Tuesday, October 19, 2010

To Touch a Leper

You’d think that, at 47, I’d be old enough that portions of Scripture would no longer shock and surprise me. But it’s the nature of God’s Word that, since it is alive, it continues to address the soul of the reader in new, unexpected ways. I ask myself, “How could I not have understood that before? Was I blind?”

We’re studying Mark. You know Mark, that throw-away gospel, the one you seldom read, because, let’s be honest, the other three are so much better? Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s a neglected gem.

We examined an early miracle, the healing of the leper in Mark 1: 40-45. Adam pointed out some interesting facts in this event. Lepers, of course, were unclean in Jewish culture, and couldn’t enter towns, come to the synagogue or temple, or in any way participate in the daily life of the people. They were outcasts, suffering in a real and horrible way under the curse of Adam.

Jews were pretty picky about clean and unclean items. If you touched something unclean, like a leper, you became unclean yourself. And in this miracle, that’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t have to touch the man, in order to heal him. In fact, only two chapters later, Jesus heals a man’s hand without doing anything except telling the man to stretch his arm out. Jesus didn’t have to touch, or speak, or act in anyway, in order to heal someone, to roll back the curse in one moment, for one human. To shine the light of the kingdom upon a dark, demon-possessed earth. Jesus just has to think it, in order to heal. That’s his authority as the king.

But he chooses to touch a leper. Now, according to Jewish law, that made Jesus unclean. The leper is immediately cleansed, made whole, returned to his people and his life, restored to fellowship. Jesus became unclean in his place. In fact, Jesus remained in the unpopulated, lonely places for a period of time, not returning to the city, until his period of uncleanness had passed. In effect, he took the leper’s place, just as he took our place of condemnation and wretchedness, and restored us to our place as God’s children.

Uncleanness is contagious. If a clean person jumps into a mud pit, the mud doesn’t turn to pure water; the person becomes filthy. If a healthy person and a sick person spend time together, the sickness is passed from one to the other, not the health. A person with AIDS can pass his disease to his partner, but the opposite is not true. What would our world be like, if cleanness and health were contagious instead?

And you see, that’s exactly what Jesus did. He was the first, the very first person to make goodness, righteousness, health -- contagious. With a touch, or just a thought, he gave his goodness to their very bodies. With his sacrifice, his righteousness became ours. When the Bible says we have been given the ministry of reconciliation, this is certainly part of it – that we are to sneeze righteousness, wholeness, restoration and spiritual life, on a dead world. That’s all that resurrection is: the touching of a living person to a dead person, and life wins – life is passed to the dead one. Health is given to the sick. Jesus took the leper’s uncleanness, but it didn’t “stick” to him. Both men were well, and the leprosy was gone.

The good news of the gospel is salvation, yes, but it’s broader than that. It’s the magical, fabulous news of the kingdom – that we have a hope of a life in which health conquers illness with finality. That life wins over death. So, go out and touch a leper, and believe that the power of Christ in you will give life and joy to a very sick world.


  1. Your words about how Christ reversed the ages-old flow of "clean to unclean" so that now it is "everything made new in Him"....I'd never thought about the contrast in quite that way, or seen how the leper story illustrates it. Glory to God!

  2. Thanks :) I think it's a fascinating concept, and one that draws my heart to the new earth particularly.

  3. Been listening to The Great Divorce. This reminds me of that - that heaven, true GOODness is realer than its lack, which is shadow or ghost. Powerful.

  4. C - I haven't read that in many, many years, and I remember loving it then. Must find a copy; I think I lost mine.

  5. I have not thought of Jesus becoming unclean to cleanse the lepers. Thank you for this gift.



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