“And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” Mark 1.40-45
Can you remember the last time you saw a leper? Probably not. In fact, most of us have never seen lepers—unless you have traveled to a developing nation in which medical care is hardly available and social programs nonexistent.
But we have our own version of lepers in the modern world. There are various groups that suffer forms of social ostracism, such as people with AIDS, ex-cons who are reentering society, and yes, even registered sex offenders (who often struggle to get a job to support themselves).
Every society, everywhere, in every time has “lepers”. Maybe you would even count yourself among the lepers of your own community. With suicide rates at all-time highs today, it would seem that there are many people who feel trapped and in hopeless despair with no light at the end of the tunnel.
Does God care about these broken people? Does the heart of God break for those of us with broken hearts? This episode in the Gospel of Mark gives us a resounding “Yes!” Like a firm handshake, in this episode we see the hand of God firmly grasping a man who is teetering on life’s razor edge of existence.
In Bible days, the lepers of the world had to live outside the village. They were vagabonds with a scavenger lifestyle. Put your trash out at night—and they would sort through it for leftovers and anything they could use to survive. Broken shards of pottery, worn out cloth, bones from last night’s dinner. Your trash was their treasure. And in the grand scheme of things—their only treasure.
Until Jesus came along…
In this episode, we see a leper approach Jesus. Apparently Jesus was walking with his disciples through a deserted region of the countryside heading to the next village in which to do ministry. Suddenly this leper approaches—stopping everyone in their tracks.
One can imagine the group frozen in fear at his approach. If we listen closely we can even hear the gasps and the parents reaching for their children to stay behind them. Everyone was shocked and repulsed. Everyone that is, except for Jesus.
Jesus gives a two-sided response to the simple request of the leper to be healed. Jesus declares his healing — and then touches him.
In Bible days this was a strong “no-no”… To touch a leper, or anything else unclean for that matter, would make you unclean. In other words, it would contaminate you. But not Jesus.
Jesus touches him fully (notice “moved with pity, he stretched out his hand…”). Jesus didn’t just casually tap him on the shoulder and quickly move on while breathing a sigh of relief that this awkward moment was over. No, his heart melts in love for this man and he fully touches him—holding nothing back.
Here’s the truth for each of us: There’s a leper inside of you. Yes, if you look closely enough, there is a part of you that is unclean—that if fully unveiled to the watching world would be socially awkward—that if fully exposed in the eyes of God’s infinite holiness is downright repulsive. Call it whatever you want—but this story reminds each of us that if we look close enough, it is there.
But notice the beautiful, proactive love of God! God knows this about each of us—and yet chooses to reach out to us through Jesus His Son.
Right now, God is reaching out to the deepest parts of you to speak His healing love and concern for you. He does care about your life and that includes the parts that you don’t want Him to see.
My favorite part of this passage at the end of chapter one is that Jesus does indeed have time for you. Think about it for a moment. He’s busy. He’s on the move. He’s got people to see and places to go. But he takes the time to heal this lonely leper.
Frankly, a touch would’ve been more than enough for this leper. But Jesus always gives more than we expect—he heals the man. And Jesus wants to heal the broken and hurting parts of your life too–and give you way more than you could ever expect.
1. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by our brokenness and pain. How can this story assure you that Jesus is “big” enough to handle it?
2. This leper’s life would never be the same. In what ways has Jesus touched you—so that you are never the same?
3. In the Garden of Eden, we were made in the image of God. God’s handprint is on each of us—and nothing else can fill that handprint but God alone. In this story, Jesus fills that handprint by touching him. Pray for Jesus to touch your life in a special way today and see what happens—leave a comment to share with us what happened.