It takes until chapter 8 of Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus before he describes a specific healing and then, like buses, three come at once! Matthew has already told of Jesus ‘going throughout Galilee, … healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness’ (Matthew 4:23) and of the crowds who flocked to be healed by Him (4:24,25).
Jesus has just taught what is probably His most well-known teaching, the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7). In the sermon He outlines what life in the kingdom of God looks like. Immediately following this as He ‘came down from the mountain’ (8:1) He encountered the leper and is able to demonstrate the kingdom in action.
Lepers, and others with similar diseases, were not allowed to mix normally in society due to their condition. Lepers were social outcasts. No-one wanted to come anywhere near them, let alone touch them because their condition was contagious. They were unable to have normal friendships or family relationships and they had to live in communes outside the towns or villages. They were deemed to be unclean because of their disease and, as such, were barred from engaging in the religious life of the people including coming to the Temple to worship.
Leviticus chapters 13 & 14 describe in detail the way lepers were dealt with according to the law. In particular, ‘As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his moustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.’ (Leviticus 13:45,46). Lepers had no hope of cure and no hope of reintegration into society.
So as we read this account let us be clear about one thing: This leper should not have come near Jesus.
Not close enough to touch.
Not even within spitting distance.
It is therefore indicative of both the man’s desperation and his faith that he seeks out Jesus. In his helpless state this leper ignored the social conventions and the religious laws and came and threw himself at the feet of Jesus. This act of humility was accompanied by a desperate prayer of faith, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ (v2) There is no question in his mind as to whether Jesus could heal him, only whether He was willing to heal him.
The leper appeals directly to the mercy of Jesus.
This is all that he has left. This is his last roll of his last dice. There is nothing to commend him. He is physically broken. He is socially cast out. He is emotionally ruined. He is medically out of options. He has just broken the law by approaching Jesus. He is unclean. He is unworthy of approaching God. He knows that all that can save him now is the mercy of Jesus.
And – wait for it – Jesus says, ‘I am willing.’ (v3)
Listen to the mercy and love in those words: I AM WILLING!
But Jesus is not just willing to make him clean, He actually does it! His mercy extends to action. His love reaches out to both accept the leper and to heal his leprosy.
‘Be cleansed!’ The man’s skin is immediately cleansed. In a sentence, the man’s shame and stigma is gone. In a word, the man’s hopelessness disappears. In a touch, the man’s future is restored.
And so this leper provides us with an important example. It is simply this: Come to Jesus.
Whatever state you are in. Whether you feel like you should or shouldn’t approach Him. Whether the whole of society looks and judges. Just come. Throw yourself at the feet of Jesus. Humble yourself before Him. And He will reach out with unimaginable mercy and restore and heal you.
You, too, can rely on the mercy of Jesus. All you have to do is come to Him.