January 27, 2020 – Monday
Matthew 8:1-3 NIV
1 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed Him.
2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before Him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.
The verses above immediately follow Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which was covered in chapters five, six, and seven – all in all 110 verses. While we do not know exactly where the Sermon on the Mount took place, the location is believed to be on a mountain near the Lake of Gennesaret and Capernaum, a fishing town on the northern shore of the Lake of Gennesaret as noted here. We don’t know how many people hear His sermon, but verse one above tells us large crowds followed His as He came down the mountainside. Estimates range from 5,000 to 20,000 people heard His sermon and many, maybe most, were Jews, but there were also Gentiles among those who heard his message.
With that being said, let us consider verse two
A man with leprosy came and knelt before Him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” NIV
And behold, there came a leper and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” KJ21
From here it is easy to read on how Jesus healed the leper without considering the context. What context you might ask, after all we know He had just come down from the mountainside? What other context might we need?
The context we need is how did Jewish culture consider or treat lepers? Lepers were diseased and thus considered unclean. According to Jewish law and customs, one had to keep 6 feet (2 meters) from a leper. If the wind was blowing toward a person from a leper, they had to keep 150 feet (45 meters) away. The only thing more defiling than contact with a leper was contact with a dead body. Also In Jesus’ time, rabbis sometimes boasted about how badly they treated lepers. One bragged that he refused to buy even an egg on a street where he saw a leper; another boasted that he threw rocks at lepers upon seeing them (David Guzik). Leprosy was considered a skin disease and Leviticus 13:45-46 tells us “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.
Thus it would have been truly unusual for a leper to get close enough to Jesus to ask to be made clean. How close was he to Jesus? Close enough for Jesus to reach out and touch him. I can only imagine the shock and the gasps from those in the crowd who were Jewish and the Gentiles who knew of the Jewish laws and customs concerning lepers. We are not told how this exchange between the leper and Jesus took place, but as an addendum to the Sermon on the Mount, I can imagine Jesus taking a position so that the entire exchange took place so the crowds behind him could see all that was occurring.
Jesus was going to show the crowd that the lowest of the low could be forgiven, cleansed, and healed as well as teaching us today that no one, absolutely no one is beyond the love and mercy of God. To answer the leper Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man, something He did not have to do. We know from the next miracle He performed touching was not necessary. However in touching the leper He by Jewish law and custom made Himself unclean. Except! Except with His touch He did not become unclean, but made the man clean and a former leper. For after He reached out His hand and touched the leper, He said I am willing. Be clean! Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Jesus was not made unclean. He made the unclean man with leprosy clean.
This was my introduction to a message of forgiveness Sunday evening to a group of inmates, many who may have thought they could never be made clean or forgiven or receive God’s mercy. Hopefully, Jesus healing of the leper disabused them of that belief. His grace is available to everyone. No one is excluded.