by Tad Lindley
Right now our nation is in quarantine mode. People are commanded to maintain “social distancing”. Everywhere in Bethel people are wearing masks to avoid breathing other people’s breath and to stop theirs from spreading. We are not visiting, having school, or going to church. Coronavirus in a small percentage of cases is a horrendous disease where the afflicted dies alone. No family members holding their hand. In some cases people leave home in an ambulance and are never seen again by the family. No funeral, no visitation, no goodbye. Most of us will catch it and beat it, but to slow the spread until a vaccine or a cure comes, we are enduring social distancing.
Jesus lived in a time of social distancing
Leprosy is a bacterial infection of the nerves and skin. It causes the body to become deformed and secondary infections to occur, which untreated may cause the infected person to stink of decaying flesh. In many cases there is loss of the soft tissue of the nose and ears.
When Jesus walked the earth, leprosy was a dreaded disease. There was no cure.
Once people realized a person had leprosy, that person underwent mandatory social distancing. They were banished from society. They finished their life in a state of homelessness. No longer could they sit at the table with their family, or hug their children. They could only speak to them from a distance. In public places, if normal people were approaching them, lepers had to shout out the warning, “Unclean”, so that the normal person would not come near to them.
They finished out their days with a hunger for human touch and the company of the ones that once loved them. They were the wild dogs of the human race. Prior to the first coming of Jesus, there were only three documented cases of people being healed of leprosy (Moses in Exodus 4, Miriam in Numbers 12, and Naaman in II Kings 5); apart from a miracle from God, the afflicted person was beyond hope.
Enter the leper
When Jesus came down from the mountain great multitudes followed him. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean”.
And Jesus put forth his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be thou clean”. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:1-3).
Even more powerful than the actual healing of the leprosy are the words I have underlined above: and he touched him. You may have read over it many times before and thought, “Okay, so he touched this guy and healed him,” but if you were there to see this live in person, you would have seen reactions of horror on the faces in the crowd. As they saw Jesus’ hand reach forth to the leprous man, they were repulsed. In their estimation, this leprous man had a similar status to a stray dog. In fact, they would far sooner have pet a stray dog than touched this man. People probably turned to their companions and said, “That’s gross. Did you see that? He touched him.” Some may even have wanted to vomit.
“Just shoot him”
We tend to rank people and to judge them. Even though we know it is wrong, there are those whom we look down upon. Privately we feel that we are better than them. There may even be those that we think are untouchable. How many times upon hearing of a heinous crime, such as incest or a man beating his wife to death, have we heard someone say, “They should save the court costs and just shoot him.” I’m not approving of those crimes, they disgust me too, but Jesus can still reach in and touch that person.
You’re not too gross for God
Every one of us has sin in our lives. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). You may feel like if people really knew who you were, and the wickedness of your past, and the bizarreness of your present, they would ostracize you like a leper. You may be that one who has reached the point where you are prostituting your body for alcohol or oxycontin. Maybe you are a closet pornography addict. Perhaps you are a well respected person in the community, but you lead a secret double life when you go to Anchorage. Or maybe you are the one who puts a smile on in public places, but at home, you can barely get out of bed in the morning and you recently have been thinking about ending it all. The people close to you may even have begun to give up on you, but Jesus hasn’t.
Regardless of how gross our past or present is, the lesson from the leper tells us that Jesus still wants to reach out and touch us. Apart from blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, there is no sin that is too gross for God to reach into your life and touch you.
And Jesus put forth his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be thou clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.