Luke in his Gospel tells us about an encounter between Jesus and a man who was stricken with what may have been the most dreadful affliction in New Testament times, leprosy. If we can assume Luke’s “leprosy” is the same as our “Hansen’s disease” (not a certainty since leprosy in the Scriptures includes a variety of skin problems), the man would have been, frankly, difficult to look at. With his face disfigured from the lesions and lumps covering it, and his fingers and toes withered away into stumps, his appearance would have provoked a mixture of revulsion and pity.
But even worse for the man was suffering what has been the lot of lepers throughout history, social alienation. He was a pariah, an outcast, banished from all the comforts and joys of normal social interaction with family and friends. God’s law concerning lepers only intensified his misery as a nonperson: he’d have to dress in torn clothes and announce his presence to all by shouting, “Unclean, unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45).
And if that wasn’t miserable enough, the leper’s greatest curse was effectively being cut off from God. As someone unclean, he wasn’t fit to worship the Lord at the temple, or to take part in the sacrifices with the rest of the people of God. For an Israelite whose religious life centered upon the temple worship, exile from that holy place was tantamount to banishment from the presence of God.
What Luke would have us to see in this man is a reflection of our own leprosy, that is our sin. Our sin nature, what Scripture calls the “flesh,” renders our souls as hideously disfigured as this man’s face. Just as he was “full of leprosy,” so our hearts are full of sin. All the evil we think, say, and do comes from within us and defiles us (Mark 7:20-23). And even the relative good we do is tainted by our sin so that before a holy God, even “our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6).
And so we are morally and spiritually unclean, and consequently unfit and unable to be in the presence of God and to enjoy the communion with him for which he created us. By nature, we are spiritual lepers.
Which is why Jesus’ healing of the leprous man should fill us with hope and joy. When the man asked Jesus for cleansing, the Lord “stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean’.” And “immediately the leprosy left him” (v.13). Jesus is willing to heal all of their spiritual leprosy, who come to him by faith. He purifies our hearts, restores us to a right relationship with the Father, and gives us new life.
What a picture of God’s grace to us in Christ! We come to Jesus with nothing but our helplessness and need; he reaches out and with his touch and word, takes away our guilt and sin. Praise God for his love and mercy to us through his Son Jesus Christ!
Soli Deo Gloria!