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Leprosy was probably the disease feared above all others in the ancient world. Although most bibles come with a margin note to tell us that in scripture, it’s a general term for skin diseases and not just what we would call leprosy or Hansen’s disease today. If you were labelled a leper, it probably didn’t make much difference. Lepers were excluded from society, feared by everyone and lived apart. Luke, the doctor, describes this man as being ‘full of leprosy’, this can only mean that he was very disfigured by this terrible disease.
Although isolated, this man had heard of Jesus and the miracles he had performed, his understanding must have been limited but he recognised Jesus as his only hope. When confronted by this poor man, Jesus didn’t step back as those with him would have done instinctively, he stepped forward and did something remarkable, he touched him. It’s likely this man hadn’t had contact from another human being, who wasn’t a leper, for years. People didn’t just touch lepers, they were frightened of catching leprosy and anyway, if you touched a leper, you would be ceremonially unclean and have to go through a cleansing ritual. Instead of Jesus being contaminated by the leprosy, the touch of Jesus meant that the leprosy left the man immediately! Not only did Jesus ‘make the man clean’, he saw to it that he could re-enter society by commanding him to obey the Law of Moses, Jesus wanted the man to be pronounced clean by the priest as well as actually being clean.
There is a parallel between leprosy and sin. I’m not saying for a moment that people with leprosy are any worse sinners than the rest of us, but sin affects the soul in a similar way that leprosy affects the body. Sin disfigures the soul, it breaks our relationship with God and separates us from him. Leprosy affects the nerves and removes sensitivity to pain; sin stops us feeling the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Lepers were not healed, they were cleansed and sinners too need God’s cleansing power. Jesus didn’t command the man to go and make himself a bit better so that he could put in the finishing touches, that would be ridiculous, the poor man was powerless to help himself, all he could do was call out to Jesus. We can’t improve our condition before God or make ourselves more acceptable to him, all we can do is call out to Jesus and ask for his cleansing. When we do, he is not repulsed by what he sees, he reaches out and touches us and in that moment, we are cleansed.
Thank you Lord that you are not repulsed by sinners like us, you reach out to us in Jesus. Forgive us when we think we can deal with our own sin and not come to you. Help us to be like Jesus and reach out to others.