Two words in this Gospel are almost terrifying: Jesus “touched him.” 

We are so far removed from what leprosy signified in biblical times, that this image of Jesus stretching out his hand to touch a person whose body was consumed by the disease has no effect on us.

Lepers were the walking dead who were banished to live outside towns in caves, tents, or garbage dumps. Even breathing the same air as a leper was thought to be dangerous, since leprosy was considered highly contagious.  Leprosy consumed a person’s body, leaving stumps where fingers, hands, feet, or noses had once been. The laws dictated that lepers were to maintain a twelve-step distance from others, cover their mouths with a cloth, and cry out “unclean, unclean” to announce their presence. 

Most of us still have lingering memories of the fear we experienced with COVID-19, when being within six feet of another or breathing the same air conjured up the possibility of a painful death. We learned to stay away from others to protect ourselves and those we love.

Jesus, instead, “touched” the leper. He stepped over the imaginary line, entering into the danger zone of closeness with the leper. He got close enough to this man to smell the putrid odor of his decaying flesh. He could feel the man’s foul breath on his face. He got closer still in order to touch the body of the leper, putting his fingers into the wounds of his oozing sores. He conveyed to this man that he wanted to heal him so much that he himself was willing to risk his life, to give his life. He was close enough to look directly into the eyes of a person whose face was horrifically disfigured and perhaps even unrecognizable. And Jesus touched him.

Sometimes we may feel that we have become disfigured, unrecognizable, because of the wounds we have received in our lives and the brokenness of our own sin. And Jesus touches us. We may consider certain people in our lives “lepers” in the sense that they think, speak, or act in ways that threaten us or walk outside the path of discipleship with the Lord Jesus. And Jesus touches them.

There is no leprosy that frightens Jesus away, no disfigurement that makes him draw back. One day, when thinking of certain people in my life, wondering how they could be at peace with what they were doing, I heard God say to me this: “I know. Only I know.” Jesus touches each of us in the places of our leprosy. Each of us is known intimately and lovingly by a God unafraid to enter into our misery and walk with us on our journey to the Kingdom. 

I invite you to ask yourself in a moment of prayer today: “Jesus, what does this say about you and about me?”

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