LEPERS AMONG US
Jesus walked the highways and byways of Israel encountering people of all
classes and distinctions, even the lowest of the low, lepers.
And he did not shy
away from any of them or use his band of “merry men” to shield him from
Leprosy — it’s a horrible disease. It begins with sores on the body, eats
away at a person’s flesh, and, eventually, pieces of the body fall off — hands,
arms, noses, ears, feet, and legs. While I have never seen a person with leprosy,
it sounds really gross and repugnant. I don’t know what I would do if I encountered
someone with the disease. Actually, I think I do.
But we don’t have
to actually meet someone with leprosy to find out how we would respond if in
There are many examples today of people who are ostracized by
our society for one reason or another, and we may participate in that exclusion.
We have heard about suicides lately of people who were shamed by others and
bullied because they were homosexuals. The tragedy of a 13-year old boy
hanging himself should be a stark reminder to us that we have a lot of work to
do to be the compassionate healers whom Jesus calls us to be.
It seems that
the prevailing attitude in our society is that “what we don’t understand, we
In other words, we treat them like lepers.
I have spoken before about the illegal immigrants in our country whom we
would rather kick out or condemn as criminals than treat with compassion.
Understand that I am not saying to condone what they have done but rather
that we are to embrace them as children of God, as our brothers and sisters
and not as lepers.
Maybe we struggle with the many homeless people, looking
unkempt and dirty on our inner city streets, who have the audacity to ask us
for money for food. We don’t believe that they will actually use the money for
food so we walk on.
I, too, struggle with accepting the lepers in our midst when they reach out to
me. A couple of weeks ago I had finished my work at the Gleaners and I was
walking out through the front reception area. The lobby was crowded with
people who were there to pick up their food boxes; there are a lot of people who
are in need of food these days. There was one lady who was louder than the
rest who wanted some coffee, but there was no cream or sugar. I took one look
at her and knew I didn’t want anything to do with her. She had tons of makeup
on, caked on above her eyes, applied generously on her cheeks, and garishly
applied to her lips; her clothes were skin tight; her hair looked like it had
been molded into shape with too much grease. When she opened up her
mouth to speak, you could see she was missing several teeth and the ones she
had were rotted and broken. I tried to quickly sneak by reasoning that the job
I had volunteered to do was done. But she looked right at me and asked me for
some cream and sugar for the coffee. I looked over at the receptionist to see if I
could pass her off, but she had her hands full with all of the people at her
desk. So I just told the lady that I didn’t know where the cream and sugar
were and left. While that was technically true, *
t was not the response of a servant.
I flunked that test, in effect telling Christ to find someone else to get his
cream and sugar.
Man, the road to the kingdom of God is long and hard for
me, and I keep tripping over myself. I look for the kingdom in the high feelings,
in the ecstasy, in the quiet prayerful times.
In reality, what Jesus showed us is
that the kingdom of God leads through the poor and the needy, to the lepers of
Before the ecstasy of the resurrection
must come the dying to self
on the cross.
I still have a long way to go to recognize Jesus; he surprises me
each day with his appearance.
Maybe we struggle with being compassionate toward the elderly and the sick
and the dying in the many assisted living and nursing homes in our community.
Some people talk about how they can’t stand the smells in those places.
There was a hospice chaplain who was interviewed about his work. At one
point he said that over the previous weekend, 8 of their 30 patients had died.
The interviewer asked, “What effect do so many deaths have on the staffs?”
The chaplain replied with the following story:
“On Saturday one of our patients had a visit from her teen-aged son.
It was a great visit with lots of laughs and joyful conversation. At
noon, the son said, ‘Mom, I’m meeting a friend for lunch, but I’ll be
back in a little while.’ Shortly after the son left, she called in her favorite
nurse and said, ‘I think I’m dying.’ The nurse checked her vital
signs and said, ‘In all honesty, I think that it’s possible you may go
soon.’ Then the patient asked softly, ‘Will you hold me? I think if you
hold me I can do this well.’ With that the nurse got into the patient’s
bed and cradled her poor, emaciated body in her arms — and held
her into eternity.
Visibly shaken by the story, the interviewer asked,
‘What about the nurse; how did it affect her?’ The chaplain replied,
‘It hit her hard — so hard, in fact, that she took several days off to go
to a quiet place in the mountains. She wants to think things out and
decide whether she has the strength to come back to work again.’
Then he added, ‘She’ll be back. You learn in a place like this that caring
and compassion can hurt, and hurt very deeply.
But when you
really care, when your compassion is genuine, you not only
something special, but you also
become something special yourself.'”
Maybe the most difficult leper to accept is ourselves.
Many of us believe that
we have some inner stain or disease or infirmity that makes us outcasts, lepers.
We function well in society by covering up and hiding what we consider
unappealing to others. I remember as a teen ager how ugly I felt because of the
severe acne which I had all over my face. Teen agers struggle with their identity
and acceptance into the “in crowd” or even just belonging amongst their
peers; it’s a difficult time of life. But to have an such a visible defect in my appearance
made me want to hide every day. Those ugly feelings still persist at
Maybe we struggle with those very same things for which we reject others
because of the ugliness we ourselves feel inside.
It doesn’t have to be actually
seen by others but we know it’s there and cover up.
Jesus Christ is
waiting to heal our leprosy, just like he healed the 10 lepers 2,000 years ago.
When he offered his healing to them, they did not see it right away but were
healed in faith as they went to show themselves to the priests.
the real healing when we give praise and glory and thanks to God for his mercy
Healing and compassion are vitally important to us, not only because we want
and need them ourselves, but also because God has called us to be instruments
of His healing and compassion for others. We need to become alert each
and every moment of each and every day to experience Jesus Christ in our
midst. He will catch us off-guard and surprise us when he comes and stands
before us. Who are the lepers in your life, those people whom you would rather
not deal with and shut out?
40 A man with leprosy came to him ,this is the first sign of faith. The man knew where to direct his
plea. and begged him on his knees, this is the second sign of faith. The man knew how to approach the Lord.
Not as an equal but as one he must bow before in humble submission. Luke’s account tells us he buried his
face in the dirt and begged “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” This is the third sign of faith. The man
confesses. He knows that Jesus has the power, whether Jesus is able is not the question. The question is
whether Jesus is willing. I don’t think we necessarily have to see the man questioning whether or not Jesus
cares about people. I think it more likely to understand his prayer to say,
your will be done.
This man of faith was asking a great deal of Jesus. The man has already been identified as being a
leper. Leprosy was as contagious and disfiguring disease that caused the skin to flake and crack. As a result
the leper was to be considered unclean and was forced to live outside of society, either in isolation or the
company of fellow unclean people. Leviticus 13:45-46 tells us,
“The person with such an infectious disease
must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean!
Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the
For most people a distance of six feet was not enough. One Rabbi boasted that he always threw
stones at them to keep them far off.
We do not know how long this man had lived without the soothing comfort of physical contact. We
don’t know how long he had lived as a social outcast, shamed shun and scorned. But how long could you
endure such agony- a day, a week, a month, a year? Jesus sees the man before him and understands the pain
he is suffering. Verse 41 tells us, Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I
am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Only Mark’s account mentions compassion. Not that Matthew and Luke deny
it Mark just emphasizes it. And we can understand why. Jesus is certainly not moved to act because this man
was such an outstanding citizen. It had nothing to do with the man’s popularity among the town’s folk. Jesus
was moved to act by an emotion within himself. The word used in Greek is that σπλαγχνίζομαι – to be moved
in the inward parts. This Compassion is a gut wrenching. We might say Jesus was moved from the bottom of
his heart. Then having been internally effected Jesus is externally affective. His compassion causes him to act.
Here Jesus’ action was bold and beautiful. He reaches out to touch the leper. An individual who for the most
part was cut off from human contact. An individual who was more accustomed to people recoiling in horror
then to a hand stretched out. The first touch is that from the hand of God. Jesus did not recoil from touching
the lowest of the low in order to cleanse him and bring him back into fellowship with God’s people. Jesus was
not asked if he was able so there is no need to state the fact that is already known – He is able. The question
was, “are you willing”. The answer is, “I am willing.… Be clean!” Jesus was willing and able. 42 Immediately
the leprosy left him and he was cured.
Now I do not want to suggest that this is only a fairytale. I am not suggesting that these events did not
take place. This happened. Jesus really truly performed this miracle. A man who had leprosy was cleaned.
By itself this account is a testimony to the compassion of Christ. How he is both willing and able to work for
the good of those who love him. But in addition to that I cannot help but see the similarities that sin has with
leprosy. In many ways we were spiritual lepers. Righteous acts like filthy rags; in sin we were as unclean as a
dead body, stained with sin infected with its deadly poison we passed on our deadly disease to our children.
No longer could we walk with God. No longer could we stand in his holy presences. Sin not only cast Adam
and Eve from the garden it made us outcast of the family of God. And yet Jesus had compassion on us. He
saw our lost condition and it filled him with Compassion.
As we consider the compassion of Christ that made him willing and able to heal a leper, can we not
also talk about how Jesus was willing and able to cure us of a spiritual leprosy? Is this not a good time for us to
remember how God was grieved that we were doomed to be damned? Is it not a good time to remind
ourselves that we were not able to save ourselves? Is it not a good time to mention that God was willing and
God was able to save us? God sent his one and only son who was willing to suffer at the hands of sinful men
who was willing to stretch out his hands to be pierced on the cross, who was willing to give up his last breath
for you and me. And not only was he willing to suffer the pains of hell in our place he was able to defeat the
wages of sin for us. He was able to make payment for all the sins of all people of all time. He was able wash
you clean of sin, he was able to dress you in robes of righteousness, and He was able to convert you from a
dead hostile object of wrath into a holy chosen people of God. Jesus was willing and able to do that for you. Is
now the time for us to see the compassion that God has for us – that Jesus was willing and able to save us? I
think it is.
Technically, by touching the leper Jesus became unclean. It is interesting that as a result from the
healing of the leper Mark tells us, 45b“ Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely
places. While the healed leper was free to be among the people once more. Again I don’t want to read too
much into this text. But in a similar way by becoming a man Jesus suffered the consequences of our sin. He
was forced to yell,
“My God my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) He took on our sin while we
received his righteousness. Compassion made Jesus willing and able to trade places with a leper. Compassion
made Jesus willing and able to trade places with you.
Having seen the compassion of Jesus for a leper and having been reminded of the compassion that
Jesus has for you, is it now time for you to show compassion for others? Is it time to sympathize with
another’s suffering? Is it time to feel the weight of their burden, is it time share their pain? Might it also be
time for us to do all that we are able to ease their suffering, lighten their burden, and sooth their pain? I think
that it is time for us to show our compassion to one another. Paul told the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:14)
love compels us.
Well Christ compassion also compels us. I urge you to be filled with compassion for one
another. I urge you, feel, sympathize, and identify with one another. I urge you, be moved in your gut by the
pain of others. I urge you, act- do more than just “
feel their pain” do what you are able to do to ease suffering,
lighten a burden, and share pain. Even when it causes you discomfort, when you have to swallow your pride,
when you must suffer in another’s place… I urge you in view of Christ compassion that was willing and able to
reach out to a leper, Christ compassion that was willing and able to reach out to you, I urge you to have
compassion for one another.