Luke 5:12-14 (CEV)
12 Jesus came to a town where there was a man who had leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he knelt down to the ground in front of Jesus and begged, “Lord, you have the power to make me well, if only you wanted to.”
13 Jesus put his hand on him and said, “I want to! Now you are well.” At once the man’s leprosy disappeared. 14 Jesus told him, “Don’t tell anyone about this, but go and show yourself to the priest. Offer a gift to the priest, just as Moses commanded, and everyone will know that you have been healed.”
“I Want To”
We now know that leprosy is caused by a bacteria that slowly multiplies, causing damage to the skin, the nerves of the fingers, toes, then the hands and feet, the respiratory tract and the eyes. As nerve damage occurs, individuals with leprosy are no longer able to tell if something is hot or cold, if they have cut themselves or otherwise damaged their extremities, and so infections set in, and parts of their hands and feet may become so diseased that they end up losing them. Today, we have treatments for leprosy, but back in Jesus’ day it was untreatable, and the disease progression made for a long, slow, unpleasant death. Nobody knew how you got leprosy, but the rule was that lepers had to keep their distance from other people (so it wouldn’t spread) so that meant that on top of all the rest of the horrors of this disease, this man was isolated and probably pretty lonely – the only other people he could have contact with were other lepers.
Leprosy takes between five and 20 years for symptoms to show up after the person contracts the disease. So maybe this guy had time in life to have a wife, or to have children. Maybe he was an important member of his village. Maybe he did something special that everyone loved him for. And then one day the white splotches show up on his fingers, or on his face or on his back. All of a sudden his life changed over night. All of a sudden he’s banished from his home, banished from his community, sent to live with the other lepers on the outskirts of the village. Every time he looks at the other lepers he is reminded of what this disease will do to him. How it will take his life, one disfiguring step at a time.
This guy has no hope of ever getting better. He has no hope of ever being with his family again. No matter how high he began, he is at the bottom of the social hierarchy now. He’s become the cast-off, the throw-away. We aren’t told how advanced his leprosy is. We’re not told whether he’s still in the early stages, or whether he has started to lose his fingers and toes, lose his eye sight, or have trouble breathing.
We do know that nobody wants him anymore.
We do know that nobody wants to see him.
We do know that nobody wants to hear him ringing his leprosy bell as he goes by shouting “unclean”.
We do know that nobody wants to touch him …
or be with him …
or care for him.
Now before we go on, I need to tell you that I have rewritten this study about five times now. You see, the whole notion of healing is hard for me. I live with a chronic disability (or three). I buried my son at three weeks of age from a chromosomal abnormality. I have walked alongside of hundreds of other people who have been sick and in pain and needed healing who haven’t been healed. So I don’t personally find it easy to ask for healing. I’ve done it a few times for a few people, and I have seen God bring healing in miraculous ways on a few occasions. But in general I get a little jealous of these folks that Jesus meets and heals completely – like that – some days, because I don’t see this kind of healing on a regular basis in my life.
But then I realize, neither did the leper. This guy had no experience with healing, that we know of. I mean, maybe he had heard news from another town, but this is still pretty early on in Jesus’ work, and well before the advent of cell phones and social media, so it’s just as likely that he hadn’t. And unlike us today, it’s not even as if he comes from an age where doctors are regularly successful at treating people, so it’s possible that Jesus could “luck out”. No, either this guy has nothing left to lose, or somehow he gathers up all the courage he has and says, “you have the power to make me well, if only you wanted to.”
And I wonder whether he was just as surprised as those around him when Jesus wanted to put a hand on him. I wonder how shocked he was when he heard the words, “I want to”? I wonder how he responded when he saw that his leprosy was gone like that. In an instant, everything that was lost is given back. He has sensations in his limbs that maybe he hasn’t had for years. What do you think he notices first? Does he suddenly realize he’s kneeling on something sharp and jump up? Is he suddenly able to see more clearly than he has in a decade? Does he reach out his fingers and touch the bottom of Jesus’ cloak just to enjoy the sensation of feeling in his fingertips? Or does he simply look up into the eyes of the first person who has wanted him since all of the shame and fear and despair of having leprosy first washed over him, and bask in the love he sees in Jesus’ eyes?Journal Questions:
- Can you relate to the leper in this story?
- If we were to ask this leper about his experiences that day, what do you think he would tell us about Jesus
- How would he explain Jesus’ character, or power, or approach to us as humanity?
- How would the leper’s view of Jesus be different from your own?
- How does your view of Jesus affect what conversations you’re willing to have with him, or what things you’re willing to trust him with?
- What would change in your approach to Jesus if you were to accept the leper’s view from this story?
- What would change in your story if you could know that Jesus want to respond to you?