Let me say up front, the muddy part is my imagination.
On two separate occasions, Jesus healed men with leprosy. Once, it was a single man, and the other time, it was ten men. We will spend some time with the former today and the latter next week. But first…
The New Testament term, leprosy, comes from a Greek word that refers to any type of skin disease. I worked in our backyard a couple of weeks ago, and as I write, I still have poison ivy on my arms. That’s one type of leprosy. The serious medical condition we typically associate with leprosy, however, is now called Hansen’s disease. It’s a bacterial infection that leads to nerve damage. The person doesn’t feel injuries to his/her extremities, resulting in disfigurement and sometimes death.
Here’s the CDC clarification:
The “leprosy” found in historical and religious texts described a variety of skin conditions from rashes and patchy skin to swelling. They were noted to be very contagious, which is not true for Hansen’s disease and also did not have some of the most obvious signs of Hansen’s disease, like disfigurement, blindness, and loss of pain sensation.
The Old Testament established regulations and purification rituals for those with leprosy (see Leviticus 13-14), which turned the priests into pseudo dermatologists. Glad I’m not them!
Now. Let’s get into the Scriptures.
A Muddy Man in the Road
Jesus was walking down the road shortly after calling his first disciples. As He walked, a man with leprosy came up to him. The man fell on his knees and lowered his face to the ground in front of Jesus (Luke 5:12): the posture of a servant before a king on his throne.
Before Jesus could step around him or ask what was going on, this man—prostrate in the middle of the road with his face in the mud—said something unusual.
“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” –Luke 5:12b
This is early in Jesus’ ministry. Only Simon Peter had called him “Lord” at this point (4 verses earlier, Luke 5:8.) Jesus had called only a few of the disciples, and he hadn’t even started sparring with the Pharisees yet. But the leprous man knew Jesus was Lord.
…if you are willing…
As if he didn’t consider himself worthy of Jesus’ time.
As if leprosy couldn’t possibly be important to Jesus.
As if one life wouldn’t matter.
He demands nothing but instead submits himself entirely to Jesus’ will. Again, like a servant.
He knew Jesus could heal him (see the next line), but he didn’t know if Jesus would heal him.
…you can make me clean.
The pain of being ostracized was
greater than the pain of the disease.
He didn’t ask to be healed. He asked to be made clean. Maybe he’s just observing a culturally acceptable way to talk about an unacceptable problem, a bit like how people say, “She’s got a bun in the oven” instead of “She’s pregnant.” But I think there’s more to it than delicacy. For this man and for most, the pain of losing his relationships was greater than the pain of the disease.
If he lived today, he might have said, “I just want to go home and take a shower, lay down beside my wife and hug my kids, go out to dinner on Friday and to work on Monday. I just want to live my own life again.”
Jesus’ first action speaks to that more significant societal pain and proves this man’s assumptions about himself wrong.
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. –Luke 5:13a
In touching him, Jesus became ritually unclean. Why would He do that when just a word would have healed the man? We know He didn’t need to touch the guy. For example, he healed a Centurion’s servant while still some distance from the house (Luke 7:1-10).
Jesus gets down in the dirt with
us and brings us from wallowing to
standing as He rises alongside us.
He did it because Jesus enters fully into our humanity. Jesus gets down in the dirt with us and brings us from wallowing to standing as He rises alongside us. This man needed to know he was worth healing. For that to happen, he needed Jesus to be unclean with him, then bring him into an indescribable spiritual cleanliness. (Remember, Jesus also forgave the paralyzed friend’s sins before he healed him. See Nameless: 4 Friends on a Roof.)
This is Jesus…
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! –Philippians 2:6-8
Made himself nothing…
Jesus was headed toward the ultimate defilement. That is, rejection not by earthly priests but by God Himself. What’s a little leprosy along the way, right?
Forgive me if you find this simplistic, but Jesus finds us worth healing, too. We are never too dirty, too far gone, too sinful for Him to touch us, heal us, and restore our place in the world.
That’s what Jesus told the leprous man, too.
“I am willing,” [Jesus] said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. –Luke 5:13
He rose a little dirtier on the
outside but spiritually clean.
Stay in this moment with me for a minute. This man fell to his knees unclean and ostracized. He rose moments later, a little dirtier on the outside but spiritually clean and ready to reenter society. And Jesus, who didn’t have to get dirty, bent down into the dirt to lift the man out of it!
Y’all! This beautiful moment…this portrait of what happens to each of us as Jesus saves us…this model of how He calls us to engage others…I am once again floored.
Next, Jesus told the man to follow the religious procedures for cleansing after a bout of leprosy. He says to do it “as a testimony to them” (Matthew 8:4, Mark 1:44, Luke 5:14–important enough for all 3 synoptics to include the same line!), meaning the priests. Thus, the man would be permitted to reenter society—his main desire—but also, the priests would begin to hear about a man wandering around Galilee doing miracles. Jesus was on His way toward the cross, and this nameless leper, muddy in the road, became part of it.
When 1 nameless leper, muddy in the road, receives the gift of rejoining society and simultaneously helps Jesus get a little closer to His earthly destiny? Beautiful because of the messiness. My #socialstanding is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)
I’ve been dirty and thrown myself out in the road before Jesus (figuratively). Haven’t you? If this post leads you to worship Jesus for a minute, let me know in the comments below. That would be the greatest complement I could receive.
A couple of other connections
- Naaman, who’s servant girl facilitated his healing, had leprosy. (See Nameless: Naaman’s Wife’s Servant and/or 2 Kings 5.)
- The home where Jesus was anointed with oil (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9) belonged to “Simon the Leper,” whom Jesus had probably healed, but we have no record of the healing. For this story, check out Guilt By Association.