Say the Word

In the Presence of Jesus

~From this point forward in the gospel, we will sense the itinerant manner of Jesus’ ministry. It was occasional—not in that he only ministered on occasion, but that he ministered as opportunities occasioned themselves. When he came down the mountainside; as he entered Capernaum; when he arrived at Peter’s house; when he saw the crowd; he came upon a boat—His was an along-the-way ministry. The Sermon on the Mount complete, Jesus embarked into a string of occasions—he was immediately faced with opportunities to put what he’d been preaching into practice. And not without controversy, for right off the bat he encountered a leper and a Gentile soldier, both of whom were considered unclean by Jewish law. One thing is clear: the people who met Jesus went away changed.

I have always been very moved by the story of Jesus and the leper. Then again, I cry like a baby watching Disney movies with my kids. But consider these words: Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. The picture of one suffering with leprosy in Bible times is full of heartache. A leper’s life was really a living death. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, there are very specific commands that lepers wear rags, cover their faces with veils, and cry out ‘Unclean!’ whenever anyone passes nearby. With that as the backdrop, imagine the scandal of this scene: a leper approaches Jesus—in itself, a breach of the law—and pleads, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” But here’s the real moving part for me: Jesus could have simply said, “Let it be so!” and that would’ve been enough. More than just saying the words, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. How long do you think it might have been since someone touched that man? How wonderful it must have been to experience human touch again. For Matthew’s primarily Jewish audience—scandalous! Jesus touched a leper? Oy Vey!

After the man had been healed of his disease, Jesus directed him, “Don’t tell anyone. But, instead go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offerings that the law prescribed. Perhaps in telling the man to keep quiet Jesus hoped to avoid crowds seeking Him simply as a miracle worker—but that happened anyway. The reality is that what Jesus told the man to go and do completed the cleansing in a public sense. While Jesus had healed his physical body of the disease, the proper procedure was still necessary for him to be deemed ceremonially clean. That Levitical law—he still needed the priest’s approval to return to a normal life in society. Skip this step and he would simply be a leper without spots! Jesus did his part in restoring this man’s life, but now the man had to follow through on the manner of life he would live.