Matthew 8:1-4 (NIV) When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
The leper’s statement puzzles many people: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Why would he think that Jesus would be unwilling?
The problem in understanding is that most modern people know far more about Jesus than the leper did. The leper only knew that Jesus was a prophet, a holy man who could heal people. That was why he had sought out Jesus in the first place, braving the stares, the looks of horror, and the wide berth that people would give him as he passed through the crowds.
The big issue for the leper was the common perception that his disease had come upon him because of great sin in his life. Leprosy was seen as a sentence to a slow death, and no one could ever imagine God allowing a righteous person to be so afflicted. The man approached Jesus cautiously, not merely because of his disease, but because he feared that this righteous, holy man would assume that he was suffering justly, because of some heinous sin, and turn him away.
Jesus was touched as much or more by the man’s humility as by his need. This man, with so deep a need did not come demanding that Jesus help, but aware that, if Jesus did decide to help him, it would only be as an act of mercy and grace. It was the man’s humility that opened the door to his healing, and his faith that made the healing real.
What no one expected, not even Jesus’ disciples, was the method that Jesus used to heal him. A reasonable person would expect Jesus to speak the words of healing from a safe distance, since the slightest contact with the man’s uncleanness would instantly make that person unclean as well. But to the surprise (and alarm!) of everyone there, Jesus quickly closed the distance between Himself and the man, and laid His hand squarely on him as He spoke the healing words, “Be clean!”
The Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law would be kept busy for years debating what happened next: the man was instantly made clean. Their question would be, was the man cleansed just before Jesus touched him, so that Jesus’ touch was on clean flesh so that He Himself remained clean? Or did it happen just after Jesus made contact, so that He became unclean a moment before the man was cleansed? But both questions would miss the point entirely, which was that the man with leprosy had been instantaneously healed!
In cleansing the leper, Jesus had no intention of increasing His own reputation. Instead, as always, His goal was to glorify God, His Father. So He charged the man to keep silent as to how he had been healed, but just to go and show himself to the priests as required by the law as a testimony to them of God’s goodness, grace, and wonderworking power in providing the healing.
Father, even though very few of us came to You with leprosy, we all came to You unclean, humble, and some with doubt that You would care enough to reach out of Your holiness into our hearts to make us clean. But, Lord, You never turned away from the poor in spirit. Instead, You assured us of Your love and grace, and spoke to our filthy and sin-stained hearts, “Be clean.” And then You commissioned us to go and tell others what You had done for us as a testimony to them. Thank You for making me clean. Amen.