Unthinkable Act by the Messiah
Are you Willing to be Cleansed?
GARBO – Sunday of the Leper (St. Luke 5: 12-16)
The word “leprosy” is taken from the Greek word (λέπρα – lépra), which comes from a root describing a scale or an incrustation. The Hebrew word for leprosy (צָרַעַת – Tsara’ath) comes from the root word meaning “to scourge or strike.” There was, during the time of our Jesus, no ‘more’ feared disease than that of leprosy.
It is essential to understand the socio-cultural and religious background in which Luke’s narrative was set. Jesus came into contact with people who were adversely affected by the purity regulations of Judaism. The man ‘full’ of leprosy was one such person. First century Palestine was characterized by a society that was organized with purity as the core value. Although designed as a means for survival in a hostile context in which the Israelites lived after the Babylonian exile, the intensification of purity laws by the Pharisees and Essenes generated a class of ‘untouchables’ and outcasts. Since physical wholeness was associated with purity, and lack of wholeness with impurity, lepers were seen as ‘untouchables’ and outcasts.
Most of the classical writers agreed that leprosy originated in Egypt. Perhaps the Israelites brought it with them when they came out of Egypt in the Exodus. Leprosy has been found in at least one mummy. Leprosy is a disease that attacks the nervous system. Leprosy is a chronic bacterial infection of the skin and superficial nerves. It may also involve the nose, eyes, throat and testicles. It its early stages, it produces a numbing of the fingers and the toes. Once you lose all sensation, you can rub your extremities right off without realizing it.
Here is some graphic fictional representation of a man in the advanced stages of leprosy. “His hands were swollen stumps, fingerless stumps of pink, sick meat marked by cracks and ulcerations from which a yellow exudation oozed through the medication. They hung on thin, hooped arms like awkward sticks. Even though, pajamas covered the legs, they looked like gnarled wood. Half of one foot was gone, gnawed away, and in the place of the other was nothing but an unhealable wound. His dull, cataractal eyes sat in his face as if they were the center of an eruption. The skin of his cheeks was as white-pink as an albino’s; it bulged and poured away from his eyes in waves, runnulets, as if it had been heated to the melting point; and these waves were edged with the tubercular nodules.” (Lord Foul’s Bane, Stephen Donaldson, 1977, Page 15).
I did not give you the above graphic representation merely for its shock value. I want you to see how God views sin. Leprosy was the most graphic illustration that there was of sin. Sin defiles the whole body. Sin is ugly and loathsome. It is incurable. It contaminates the entire body. And it brings about eventual death. There was a terrible stigma connected to leprosy. Having leprosy simultaneously separated them from their family, from their friends, from society, and from temple worship. This last point should not be glossed over or taken lightly. Being a leper meant that they could not participate in the religious observances within the community. If having leprosy was not already bad enough, it was made worse because the leper felt separated even from God. To the first century Jew, if you wanted your prayer to be heard, you had to offer sacrifice through a priest in the temple. But lepers are prohibited from temple or even synagogue worship. Where else could they turn? Nowhere. Surely they must have felt that they had no way, no hope, of putting their petitions before their heavenly Father. The leper was both physically afflicted and spiritually destitute. When traveling down a road, he was required to call out, “Unclean! Unclean!”.
As Savior, our Jesus did not come simply to ‘save souls’ but to rectify the wrongs of society, and the fallenness of humanity. The presence of various social boundaries in first century Palestine ostracized many, and in so doing undervalued those created in the image and likeness of God. Throughout His ministry we see Jesus healing broken relationships among people who have been separated from each other because of boundaries based on gender, race and religion. Jesus’ actions towards those whom He ‘saved’ revealed a compassion, which Luke repeatedly stressed in his Gospel. Jesus’ compassion is revealed in His reaching out to touch the ‘untouchable’ leper, and in His raising from the dead, the only son of a widow. Jesus’ empathy for those in distress, regardless of race, is plainly portrayed in the parable of ‘The Good Samaritan’.
With the other Synoptic writers, Luke records the phrase ‘Son of man’ as Jesus’ favorite self-designation. It appears that Jesus used the phrase to clarify His mission as a spiritual one, to counter the political-nationalistic overtones of the contemporary use of ‘Messiah.’. As Savior and Redeemer, Jesus claimed and manifested a unique authority over nature over disease and over Satan. The Kingdom of God in Luke’s Gospel. For Jesus, the message of His work was synonymous with the Good News of the ‘kingdom of God’. According to Luke, the kingdom of God has come through Christ’s incarnation and earthly ministry. Not only have Old Testament prophecies been fulfilled in His coming but also salvation has come upon God’s people.
When Jesus heals the leper he gives him more than a restored quality of life. Jesus gives him his whole life back! Does this sound familiar? It should, because that’s what Christ does for us too. Without Jesus, we are dead because of our sins. Make no mistake about it; sin does to the soul what leprosy does to the body. Like the leper in this story we can approach Christ and say to Him “if You wish, You can make me clean.” Then, as he done for the leper, out of mercy and love, Jesus will make us well. However, unlike the leper in this story we should tell everyone how Jesus has given us our lives back. In response to this scripture we should pray for an awareness of our sins and for an understanding of their impact on our lives. Then we can approach Jesus and, like the leper, plead with him to heal us. Nothing is too big for God to handle. His love for us knows no bounds. Will someone please tell me why we don’t pay more attention to this? How can we, time after time, go wandering off on our own when we have a God who is only too willing to help us if we but ask him? “Lord, if you wish, you can make me whole.” Jesus Christ WILL reach out his hand and touch us. “I am willing – Be clean,” he says to us. Instantly we are cured of our leprosy – our sins. May this Great Lenten season continue to clean us from our uncleanliness and prepare us for His Kingdom!