We’re All Lepers.
What does it look like when the heart of God is rekindled in Israel through the messiah?
There had been many prophecies that spoke of such things: the sick being healed, the blind seeing, the lame walking, the captives set free, and good news for the poor. These miracles were not the message itself, but the way in which the message was made tangible. Such capabilities had been merely whispers in Israel’s past: Elijah raised the dead son of a friend (1 Kings 17:17-24), or the healings of barrenness. It was, however, limited in its scope and availability to the people. The prophets looked forward to a time when God’s Spirit would descend upon the people through the work of Messiah in such a way as they would see and experience new revelations of his name Jehovah Rafa, the Healer.
I love this first story of the leper. Very often we glaze over the different accounts of healing found in the gospels without being sensitive to the interaction itself. As I encounter people with long term suffering in their lives, I am learning to identify the deep emotional wounds that many of us carry in some capacity: rejection, neglect, and abandonment. In this day and age many physical ailments can be identified and treated easily enough, but it is the emotional and spiritual wounds that can fester deep within us without anyone being the wiser. It is astounding how far back the seeds of our pain usually go, right back to a specific childhood moment that became the foundational template for a cycle of rejection. Our society, however, can be the main impetus for us repressing these memories or confessing our hurts to another in the name of maintaining order.
Typically a lifetime of rejection or abandonment will produce certain symtoms in our interactions with others which can make it seem like we are coping with different issues; however, they usually manifest in a spirit of desperation or defeat. We see it so poignantly in this man with leprosy. He kneels in front of Jesus, literally using his body as a barrier to stop the messiah in his tracks. I cannot imagine a scenario where he is not bowing low, unable to look Jesus in the face on account of his potential insult. You can almost hear the fear in his voice as he second guesses his bold move:
“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
This man, in a single phrase, carries with him a lifetime of rejection because of his skin condition. There is no demand in his utterance, but a passive squeak of a suggestion. The pain comes in realizing this man had full confidence in who Jesus was, but had lost all sense of self-worth after years of being pushed to the fringes. How often do we find ourselves in the same situation; we shudder in the face of sharing truth, not because we doubt messiah, but we have been taught to doubt ourselves?
Leprosy was used as a term for an assortment of skin diseases described in Leviticus 13 and 14, but the prescription was the same: quarantine. Sufferers were cut off from their community, often forced to live in a shabby encampment outside town with other lepers. The assumption was that skin diseases were the result of sin in the sufferer’s life, so this person was to be removed as far as possible from the healthy in order to retain purity. Once again, there became clear definitions of who was “in” and who was “out”.
This is what makes Jesus’ response to the leper so beautiful. As this man cowers before him, afraid to even ask directly for that which he desires most, Jesus reaches out and touches him. Before Jesus utters a word of healing, he crosses the threshold and meets this man in his deepest pain, the loss of human contact. What an earth-shattering moment this must have been! It is only after Jesus has demonstrated his compassion in a tactile way that he speaks:
“I am willing. Be clean!”
The man is cured of leprosy, yes, but the true miracle comes in the deeper healing of identity. He is worthy of being noticed. The messiah, the representative of God on earth, met him in his pain and touched him. Jesus gave him his life back.
His encounter with Jesus becomes a precious secret, for the messiah is not ready to be inundated with fame just yet; there’s more to accomplish under the radar so-to-speak. His identity, too, becomes a secret only privy to the Lord and himself. It is a treasure to him, something to be cherished deep inside for the rest of his days as he quietly enters back into the bustle of normal society.