When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’Matthew 8:1-4
Our readings for today and tomorrow recall events that took place immediately after the Sermon on the Mount, and they both concern Jesus’ God-given authority to heal.
Today’s short account presents us with Jesus restoring and renewing a sufferer from leprosy who was also a member of the Jewish faith. In this act of love and cleansing Jesus demonstrates the inclusivity of the Christian message.
In Jesus’ time the term leprosy was used as a catch-all term for a variety of diseases. What each disease had in common was their contagious nature and their ability to disfigure. They also resulted in social isolation. Nobody would willingly approach a ‘leper’, and a sufferer was not allowed to approach anyone else. We have come to call this self-isolation, social distancing and shielding; first century Jewish society described it as being untouchable.
The ‘untouchable’ nature of leprosy makes it all the more shocking when we read of Jesus touching the leper. How those who witnessed this scene must have recoiled in horror!
But, what about the leper? Imagine the thrill of simple, unfamiliar human contact. Imagine his surprise at the stirring of a long-forgotten memory – the loving touch of another human being (perhaps the first for years). Imagine feeling God’s restoration and renewal flowing through his body.
Of course, that restoration and renewal also involved re-integration into normal society. It also placed a responsibility on the shoulders of that leper: the responsibility to accept God’s healing touch and to share it with others.
Are we up for that challenge?
Are we ready to let God lead us through these strange times into His time of renewal and restoration?
Are we ready to share the Good News of Jesus’ healing touch with others?