Imagine that you are a leper. Imagine that you have a disease which began several years ago with a chronic fatigue and pains in the joints. This part of the disease was something like fibromyalgia – but it gets worse. Parts of your skin become discolored, and little nodules form on this discolored skin. First they are pink and then brown, and they begin to populate especially your cheeks, your nose, your lips, and your forehead – essentially your face. These nodules grow larger over time, and they develop into sores from which comes a stinking discharge. Others tell you that your eyebrows have begun to fall out, and your face takes on the look of a lion or satyr. The sores begin to spread, your breath begins to wheeze, and your mind begins to decay. You may have been lucky enough to escape some of these symptoms but only at the expense of gradually losing sensation in the nerves of your limbs and having your hands and feet covered with sores and lose all feeling. In this case you survive 20-30 years instead of only 9.
Along with your biological suffering comes your social suffering. You have become an outcast, an untouchable, and live in a segregated world in which there are separate facilities. You live outside the city, and your only peers are others as sick or sicker than you are. People look at you as if you are demon-possessed, and you are required to cry out, not for mercy, but that you are “Unclean! Unclean!”
But one day you hear that a man named Jesus is coming near. You’ve heard that he has healed many others – even those worse off than you and who are possessed by a demon. At this point, you have nothing to lose. It seems so unlikely. It’s not supposed to be done.
But you approach this Jesus, wondering if He, like so many others, will simply redirect his steps and eyes to avoid you. You are not sure of yourself, you have some doubts, and yet you really believe this man may be more than a man.
You approach him and cry out, with a voice you had intended to be heroic and yet pitiful, but it comes out something more like laryngitis. He may not have heard you, and so you come closer to kneel and repeat: “If you are willing – you can make me clean.”
Jesus stops. This is a good sign, and yet you wonder why. His face changes. It is a face you have not seen in a long time – a face of compassion, of one whose body has been moved by your condition.
And then he does the unthinkable, even to you: he reaches out to touch your hand, knowing that he will now become like you, unclean. This great man, who a small crowd has been following, actually touches you. It feels like the hand of God, for only God or a madman would dare to touch someone like you.
For the first time in so long you can’t remember someone who is not a leper speaks kindly to you. But it’s not the pitying kind of kindness – it’s a powerful kindness that is both love and authority.
He says, simply, “I am willing. Be cleansed!”
You have the strangest feeling of synesthesia: you experience so many things simultaneously that you think you must have died and gone to heaven. At the same time that you hear the voice, the fog is lifted from your mind and your eyes become clear again. Colors and shapes suddenly have a new meaning. Your body has stopped aching, and you stand up straight. And most of all, you rediscover your soul.
“Clean! I’m clean!” you say.
Jesus strictly warns you not to tell anyone but to go immediately to see the priest and offer the sacrifice for being cleansed.
You obey immediately, whispering with a newfound strength, “Clean! I’m clean!”
Though there’s some debate about which disease this is in the New Testament, it may well have been Hanson’s disease, which we usually associate with leprosy. Regardless, the drama of this terrible disease is the drama of your life, and what Jesus did for this leper in Mark 1 He has also done for you.
It intrigues me that the same Greek word means both to save and to heal, and the miraculous healings in the Bible are actually the miraculous salvation of God in our lives.
You are that leper. You are the one who is afflicted with a terrible and progressive disease. You are the one who will one day die and who, because of your sin, will be progressively separated not only from human contact but also from the grace of God. Lepers were commonly known as “the living dead,” and that is what we all once were. We walk around with the sentence of death upon us, awaiting an even worse fate.
And then one day, we fall on our knees before Him, saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” And Jesus, moved with compassion, stretches out His hand to you, touches you, and says, “I AM willing. Be clean!”
And you are made clean.
You were made clean because the King of kings whose kingdom is now here because He chose to become a leper like you. He risked touching you and took upon Himself your disease of sin and death.
The story of this leper is your story. We can all imagine with what joy, praise, and thanksgiving this leper went to make his sacrifice. But I’m amazed at how many Christians walk through life as if they are still the living dead – spiritual zombies. If only we knew, if only we remembered what Jesus, out of compassion, has done for us, we would remember the uncleanness of sin that was once ours. We would remember the complete separation from the society of God that was our birthright.
And we would remember to make our lives a joyful whole burnt offering of praise and thanksgiving.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve today to meditate on how Jesus has healed me from my sins and made me clean and fit to live in His presence again. I resolve today to remember this throughout the day and to offer up the appropriate sacrifice of a life of praise and thanksgiving.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, thank You for coming to me, a leper, in Your compassion. Thank You for touching one so unclean and for making me clean through Your blood which washes away my sins. All praise be to You Father, through Your Son who has come once again to save His people. Amen.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day