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. – Matthew 8:1-3
I am not sure if many people realize what a sanitized society we have here in the US. Filtered water, hand cleanser and stores dedicated to bathroom supplies make being clean a commodity. We use air fresheners and deodorizers to eliminate the evidence of atmospheric unpleasantness. Our laundry detergents get out the stains, our dishwashers break down cooked on food and our restaurants have grades on their sanitary conditions. It is our meager way of trying to control our environment and maintain the appearance of cleanliness, but it has been tried before.
The Israelites had gone down that same road when Jesus walked among them. The Pharisees and Sadducees were so intent on the appearance of cleanliness that they missed opportunities for a deeper cleansing from the Messiah. He was among them – the prince of peace, the wonderful counselor, the Son of God – and he wanted them to understand and be reconciled to his heavenly Father.
Jesus does two amazing things in this story. He heals a leper and he touches a leper and it is important to remember in what order. In His day, touching a leper was against the law and would make Him unclean in the sight of the religious leaders. This didn’t stop Jesus. Instead of requiring the leper to be clean before he can come to God, God comes to the leper to make Him clean. This is an astonishing and revolutionary change for the religious leaders watching this encounter. It is no less astonishing and revolutionary for us today.
Maybe you are the leper and need that touch from Jesus, but you feel as if you are unclean and don’t deserve His touch. You haven’t stepped forward in faith and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” There is no other way to be reconciled to God but by Him entering into our mess and cleansing us from within. It is only by the work of His Holy Spirit that we become whole and holy people, so ask for His cleansing touch on your life.
Some may find themselves relating to the Pharisees and Sadducees (picture me raising my hand), having been told the rules and regulations of a proper Christian life and working hard to maintain a manmade standard. It is an unforgiving system that requires much, and produces little. Legalism is a leprosy of the mind and heart and Christ can reach the deepest parts of both and make them clean.
For now, the job of reaching out to the unclean and unwanted of the world is ours. We are the hands of Jesus reaching out to touch the unsavory of the world and that isn’t always easy for us. If you are like me, there is a group of people you have a hard time relating to or accepting. They make us uncomfortable and so we avoid them. We may not even know why we react like we do. Regardless of what group you are thinking of, we all need to ask the same question: Is there anyone that Jesus wouldn’t have touched if they had been in the leper’s place?” I say the answer is “No.” If we want to be like Jesus, we have to learn how “perfect love casts out fear” so we can reach out to whomever He brings our way.
Pray that God will give you the opportunity to reach out to someone who needs a touch from Jesus. Ask Him to work in and through you to reconcile to Him those who have slipped through the cracks of our sanitized world. Be the hand of Jesus reaching out with love because He is willing.