“After Jesus came down from teaching on the hillside, massive crowds began following him. 2 Suddenly, a leper walked up to Jesus and threw himself down before him in worship and said, “Lord, you have the power to heal me . . . if you really want to.”
3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the leper and said, “Of course I want to heal you—be healed!” And instantly, all signs of leprosy disappeared! 4 Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t speak to anyone, but go at once and find a priest and show him what has happened to you. Make sure to take the offering Moses commanded so they can certify your healing.” Matthew 8 (TPT)
The “suddenly” moments. “Suddenly” a leper shows up in a massive crowd. Doesn’t that seem a bit odd? If lepers came too close to people, stones were thrown at them out of fear of contamination. How is it that a leper could possibly get close to Jesus unnoticed, when he is pressed by the crowds? ~ My assumption: he must have been hiding; waiting for his moment. As Jesus came closer, he leaps from his concealment and rushes Jesus. The fact that it says he threw himself down seems to indicate that level of determined desperation. He wasn’t going to be stopped or dragged away.
This is a “what just happened moment.” There hasn’t been time to mentally process. People on the fringe sense a tension as they are pressed by the masses moving away from the centre. Reports begin to trickle outward. “A leper has rushed Jesus.” I remember this feeling as a child, hearing the words over the radio: “President Kennedy has been shot.”
Awkward shuffling increases as panicked people press outward to avoid the slightest brush against the man at Jesus’ feet. This leper is the drop of oil on the surface of the water. People stumbling backwards, even falling over each other, are desperate to get out of his way. The circle around him immediately widens and varying reactions emerge ranging from fear to rage. It is impossible for a person to have no reaction when placed at risk by a leper. Make no mistake. The contamination of leprosy in Jesus’ day was a death sentence.
And here is a characteristic of Jesus that I want to possess. As others are stepping away, he steps towards. He’s the firefighter at 9/11 running into the towers as the masses are running out. Whatever picture forms in your head, he is moving toward the danger as others distance themselves from it. ~ Is that courage if you are God? Is Jesus actually in danger of becoming sick? Does this become an irrelevant act of heroism if there is no peril?
I’m reminded of the saying, “The most dangerous soldiers are the one who already considers themselves dead.” When I am faced with the option to run or stand, am I truly in a less-advantaged place than Jesus was in this moment? If Jesus was who we say he was, he was not in danger. Yet the same can be said about us, if Jesus is who we say he is. If he is with us, in us, working through us, what do I have to fear? If I contract a disease and he is with me, in me and working through me, does it really matter? If I am already “dead”; crucified with him, then I am a dangerous foe to anything or anyone who represents a threat to Kingdom principles or values.
This story recounts an event, that in any other telling, would carry the potential of a pandemic. One contagious man running into a “massive” crowd. ~ Instead it is a story of remarkable reversal. “Lord, you have the power to heal me . . . if you really want to.” And Jesus reached out his hand and touched the leper and said, “Of course I want to heal you—be healed!” ~ Jesus wasn’t defiled by touching the leper—the leper was “un-defiled” by Jesus’ touch.
There is a growing dread today of “mass contamination.” Whether global warming or the rise is racist rhetoric, or the rise in entitlement ~ our lists of concerns see an eroding of culture and values. They fall on deft ears; the warnings go unheeded. Fatalism trickles through society as some embrace, while other reject the signs. And we ask, “Is there anything that can be done?” We expect the defiling. We expect the contamination. Yet do we not possess a healing touch; a Presence that transforms expected outcomes? ~ Is there not a healing available for any society exposed to the love of God? Could we not be more intentional about reaching out and touching the things most people fear, with compassionate intent? Is there any reason to not expect an “un-defiling” to take place?
But the story doesn’t end there. A new course is set. “And instantly, all signs of leprosy disappeared! 4 Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t speak to anyone, but go at once and find a priest and show him what has happened to you. Make sure to take the offering Moses commanded so they can certify your healing.” ~ This is not a time to allow critics a voice to challenge or discredit what has taken place. This is not the time to showboat in front of skeptics. Deal with this and deal with it boldly. Remove the opportunity to discredit or dissuade. Say nothing. Get to the priest. This event must be “certified” before you do anything else. Allow the examination to take place by those who have the authority to render a judgment. Get their clean bill of health. And come prepared to finish the process. Bring along the needed “documentation” (a sacrifice to complete the ritual cleansing ceremony) so that the final outcome is not delayed. Once you have that certification, you close the mouths of the skeptics.
There is a power in expectation. It exudes confidence. A leper, hiding in the rocks beside the road, dashes out in front of Jesus before anyone can stop him. He throws himself at Jesus’ feet and declares, “You have the ability to heal me if you want to.” He has caught everyone off-guard, and I would suggest that included Jesus. And while everyone else is scrambling to put distance between them, Jesus steps close and touches him. No hype, no grandstanding. Just get the whole job done. Get to the priest and go prepared to walk away with a certificate of clean health. You want the label removed and the freedom to once again be restored to your place of normalcy.
And before most of the crowd was even aware of what had transpired; this ex-leper was heading home to get his sacrifice and present himself before his local priest to irrefutably verify his healing. ~ That is disruptive theology.