Risking A Touch

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Three of the four Gospels record the story of the man with leprosy who came to Jesus for healing (Matthew 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16). The Old Testament term for leprosy included other skin diseases (Leviticus 13:2) but this man probably had the real thing given the sensation that his healing caused.

I know an elderly lady who mentioned to me several times that she had actually touched a leper in her younger days, and considered herself fortunate that she had never contracted the disease herself from that touch. A leper was isolated from the community because of the fear of contamination. No one touched a leper, and those with the disease were required to announce their presence whenever anyone from the general population approached by calling out “unclean, unclean.” Luke, the doctor, records that this particular man was “full” of leprosy. Matthew tells us that when he approached Jesus he worshiped Him. Mark says that the man begged Jesus to heal him (Mark 1:40). “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2).

Just look at what happens here. A sick man worships on his knees. He asks for healing—but only if the Great Physician is willing. It is the aspect of worship that leads me to think that this man did not add the “if you are willing” out of fear of rejection. He risked being driven away by the crowd because he instinctively knew that Jesus was Someone bigger than them all. He believed. There is huge faith here, but also huge submission to whatever decision Jesus will make. As desperately as he might want to be healthy, to be restored to his home, his family, his friends, and to live a normal life once more, he did not presume that what he wanted was part of a bigger vision, a greater plan for his life.

Jesus does the unthinkable. He could have simply spoken the word—from a distance—and healed this man. Instead He touches him. The result is immediate: “Immediately he was cured of his leprosy” (Matthew 8:3). Can you imagine the reaction of this man? Not only does Jesus heal him, but He touches him as well. That touch may have meant more to this now ex-leper than the healing had. It had been a long time since anyone had touched him. Fear and loathing would have prevented anyone from even going near him. But Jesus touched him. What an example to us as to what our reaction needs to be to those we might normally fear or loath because of their “uncleanness,” whatever that uncleanness might represent.

Despite being warned not to say another to anyone about his healing, other than to go to the priest to submit to the appropriate examination to confirm his healing, and offer the required offering, the man couldn’t keep quiet about what had happened. Most of us wouldn’t be able to resist shouting such a miracle from the rooftops. As a result the crowds that surrounded Jesus grew. Everyone wanted to see the miracles. If a man can heal leprosy what else can he do? The crowds grew so large that the Lord couldn’t come into the towns anymore but had to stay in “lonely places” (Mark 1:45). Still people came.

Still, despite the crowds and the demands, Jesus took time “often” (Luke 5:16) to find even lonelier places to pray. Great ministry in an unclean world requires great and frequent prayer times—even for Jesus.

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