Once, when Jesus was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. ‘Go’, he said, ‘and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.’ But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’
One of the criticisms that is often levelled at those who dwell in the more affluent regions of the world is that they have an over-inflated and unjustifiable sense of entitlement. So often we hear people speaking of their ‘rights’, whilst giving no sense of the responsibilities they have to those alongside whom they live and work. It is true that, because we were fortunate enough to be born in an economically secure part of the world, our government has been able to afford us protections that are enshrined in law as rights. But, of course, they are not just ‘rights’, they are also privileges. Sadly, and despite the great bounty God continues to bestow on humanity, those rights and privileges are not shared by the majority. Even within our own prosperous society there are those who have very little, or nothing. Such people, alongside many, many others in the world, know nothing of the rights and privileges many of us take for granted.
At this stage I feel it is important to make it clear that I am not making any sort of political statement, rather I am pursuing an important theme that is contained within today’s reading. Jesus said to the leprous man: I do choose. Be made clean. The man covered with leprosy would, like everyone else in the region have heard of the many who had already been healed by Jesus. He may even have felt justified in assuming that if only he could get to the front of the queue, well, he had earned the ‘right’ to be healed as well.
Of course, Jesus’ gift of healing did (and does) not work like that. This seems to be something that the man covered with leprosy knew and understood. He did not approach Jesus with a sense of entitlement. Instead he bowed his face to the ground and begged. The man covered with leprosy knew and understood that he was asking for a great gift from God. He knew that he had no ‘right’ to receive such a gift. But, he also knew that he was able to ask and leave the response up to God’s great wisdom and compassion.
We know from scripture that Jesus hears and answers our prayers. But … we also know that that is a gift from God, a gift that is undeserved and that is certainly not a ‘right’. We are called to set aside our pride and our sense of entitlement. Instead we have to admit our weakness as we take our prayers to God in humility and faith. Then Jesus hears and Jesus heals.
Today’s reading does not end there, of course. After healing the humble leprous man, Jesus sent him to the priest to make his thank offering to God. From being an untouchable outcast he became one who was empowered and equipped to live a very different life, a life created out of God’s good grace and love.
So … let us set aside our sense of entitlement and self-interest. Instead, let us admit our need and our weakness, and let us trust God to heal us and open a door on a new life. Let us go forward in faith, hoping and praying that we may come to hear Jesus say: I do choose. Be made clean.