Matthew places this story immediately after Jesus concludes his Sermon on the Mount, as he is being followed by great crowds. Today we see a celebrity’s “entourage” when he or she appears in public, with cameras flashing everywhere. But with no limo or security guards or iron railings, Jesus walks among the people fearlessly, as one of them.
The crowds are so intense they would nearly suffocate most of us.
So picture the parting of the Red Sea when a leper appears in the crowd making a beeline for Jesus!
No doubt this unclean man had all the room he needed to cut right through to the feet of Jesus, where he falls down in worship before him:
“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Mt 8:2).
The leper is not asking whether Jesus might heal him some time in the future – will you do this for me? He is stating a fact made known to him by the Holy Spirit: I know that you have the power to heal me this minute if it is your sovereign will, like that of a king, only better, like the will of God!
Mark notes that Jesus does not respond with kingly action, but rather is moved with pity and compassion. What he does next undoubtedly makes the crowd draw back from the encounter even further:
“…Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him…” (8:3)!
By Jewish law dating back hundreds of years to the very commands of God, Jesus becomes unclean and must obey horrid statutes and rules for ritual cleansing spelled out in exhaustive detail in the Book of Leviticus (see 5:3 and 13:46).
Jesus then says to the leper:
“I will…” (8:3).
He is not saying he will heal him in the future. He is saying that it is his sovereign will to heal him this moment, based on the never-ending love of God, moved by compassion. He then issues a series of commands, with which the leper is more than happy to comply. First:
“…be clean” (8:3)!
This command is in the passive mode, meaning “be cleaned” – by me, Jesus. And instantly the man shows no visible signs of leprosy. Now we imagine the crowd beginning to press in closer once again, as Jesus commands the now-cleansed man further:
“See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them” (8:4).
See that you do not create a circus; go and show your cleanness delivered straight from the Son of God; and offer a gift in humble gratitude. For the cleansed man, this gift is spelled out in Leviticus 14 – ritual sacrifice on the altar of the tabernacle, now the temple in Jerusalem.
Once again we can ask, do this physical healing and the commands of Jesus bear deeper meaning for our souls today?
Is it not our souls that become leprous from disobedience and disunity, over and over, according to the Cycle?
Doesn’t our only hope of cleanliness before the Lord lie in repentance to a Lord who reaches out with compassion and touches us, saying, “I will, be clean”?
This is the power of grace, completely undeserved, but poured out by our Savior with the same powerful compassion he shows the leper.
We can see our sin, go and ask for healing, and show God through sincere repentance. But what can we offer as a gift?
Incredibly, the gift has already been offered to God by the blood of Jesus, who offered himself for us on the cross for forgiveness of our sins. This grace, this never-ending love of God is incomprehensible!
Next time you partake of Holy Communion, be overwhelmed by the fact that, instead of having to give a gift for the forgiveness of our sins, we are actually given a gift: his body and his blood, for our restoration from death to eternal life!
We have all this in perfect unity with all true believers.