Cleansing or Healing? Friday after Epiphany – Luke 5:12-16
Leprosy was the most terrible disease in Jesus’ day. It included a variety of different serious skin diseases & was not limited to what is today called “leprosy” or Hansen’s disease. It was greatly feared as it would causes grotesque disfigurement & sometimes death. The law forbade a leper to enter any walled city. They could not touch another person and no one would chance touching them. Their appearance was ghastly: dirty ragged clothing, disheveled hair, a handkerchief over their mouth, running sores and missing body parts. The custom then was to exclude lepers from normal society.
This leper came to Jesus in his desperation and humiliation, knowing that Jesus was his only hope. When he saw Jesus, he forgot about his physical condition and his social position, and fell at Jesus’ feet. It was totally inappropriate for a leper to approach anyone, let alone a rabbi. This man was without hope, without shame, without dignity, shunned by society but determined.
The man pleads for cleansing; nothing else mattered to him at this point because there was the possibility that he was about to receive the help that he so desperately needed. He fell on his face and begged Jesus to cleanse him, not heal him. He was asking for both physical and spiritual cleansing, external healing & internal healing. He knew he was dirty & defiled both inside and out. Jesus too was concerned with more than bodily healing. He was bothered most by the helplessness and humiliation of those rejected by society. He did not give them a hand-out but much more: a new relationship with God, which helped them live with new dignity.
Jesus responds so positively. No Jew would defile himself by touching a leper, but goodness flows out of Jesus and he cures him. Whenever Jesus came into contact with disease or misery, he was moved by compassion to remove it by his touch, his presence, or his word.
Notice that the leper did not say, “Will you make me clean?” or “Are you able to make me clean?” The leper had faith and he recognized the Lordship of Christ, therefore he said, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Even though the leper was humble in his approach, he was confident that Jesus had the ability. If you remove the phrase “if you will” then the statement of certainty is clear. There was no doubt in his mind that Jesus could cleanse him from his leprosy.
It is interesting to note that in regard to lepers, Jesus’ ministry begins where the ministry of the Rabbis ended. There was no known cure for leprosy, so when a Rabbi declared a man to be a leper, he was condemned to an existence of psychological and physical suffering. This was something that not even the priest, who were able to pronounce one clean, could do. Absolute sovereignty was in view, Jesus had complete authority against anything related to sickness, demonic, or sin. Therefore, he knew Jesus could “release” him from it. He is at the feet of Jesus humbly begging for mercy, because he knows that if anyone can then it is Jesus. The things that we ask Him are not always His will. But if it is His will, it will happen. We should pray, “Thy will be done” and let Him decide.
This man, instead of keeping quiet, went out and blazed it abroad. That means that he told everyone that he was healed by Jesus. He disobeyed the Lord. A preacher once said about this passage, “the Lord told him not to tell anybody and he told everybody. The Lord tells us to tell everybody about him and we tell nobody.” I don’t believe that the disobedience of this cleansed leper is as bad as our disobedience. We are to tell everybody and we tell nobody. However, because he told everybody, the crowds came, and so He had to leave Capernaum for a time.
Reflecting on the lepers cry for help one must realise that every cry for help is a prayer. This one was a mighty act of faith. Do you pray with this kind of confidence? I don’t mean, do you believe in the sovereignty of God, you know that the answer is yes. You see, the leper didn’t just believe something. He believed in Jesus as the Messiah and this caused him to act in accordance with that belief. Do you pray with certainty that God can hear and powerfully act on your part?
The Gospel now tells us that the demands made on Jesus were great, the expectations many. Still he was able to keep his focus, to maintain his relationship with God. An energy-point for Jesus was his prayer, and we find that at key times of his life, he prayed: before calling the twelve, at the time of temptation and the struggle at his Passion and death; and very often as part of his life he went to quiet places to pray. His ministry needed the support and life-giving energy of his relationship with his Father. Join him right now and find a quiet spot. Ask him, “Lord, teach me to pray”.
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