Jesus Heals the Leper
Gospel Reflection for January 8, 2021
Today's reading is placed shortly after the "Sermon On The Mount'," where Jesus astounds the crowds by teaching with surprising "authority." Immediately afterwards, our Lord shows those following him that His authority manifests in deeds as well, by catching a literal boatload of fish, and now, healing a "man full of leprosy."
Though we don't hear much about it these days, in the ancient world, Leprosy was an insidious and incurable disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, leprosy is a disease that has been known since Biblical times that causes skin sores, nerve damage, and muscle weakness that gets worse over time. It is caused by a bacteria that is not very contagious and more common in children than adults. It is common in many countries worldwide and can be treated with antibiotics, which makes isolating people in leper colonies no longer needed.
Since antibiotics are historically a recent invention, leprosy has a history of causing wide spread devastation and panic with no hope of recovery. This is especially true in areas that had extreme poverty and unsanitary living conditions. In fact, this was one reason that St. Mother Teresa left a convent in Calcutta, India and started a ministry to the poor that were living in the streets there in 1948. Her work with the lepers, along with unwed mothers, abandoned babies, mentally ill, and others resulted her being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
But, why do we hear so much about Leprosy in scripture?
In the context of the ancient Jewish religious practices, both physical and spiritual purity were of utmost importance. Leprosy was seen as the ultimate example on uncleanliness. The interesting thing is that despite there being no known cure, Moses provided a way for those cured of this disease to be brought back into both the community and synagogue. In the Church Age, Leprosy has become synonymous with the destructive nature of sin in our lives. In that understanding, the only cure is the miracle touch of Christ and His saving grace.
Christ demonstrated this concept in an encounter when He healed 10 lepers in Luke 17:11-19. As He traveled through Samaria and Galilee, He encountered 10 lepers in a village. The lepers stood far away, but called out to Him, asking Him to have mercy on them. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests as was commanded in the law.
As they went, they were healed. One of the lepers, a Samaritan, returned to Jesus and loudly glorified God as he fell at the feet of Jesus thanking Jesus. Jesus responded by asking the man where the other nine where that were healed? He added that only this man had returned to give glory to God. He concluded by saying to the man to arise and go his way, because his faith had made him whole.
With these words, Jesus declared this man clean, not only physically of his leprosy, but also spiritually of the terminal disease of sin. The other nine were healed physically, but only this man acknowledged Jesus for Who He really was. This man, a Samaritan, who was despised by the Jews, served as an example to all of us that while we may be made whole by modern medicine, Jesus is the Great Physician that makes eternally whole and clean (Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 4:14-27).
In the Old Testament priest was able to declare a person clean of leprosy after transferring the person’s sin to a bird that was sacrificed. Likewise, our High Priest, Jesus is able to declare us clean by transferring our sin through our faith in His sacrifice upon the cross to Him for the forgiveness of our sins.
It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leprosy left him immediately. Then he ordered him not to tell anyone, but “Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.