Loving Lepers

“And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” Mark‬ ‭1:40-42‬ ESV

The man’s name is unknown. He is just “leper” to us—unnamed and unclean. He approaches Jesus. Really? Aren’t lepers supposed to stay out of the way, unnoticed and unseen? What was there about Jesus that emboldened the leper to come to him?

Jesus responds with kindness. He is motivated from a heart of pity, of compassion. Not from arrogant condescension (“poor pitiful guy,” deep sigh, “I guess I can help”) or from duty (“I am a Christian, I have to be nice”), but from a heart broken for the lost, the least, the leper.

From this posture of compassion Jesus did three radical things to express love to the leper.

First, Jesus reached out. In the leper’s world, people don’t reach out. They recoil. People don’t move toward lepers, they move away. But Jesus is different. Jesus reached out.

Second, Jesus touched him. The holy, holy, holy touched the unclean, unclean, unclean. He didn’t just give a glance or write a check. He put his skin onto the leper’s skin. When was the last time that leper had felt another’s touch?

Third, Jesus spoke two things. “I am willing.” Nothing obligated the Son of God to help this son of man. Nothing, except that Jesus was willing to be “moved with compassion.” Also, since compassion prompts action, Jesus says, “Be healed.” The power of the Holy God met the weakness of the unclean man and everything changed.

As I read this story I have to think of the lepers in my world. No, not the ones who suffer from the disease of leprosy, but the ones in our society who have been assigned to take the lepers’ place as the marginalized, stigmatized and feared. I think of those who live with diseases of the brain: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression.

But also as I read this story I have to realize that I am actually both of the characters. I am the leper. Though not one who suffers with severe mental illness, I too, in my own ways, am damaged and deformed. Unable to be a part of the true life because of my uncleanness, I lurk in the shadows, hoping no one will notice the rotting places in my soul. Like the leper, I must take the risk and take my place at the feet of Jesus. Not just one time, but all the time, I must make my confession to Christ: “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

I am also Christ’s ambassador, one He appointed to represent Him to the discarded in soul, discouraged in heart, disfigured in body, damaged in mind. When they see me are they drawn to Him? Does His compassion for the cast out motivate me to reach out? In what ways can Jesus touch their hearts through the touch of my hands? What words of hope and healing will Christ speak through my lips?

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