Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.” But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
I spent many years as a child in a little town in the north of India called Patna. One of the less pleasant memories I had growing up was my interaction with lepers. I would see them begging on the roads with disfigured faces and limbs and used to be terrified of them, and even more terrified of contracting the disease. I can still remember poking discolored areas of my body with a pencil tip to see if I had lost any physical sensations there because a loss of feeling was a sign of being infected.
Lepers have always been socially ostracized, often being put in leper colonies. Today, the disease is curable, and because it is not very contagious, most colonies have closed. However, in Jesus’ time leprosy was a dreaded disease and lepers were greatly feared. The healing of a leper was just about as impossible as raising somebody from the dead, and in Biblical history, only two people — Moses’ sister, Miriam, and Naaman, the general — were ever cured of leprosy.
A leper once sees Jesus. Luke’s description that he was covered with leprosy indicates that he was in an advanced stage of the disease. He probably stared at Jesus from a distance - six feet was the minimum distance they were required to keep, although they were sometimes beaten even if they were found twelve feet away. I can’t even begin to imagine what was going on through his mind. He has undoubtedly heard that Jesus has been healing people; could he heal him?
But if Jesus was to heal him, he would have to get closer. Closer than six feet. And that might mean a beating. But on the other hand, he might get healed. Should he take the risk? Well, we know what he decided to do. He rushed at Jesus before anybody could stop him, dropped to his knees, bent forward until his feet almost touched the ground, and begged Jesus to make him clean.
The crowd, who would have gasped in horror, recoiling from the leper, would have gasped even louder and recoiled even further at what Jesus did. He reached out and touched the leper. And here is the thing. He touched the leper while the leper still had leprosy. And then he healed the man. We may not suffer from leprosy as this man did, but sin makes us leprous, disfiguring our souls. We may have kept our distance from God because of it, but there really is no need. Because he wants to heal us.
Let us get close and ask him to make us clean. He will.