than we could ever imagine. Sometimes we say something like “I have this sick spot in me, I can’t stop drinking.” and He not only meets the need for healing there, but in all other areas of our lives. Sometimes we approach Him with one area trying to hide the others that need His touch. Maybe we think it will be too painful if He were to go there. But we will find out soon enough, it’s too painful for Him NOT to go there.