I was watching the movie “Risen” last night, and there was a scene toward the end of the movie of the resurrected Jesus healing a man of leprosy. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words, because this scene opened my eyes to the significance of the healing of lepers in the bible that had simply gone over my head before. There are scenes of Jesus healing lepers in the bible, and I think we simply gloss over them not understanding the bigger picture being presented.
To get the bigger picture, we need to recognize that biblically, being a leper was about the worst thing a person could be. If you were a leper, your very existence was a sin. You were outcast, and you were to be treated as such. “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” Leviticus 13:45-46 ESV. There are lots of definition of leprosy, and rules and regulations on treating those with leprosy, even handling and cleaning items “defiled” by a leprous person, to be found in Leviticus chapters 13 & 14. I’m still not sure exactly WHAT leprosy is, beside any white spots or open sores on the skin of a person. But, as it tells us above, I know what it meant to anyone afflicted. It meant they were no longer to be associated with. They were not allowed in camp with the other Israelites. They lost their families, could no longer associate with their own mother, father, brothers, sisters, friends, until they were healed of the disease. He had to tell anyone who came near him he was unclean. No one would help them, they could not do business with anyone, eat with anyone. They were the ultimate misfits.
In the movie, this particular leper had come into a camp, probably hungry, and when discovered, got the reaction I suppose lepers deserved in those days. The people in the camp, men and women, screamed at him, beat him, kicked him, and spit on him until he was away from their camp. Jesus and his disciples were sitting nearby, and when they saw Jesus get up and begin to walk toward the leper, his disciples began to get very excited. They knew they were about to witness a miracle. They had seen it before. Instead of beating the man, evicting him, exiling him, Jesus went straight to the leper no one else would touch. He went straight to the man no one, including Himself, was even allowed to touch. He walked up to the man, hugged him, seemed to say a prayer over him, and sent him on his way. He showed the man love when everyone else hated him. As the man was walking back to the wilderness he was so used to being banished to, he looked down and finally noticed he was cured. No longer a misfit, no longer unclean, no longer unfit for society.
This is who Jesus is, it’s who he always was. In the progressive revelation of God, lepers under Mosaic law were unclean and unfit for society. They were rejected, kicked out, unacceptable. Even God was against them. Then Jesus shows up, and He goes straight to these outcasts and loves them. He heals them. As the Great Physician, He would take on patients the doctors would not touch.
That’s what He still does. He loves even the misfits, outcasts and outsiders. Lepers were the ultimate outsiders in biblical times – they had an outward defect that that labeled them as such. But Jesus doesn’t turn them away, he heals them. Have you ever been the outsider? Have you ever struggled with something that made you a misfit, that made you uncomfortable in your own skin? Uncomfortable bring around others, and sure they are just as uncomfortable being around you? That’s what being a leper in the bible is all about. Until Jesus of Nazareth came to love and cure them, even the priests wouldn’t help the lepers. They were unclean and on their own, until they could find healing.
Who do you look at as the outsiders and misfits? Are you willing to get uncomfortable and reach out to them? Better yet, are you willing to reach out to these outsiders even though other people might not approve? Are you willing to reach out to the junkies, the prisoners, the screw ups?
I’ve had times in my life when I felt like a leper. Two years ago I was out of my house for about six months, and some people treated me like a leper. Some were willing to banish me to the wilderness, declare me unclean, have me out of their lives forever. It was during this time when I turned to Jesus. He called me to Himself, and brought healing to myself and my family. He called me from the wilderness just as he calls all misfits. Just like he always has,
“And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.”
Mark 1:40-45 ESV
“”The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
Leviticus 13:45-46 ESV