Face to Faith- Friday, 12th week in ordinary time – Matthew 8:1- 4
The leper knelt before Him and said, “Lord if you choose you can make me well.”
The Sermon on the Mount has ended and the gospel writer Matthew, having shown Jesus as the Messiah of the word, presents Him as the Messiah of the deed (JBC). In this section spanning Chapter 8:1- 9:38, we will read of nine miracle pericopes that encompass ten individual miracles.
The first of these miracles is the cleansing of the leper. Jesus has finished preaching the Sermon on the Mount and is followed by large crowds. It is a leper who comes to Him, kneels before Him, calls Him Lord and asks to be made clean. In one swift move Jesus does the unthinkable. He touches a leper.
Even with the knowledge that modern science gives us, we loathe touching a leper. For those living in the first century this was one of the most dreaded diseases, enough for God to give Moses extensive instructions in Leviticus 13 and 14.
The Biblical understanding of leprosy, ‘tsara’ath’ in Hebrew, included a variety of skin ailments. Leviticus 13 and 14 list at least seven medical conditions as ‘tsara’ath’, including scaly skin blemish. At the time of Jesus, the lepers were despised from society, driven from their homes as outcasts, had to wear torn clothes, let their hair hang loose, cover their upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ To add to the distress of the person, the physical quarantine was twisted into a moral judgment as sinners.
It is not clear if the leper in the miracle had what we identify today as leprosy, namely Hansen’s disease. Perhaps it could have even been psoriasis or any other skin ailment, for had it been a more distinct skin disease, he would have surely been driven out of this large crowd; to say nothing of him being able to get close to Jesus.
All through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks of fulfilling the law and in doing so, goes beyond what the law asks. He not only cleanses the man but in fulfillment of the Jewish law, sends the man off to the priests to be examined. But what the Lord preached on the Mountain, He lived in the plains.
The authentic living of Jesus is seen in His first miracle in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus did not have to touch the leper. There are many healings that He performed that did not involve touching. Besides, this act would have made Him ‘unclean’ in the eyes of the law. Yet He touches, to demonstrate the visible sign of God’s love to even an ‘outcast’.
There is also the faith of the leper to be considered. He risks everything to make his way to Jesus, for if discovered he could have been stoned. He sees in Jesus, a man of authority and puts his faith in Him. ‘If you wish’ he says, ‘you can make me clean’. There is no demand or instance in a healing, just a humble request and in that moment, the leper came face to faith.
Fr Warner D’Souza