Think of the most deadly, disgusting, contagious, fear gripping diseases. There are a few that come to my mind, although there are not a lot of commonplace diseases that exist today that fit that bill. If we go back two thousand years ago, however, there is one disease in particular that fits this description to a tee.
In Biblical times, leprosy was a terrifying reality of daily life. It was a cruel disease that caused living flesh to rot and die. In those times, there was no known cure. It was always a death sentence. The disease was associated with being unclean. Anyone who was suspected to have the disease, or have been contaminated by the disease, was ostracized and quarantined in society. Even if one had never contracted leprosy, if they were thought to have been contaminated by a leper, they would always carry that degrading stigma.
The contagious nature of leprosy inspired so much fear that a person with leprosy was required by law to announce their presence whenever they traveled in a public place. They were forced to cry out ‘Unclean, Unclean’, anywhere they went in order to warn the public to stay away from them.
When a leper was spotted in public, no doubt mothers and fathers frantically gathered their children and shielded them from the dangerous disease ridden person. No doubt the religious leaders would have also fled from the vicinity of the unclean man so as to not ‘defile’ themselves. All people would be careful not to be seen in the leper’s vicinity so as to not contract the deadly disease, or to be accused by the public as being defiled and unclean like the leper.
Can you imagine the incredible shame that a person with this disease felt on a moment by moment basis?
Can you imagine the humiliation of having to assault your own identity numerous times a day by referring to yourself as ‘unclean’?
Can you imagine the perpetual loneliness?
Can you imagine what it would be like to never be touched by another human being?
To be completely honest, living a life starved from the most basic of human affections is a living hell that I have never experienced. I cannot grasp the enormity of such a poverty. Now imagine what a leper must have thought when they heard about Jesus. Here was a man who could heal people. He healed in many ways. Jesus had so much authority that He could simply say “Be Healed”, and the person would be healed.
I’m sure they thought that Jesus, being a ‘holy rabbi’, would not want to get near them and defile Himself. No problem for Jesus. If He was just willing, He could simply ‘will’ the healing to take place. With that in mind, consider this account from Matthew’s gospel:
When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and *touched* him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:1-3, NASB, emphasis mine)
It’s so very easy to read past this monumental account. Yes, it’s amazing that Jesus healed this man’s leprosy, but do you know what really gets to me? It’s the fact that He chose to *TOUCH* him.
I wonder how long it had been since someone actually ‘touched’ him? How long had it been since someone touched him with love? How long had it been since someone touched him without caring what others would think?
In his book ‘Beautiful Outlaw‘, John Eldridge has a chapter about this very account entitled ‘Scandalous Freedom‘. Here is a snippet of what he has to say about the healing of this leper in Matthew 8:
No one has touched him for a very long time. To be starved for human touch is far worse than to starve for bread. The kindness of Jesus in this one act is enough to make me fall in love with him. But so is His scandalous freedom. Because now, Jesus is defiled. At least, in the eyes of all the proper authorities he is. (Eldridge, pp. 83)
That, brothers and sisters, is our Lord. Our now indwelling Lord was acutely aware that this person needed to be physically touched. You know what? He also didn’t give a rip that He would now be seen by some as ‘unclean’. His love is not theoretical. His love literally reaches out and interacts with us physically. So much of Christ’s love is communicated non-verbally. Posture communicates love in ways that words fall short. A kind glance, a look in the eyes, a listening ear, a touch, a hug. Maybe that’s why Paul even encouraged the saints in Rome to do this:
Greet one another with a holy kiss. (Romans 16:16, NASB)