READ: Mt. 8:2-4; Mk. 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16
Once again I’m impressed by the Lord’s compassion. He has just made it clear to his followers that he wants to move about the countryside teaching – that this is his mission. But on the heels of that decision a leper comes to him with a request. This man’s faith is awesome. He clearly knows what Jesus is capable of and that a healing for him isn’t a matter of Jesus’ ability, but rather of Jesus’ willingness. And he says that with great clarity, “Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.”
The synoptic gospels all tell this story with great similarity, although the physician Luke offers the extra detail that this man was covered with leprosy. Somehow this request, the appeal to and belief in Jesus’ very clear power, and perhaps an understanding of the man’s open-handed willingness to let Jesus decide his fate, wins Jesus over. All three synoptic gospels give this answer from Jesus, “I am willing, be clean!” Immediately the leprosy leaves this man. What an immense change this healing brings to this man’s life! In an instant he goes from social outcast to renewed membership in the community; from begging to the ability to work; from desperately, meltingly ill to whole and healthy.
Jesus commands this man to keep silent about the healing and to go to the priest and offer the appropriate sacrifices to prove his healing and for personal cleansing. This was a time-consuming and involved eight day process (Leviticus 14:1-32). But the gospel of Mark tells us clearly that the man instead went out and spread the news creating even more crowds to follow Jesus. This exchange is a bit puzzling to me. Leprosy was a very visible disease in many cases. And visible or covered by clothing, the leper was required to yell out “Unclean! Unclean!” as he moved about on the fringe of society. This man’s healing would’ve been very evident to his community with or without his testimony about it. Even the act of going to the temple to offer the appropriate sacrifices would’ve made his healing obvious. Was Jesus just buying time in his command to the leper? Seeking a bit of space to move on from that area without being pressed by the crowds? Or, was he ensuring that the man would not get so caught up in telling his story that he would forget to follow the process – to fully appropriate the healing and cleansing provided. I’m not sure of the ‘why’ of Jesus statement, but I’m disappointed in the leper’s inability to carry out Jesus’ command. I confess my disappointment is mostly because I see that same inability in me. Jesus did something astounding in answering the cry of the leper. Jesus asked something pretty simple, even if time-consuming, in response. Jesus did something BIG and asked something relatively little. How often do I run, do we run, in a new freedom or healing without taking the time to fully complete the ‘work’ that seals it in us?
Lord, I shudder to see myself in the response of the leper. I know I want to tell everyone everything that you’ve done for me, so I feel fellowship with him. I know I love it when you bring a healing or new freedom to my life. But how often do I tell everyone before it is time for the telling? How often do I choose to tell my story before I’ve let you complete it? Help me listen to you and do the things you ask, even when I’m eager to get on with the ‘new’ you’ve placed before me.