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Jesus heals a leper: a study on reaching out to those whom society ostracizes

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Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Historically, leprosy has perhaps been the most dreaded of diseases. It is a horrendous disease and, only until recently, was thought to be highly contagious.

Leprosy is first identified by skin discoloration and lingering infections. As the disease progresses, the skin can have a decaying appearance. But it affects more than the skin. It damages nerve endings, which results in an infected person losing sensitivity to touch. Consequently, for those with advanced leprosy, disfigurement to fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the nose is typical. Too, there is damage to internal organs, such as the kidney, which could eventually lead to bodily functions shutting down.

In the first-century, anyone with a pale or reddish skin discoloration was isolated (outcast) from the community. They were forced to live on the fringes of society—left alone in their mental and physical suffering. They, in essence, took on a new identity. Instead of being seen as an individual with physical, emotional, and social needs, they became known as a “leper.”

Degraded from their individuality, leprosy defined who they were. Few of the healthy (“clean”) if any, would speak words of comfort to them. Instead, a leper became someone who was to be avoided by whatever means necessary. If anyone did speak to them, it was usually to shout at them to get away. Oftentimes, those harsh, flying words were combined with flying stones thrown to keep them back.

It’s understandable, and sensible, that someone with leprosy should be quarantined. The disease is, in fact, contagious and, in those days, there wasn’t a known cure for it. By separating someone with leprosy away from others, it prevented spread of this feared disease. In fact, Levitical law established that anyone with a prolonged sin infection was to live outside the community.

However, people can be quarantined without being abandoned and treated as loathsome. But that wasn’t the case in early centuries. Anyone with leprosy was ostracized.

Not so for Jesus. He looks at the inner person, rather than their appearances. For He is truly caring and compassionate.

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. (Luke 5:12)

This account occurred soon after Jesus gave His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 8:1-2). When He came down from that mountainside, a man with leprosy approached Jesus on his own accord.

No one helped this man reach Jesus. He “was covered with leprosy,” which means he was in an advanced state. His appearance was likely grotesque. His skin was sickly looking. He probably had severed fingers. Some of his facial features may have been disfigured. He came to Jesus because he wanted to be healed.

Only hours before this, while Jesus was on the mountain, He had healed many among that crowd who had gathered around Him (Luke 6:18-19). Yet, this man wouldn’t have been among that crowd because he was outcast from society.

Actually, it’s possible that this man might’ve been the first person that Jesus cured of leprosy during His earthly ministry. Before this, Jesus had already cured many who were sick, paralyzed, or demon-possessed. Although many, if not the majority of those were brought to Jesus by other people (i.e. Matt. 4:24, Mark 1:31, Mark 2:3). But there is no specific scriptural account of a leper being brought to Jesus by someone else.

There were other lepers healed by Jesus. And those, too, came to Him on their own (i.e. Luke 17:12). Why didn’t others bring some with leprosy before Jesus? These needed healing too.

People were petrified to be near a leper. Exposure to anyone having leprosy was unthinkable. In fact, if anyone came into contact with someone having leprosy, they too faced being treated as a leper. In a sense, the way society disavowed a “leper” was as much emotionally damaging for a person as the disease was to their body.

The man with leprosy had been conditioned to never approach another person who was “clean.” However, he sensed something very different and special about Jesus. He approached Jesus and fell facedown before Him, calling Him, “Lord.”

He then said, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

“If you are willing.” That speaks to how devalued this man was made to feel. He lived as an habitual victim of aggression and hostility. He had experienced numerous outbursts against him from others’ repulsiveness and fears.

All those things affected the way he was made to feel about himself. Although he expressed belief in Jesus’ ability to heal him; at the same time, he wondered whether Jesus was willing to heal him. Afterall, the rest of society made him feel worthless.

Was Jesus different? Or, would Jesus, like all the others in that community, look upon him as someone to be shunned and pushed away?

Not our loving and compassionate Savior. When Jesus saw him, He saw a man who was made in the image of God. He saw someone who was suffering and needed healing. He saw someone who was lost, in need of salvation. Jesus came into the world “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He saw this man (and all men) as someone who was worth giving His life for!

The way the world defines a person is not the way that Jesus defines that person. Where the world will turn its back on someone, Jesus doesn’t do that. People are too important to him.

Is anyone worthless to God? No. On the contrary, men are of immeasurable worth to Him! “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1;18-19).

Yet, it’s easy for people to let the world define their worth, rather than accept the reality of their worth as defined by the Lord.

We can fall (or be led) into a mindset that we are unworthy of God’s acceptance. We unwittingly allow others to define us by pointing out our failures, faults, and frailties. We then question whether we are someone who God would “bother” with.

After all, if we’ve experienced being “put down” by the world, why would the Lord Most High give us a second look—moreover a second of His time?

Those kinds of thoughts were in this man’s mind. The world made him feel meaningless and worthless. So, why would someone who was cast out by men, be accepted by God?

The man wondered how Jesus would act towards him. That’s why he said, “Lord, if you are willing . . .”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. (Luke 5:13)

God, “if you are willing?”  Don’t we sometimes have a like mindset when we approach God? We know God is able to help us, but doubt whether He is willing to.

Why are we so prone to doubt God’s willingness?

The flesh is weak, and we are prone to doubt. Certainly, we can overcome doubt by faith. But there will always be ongoing battles between the flesh and the spirit.

Graciously, Jesus understands our inner struggles and turmoil!

On what comfort there is in knowing, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.

Jesus did heal the leper! That’s what the man asked for. But before that, Jesus reached out His hand and touched him. Jesus knew this man needed more than physical healing, he needed someone to show him genuine compassion and treat him with sincere worth.

For years, society had made this man feel as though he was untouchable. What compassion he must’ve immediately felt in the Lord’s touch. What love he sensed in the person of Jesus!  

While leprosy isn’t as prevalent in modern society, there are people around us today who can be made to feel as though they have leprosy, by the way they are treated.

Certainly, there are many diseases today, such as AIDS, that are stigmatised. Those infected with specific diseases can be made to feel as though they have become untouchable. But there are other types of stigmas as well.

How many of the homeless are made to feel devalued by society? People will walk by someone who is “homeless,” as if the person was invisible. What about our elderly? Some of our elderly can be made to feel like they’ve become a burden, treated with contempt or indignation, rather than with appreciation and respect. What about individuals with certain physical handicaps, those with mental illnesses, or those who are culturally different from us?

Oftentimes, either consciously or unconsciously, we find ourselves backing away from people who are different from us. There are countless people around us, for a variety of reasons, who we shy away from because we’re uncomfortable around them.

We need to see people as someone whom Christ loves. And, we need to act towards them with Christlike love and compassion.

However uncomfortable it makes us, we need to reach out to them. First, in the realization of how precious people are to our Lord Jesus. And, then, with a burden for their salvation. For there is a condition that is far worse than leprosy.

Without Christ, people have an “incurable disease” which leads to death—not physical death but eternal death. For, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Without Christ, people are dead in their sin, lost in their trespasses. People need Jesus.

This miracle of healing points to who Jesus is . . . He is Lord. It, too, speaks about Jesus’ character . . . He is loving and compassionate. Ultimately, this miracle points to why Jesus came into the world . . . to reach out to (all) men who are in desperate need of  Jesus—The only Way to be saved.

Jesus removed the debt of sin by His death on the cross, “for whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

The world needs Jesus, and we are needed to tell them about His great love, mercy, and redemption. Our Lord commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Who are we failing to show Jesus’ love to, and share Jesus’ gospel with, because we dissociate ourselves from them out of fear or prejudices? Who are missing because we are uncomfortable around them?

We can overcome these fears through Christ’s love, for “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).

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