There are two things we have to say off the top: Jesus was constantly healing people of incurable diseases, permanent disabilities, and demonic possession, and Jesus gravitated to acts and to people who operate way, way under the radar. This leper qualifies for both. In those days “leper” had the same kind of fearsome despair as “cancer” does in our world. Lepers had a disease that was largely incurable, and brought great suffering and death. It was a dreaded disease, but worse in their society than cancer is in ours, because it also brought with it social isolation and religious excommunication. So severe was this disease that when a biblical writer wanted to impress on his readers the seriousness of sin, he equated the ravages of leprosy on one’s body with the devastation that sin can inflict on one’s soul. Anyone with leprosy might as well just kill themselves, because he was already a walking dead man. Many would have considered death for a leper to be the ultimate act of mercy.
When he saw Jesus, he approached him—a desperate act that was against the law. But you know he had to be thinking, “What could they do to me that’s worse than the situation I’m already in?” He falls with his face to the ground—a position of respect, but also of humility, and mostly of utter desperation. The man had no hope, no prospects, no pride, and nothing to lose. And he begged Jesus. An anguished cry. To say that this man was hurting would be the height of understatement.
“Sir,” he says, “ if you are willing you can make me clean.” You see, no one but no one helped lepers. Not only did they not have the medical knowledge to give any help, but the disease was greatly feared as rampantly contagious, so none would even try. Besides, it also made them religiously unclean, and so no one of any religious standing would get involved. But he must have heard some stories about Jesus, and while he thought Jesus could do this, he wasn’t sure the Lord WOULD. No one but no one helped lepers.
I think it’s interesting that he used the expression “you can make me clean” when he was talking about healing. He obviously meant that he wanted healing, but his words emphasize his thought of wanting restored fellowship and sanctification. Yes, he wants the disease gone, but moreso he desires spiritual restoration. “Clean” was the word that would bring him back to the temple, to God, to his family, and to society. “Clean” was his ticket to restored fellowship.
“Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” Oh my. No one fer sher helped lepers, but you’d have to be absolutely CRAZY to TOUCH one. No one touched lepers. Oh my; in their culture it was the kiss of death to touch a leper. And there was no need for Jesus to actually, physically touch him. So there is a reason Jesus did this, and it’s not to facilitate the healing. The man was interested in more than just physical healing. He wanted restored fellowship, human touch, and spiritual restoration. Jesus accomplished all with the dangerous and forbidden touch.
“I am willing,” Jesus said. These are the words we all long to hear from Jesus when we make a request, or when we have a need either in our bodies or in our souls. They are the words of peace, comfort, and power. They are words of love and care. “Be clean.”
As with all of his other miracles except one (delayed to be an object lesson), the healing happens instantaneously. It shows the absolute power and sovereignty of his words. No disease or power can stand before him. “No weapon formed against him shall prosper; all those who rise against him shall fall.” “If God be for us, who can be against us?” It also makes impossible any accusation that it was some kind of natural process.
So it makes me wonder, Why did Jesus spend so much time healing physical ailments? Here’s what I think:
1. It is a very strong felt need in people. Health problems are an issue from birth to death.
2. It is one of our greatest areas of concern. When we pray, more than 90% of what we pray is because of people’s illnesses, injuries, or chronic conditions.
3. It’s a place in their lives where people feel helpless. Doctors hardly have a way to help headaches, back pain, heart defects, cancer, strokes, blindness, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and a thousand others.
4. Sickness and injury are a symptom of sin in our world.
“Then Jesus ordered him, ‘Don’t tell anyone.” Why the secrecy? Here’s what I think:
1. He doesn’t want to ever be guilty of pride. He doesn’t have pride in him.
2. He does want to ever be guilty of being showy.
3. He doesn’t want to attract the crowds for what he does, but for who he is. The crowds always misunderstood, and were fickle. The crowds never came to him for the right reasons.
4. His miracles were done as signs—to individuals, and for individuals. They were personal statements, revealing his deity to that person in one-on-one contact, and were not really effective for others. (They were, effective, in that others heard about the great wonders he was doing, and they came to him as individuals, showing expressions of faith.)
Keep quiet? Yeah, right. The man blabs it all over town. And who wouldn’t? Who could possibly hold in the spectacular wonder, amazement, and happiness of having been healed like this? Who could possibly hold in the wonderful news that such a power was walking around on the earth? It’s funny; we as Christians do it all the time. We have been healed, and we know this “power” in a personal relationship, and yet we walk around day after day and say nothing to anyone.
And the crowds swarmed him. Who can blame them? Actually, though, they were coming to him for the wrong reasons, but he healed them anyway because he wanted a personal relationship with them, he wanted to teach them about faith, and he wanted to make known to them signs of his deity. But usually all they wanted was the fast fix, and walk away to their normal lives. He reached out to them anyway, giving every opportunity to respond positively, every chance he could to ignite a personal relationship that would last.
Then Jesus withdrew and prayed. Sure he could heal the crowds, but that’s not the strategy that would ever work to build the kingdom, so he limited his time with it. We see him here in prayer, balancing his input with his output. When he was giving so much of himself, he needed the fellowship of his Father, and the spiritual strength, to continue.