In ancient Israel of all the disease one could contract, or test positive for, leprosy was perhaps the most dreaded. Mycobacterium leprae, the infectious bacterial agent of leprosy not only affects the skin with putrid lesions, but also the throat (it deteriorates the vocal cords thus creating a low, raspy voice), and it also gradually destroys nerves contributing to the loss of extremities such as fingers, ears, toes and nose. If this all wasn’t bad enough, the necessary separation from society that went along with leprosy was most heartbreaking. A slow, wasting death isolated from loved ones was the leper’s curse. Yet, it just this sort of man, “full of leprosy” (Luke 5:12) who broke through the crowd and approached Jesus one day seeking a cure. What would Jesus do when confronted by such a grotesque person? Let’s read Mark 1:40-44 and find out.
- The Law of Moses, has much to say about leprosy. However, the lot of a poor leper is best summed up in Leviticus 13:45-46. What details do you read here?
- Their appearance had to be disheveled – torn clothes, with long unkempt hair.
- If they encountered anyone they had to cover the lower part of their face and cry “Unclean, unclean!” as a warning to get back.
- Lepers were isolated not just from society, but from family.
- If left uncured, the leper was sentenced to a life of humiliation and isolation his whole life.
- What risk do you think he was taking by coming to Jesus (v. 40a)?
- Matthew’s account starts with the words, “And behold…” Implying this was a sudden and unexpected occurrence. Indeed, on the only other occasion Jesus heals lepers, they remain back some distance (Luke 17:11-16).
- We should also add that this man had advanced leprosy. Luke adds the detail that he was “full of leprosy” (5:12).
- There was a crowd but I see them parting and fleeing this loathsome looking man. If you’ve seen just one picture of a leper you get the idea. The great risk is that Jesus would reject him.
- The leper, “imploring” Jesus says “If you will, you can make me clean” (v. 40b).
- Note the man doesn’t question the Lord’s ability to heal, but rather His willingness to heal. Why do you think this pitiful man doubted Jesus willingness to heal?
- Sin tries to control us with two exactly opposite lies: The first lie is that our condition is not as severe as we might think. The leper was acutely aware of his condition.
- Second lie, on the opposite end of the spectrum, is that realize our true condition that we think we are so bad we are beyond help. I think that’s where the leper is at in his life. He knew Jesus could heal him, but he didn’t know where Jesus would heal him.
- Do you ever feel so “unclean” that you think Jesus doesn’t want you in His presence? If so when? Why?
- I think on some level we can understand the leper’s hesitation. Have you ever sinned so grievously, or so much, or for so long that you think Christ won’t forgive? We’ve all been there in our own way, one time or another. We know He can forgive, but in our hearts we wonder if He will.
- In those times we need to come to a story like this and be reminded that Christ is not only able, He is willing to cleanse us from our unrighteousness (ref. 1 John 1:7, 9)
From the Leper’s plea let’s turn to Jesus response: “Moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean” (v. 41). Let’s take a closer look at Jesus’ actions:
- As you picture this scene in your mind, what do you think it was that caused Jesus’ heart to melt with “compassion” (or “pity” ESV) toward this man?
- Jesus has a visceral reaction to this man’s presence and words. He felt it in the pit of His stomach. It was a gut-wrenching compassion.
- Perhaps it was the loathsome look of the leper, his prostration, or the way his request fell from trembling lips. Above all these, Jesus say into the man’s heart. Our Lord peered beyond his ragged look and into the leper’s heart.
- Jesus could have healed the leper with mere words (cf. Luke 17:11-16), yet He chose to interact with this man on a physical level. Why do you think He chose to touch this untouchable man?
- I’ve read that the meaning of touch here is not a superficial contact, but a full-hearted hand on the shoulder.
- I wonder how long it had been since the leper had felt the warmth of a gentle touch of a loved one? How long it had been since he had known the comfort of a friend’s embrace? Regardless, he felt it all and more when Jesus, compassionately reached out and touched him.
- Jesus touched the leper because it was what the man needed. I believe he wanted the man to feel His willingness.
In Mark’s gospel, the touch of Jesus was a part of His healing process:– 1:31 – Peter’s Mother-In-Law– 1:41 – The Leper– 5:41 – Jairus’ Daughter– 6:5 – Healings in Nazareth– 7:33 – A Deaf Man– 8:23 – The Blind Man of Bethsaida– 9:27 – A Boy with an Unclean Spirit
- Imagine you’re the leper, what would it have meant to you for the Savior to reach out with a compassionate hand and touch your disease riddled body?
- Oh the joy this man would have felt! I don’t think I can adequately describe the ecstasy that would have coursed through this man’s body and soul.
- How does our Lord’s response, “I will, be clean” align with His mission, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17)?
- This man’s condition didn’t matter to Jesus. He was willing to cleanse him.
- The leper was acutely aware of his condition. He wasn’t hiding it from Jesus, rather he was on full-display before the Savior.
- This is the very type of person Jesus came to save. Those who are willing to admit their uncleanness.
- What does Jesus’ interaction with the leper tell you about His character and how He will (and does) interact with you despite all your unclean sins?
- Jesus won’t reject the sinfully unclean who come to Him with humble hearts.
- It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, nothing is too great from us touch to heal and cleanse.
“Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean” (v. 42). Can you hear the thunderstruck crowd roar with amazement as the leper’s skin turns soft and his missing appendages reappear? Can you hear the man crying not, “Unclean! Unclean!” but, “I’m clean! I’m clean!” This is what Jesus Christ can do for you and for anyone who comes to Him. The poor leper not only said he was unclean – he knew he was unclean. And he knew he was hopeless, that there was nothing he could do to help himself. In this way he optimized the blessed spiritual awareness of the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). So, come to Jesus just like the leper did, with humility “If You will,” mingled with confidence “You can make me clean.” That’s faith – absolute trust in Jesus and absolute poverty of spirit before Him. This is the perfect posture to receive Jesus’ healing touch.